Those who prefer their living spaces with a side of Tinseltown history should look no further than Villa Carlotta, a stunning Spanish Colonial Revival-style property that towers over a particularly charming corner on the northern edge of Hollywood at 5959 Franklin Ave. Designed initially as a luxe apartment house for show business elite, the picturesque complex was thoroughly reimagined in 2018 as a first-class extended stay hotel. Despite the many updates and modernizations, though, it remains absolutely teeming with old Hollywood glam!
As such, the lodging was a shoo-in for a cameo on “The Offer,” the recent Paramount+ series chronicling the real-life behind-the-scenes drama that took place during the making of the 1972 classic “The Godfather,” largely considered one of the best films of all time.
Built by prolific developer Luther T. Mayo in 1926, Villa Carlotta was fashioned based upon a design by Arthur E. Harvey, the same architect responsible for the neighboring Château Élysée, the French Normandy-style structure perhaps better known by its other moniker, the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International.
Steeped in legend from the start, Villa Carlotta was originally owned by Elinor Ince, the widow of studio titan Thomas H. Ince, and is speculated to have been funded by William Randolph Hearst, who, as the much-ballyhooed tale goes, accidentally shot and killed Thomas aboard his yacht, the USS Oneida, in 1924. Hearst, it is said, confused Ince for Charlie Chaplin, who was also partying aboard the ship and was believed to be having an affair with his longtime mistress, Marion Davies. Following the shooting, the publishing magnate bankrolled Villa Carlotta as some sort of hush money payment to the beleaguered wife Thomas left behind.
While most current reports cite Ince as having actually succumbed to heart failure following a bout of gastritis brought on by the rich foods he consumed aboard the yacht, the lewder shooting scenario is far more often repeated and has become the subject of rampant speculation, numerous articles and even a 2001 movie titled “The Cat’s Meow,” directed by Peter Bogdanovich.
Whatever the case, there’s no disputing Villa Carlotta was the crème de la crème of Hollywood accommodations at the time of its completion, with the Los Angeles Times deeming it “the last word on luxury.” The building was also quite ahead of its time, according to the book “Los Angeles Attractions,” outfitted with “some of the most advanced amenities for its day, such as elaborate soundproofing, water filtration, a central refrigeration system and a ventilation system which changed the air in each apartment every five minutes.”
It didn’t take long for the era’s movers and shakers to come a-calling, with such notables as actor Montgomery Clift, director George Cukor, studio exec David O. Selznick, architect Wallace Neff, gossip columnist Louella Parsons (who was also, coincidentally, present on Hearst’s yacht during the Ince affair) and none other than Marion Davies all checking in at one point or another. In later years, Neil Patrick Harris, Bobby Keys and Jim Morrison also called the place home.
Sadly, Villa Carlotta’s status as a luxe destination didn’t last and it began to descend into decay in the 1960s. Instead of movie stars roaming the halls, residents were met with torn carpeting, burnt-out lights and chipped paint. As detailed by Forbes, “Despite a 1986 designation as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, Villa Carlotta fell into disrepair after decades of neglect, including the presence of pests, asbestos, mold and interior unit damage. The landmark was overdue for a physical and reputational cleanup.”
Enter CGI+, a boutique real estate investment firm that purchased the building in 2014 for $12.25 million and immediately began restoring it inside and out. The painstaking project, guided by both the Hollywood Heritage Museum and the Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, took two years to accomplish at a cost of $5.5 million. The groups’ combined efforts secured the structure the California Preservation Design Award upon its completion in 2018. The newly reimagined Villa Carlotta opened its doors to the public later that same year and has been welcoming guests ever since.
As CGI’s Gidi Cohen told the Los Angeles Times, “This is a magical building with nearly 100 years of Hollywood charm and mystique.” One step through the Carlotta’s front doors and the magic, charm and mystique become readily apparent!
Today, the property boasts 50 units – studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom enclaves ranging from 524 to 1,214 square feet – available for stays of 30 days or more with rates starting at $4,699 a month. The tony spaces, each outfitted with designer furnishings, full kitchens, hardwood flooring, beamed ceilings, French doors and Juliet balconies overlooking the lush grounds, come fully equipped with everything a traveler might need for an extended stay, including towels, bedding, daily toiletries, Apple TVs, Nespresso machines and tablets that can be utilized to contact the front desk.
Onsite amenities rival that of an upscale hotel, with guests privy to spa services, a 24-hour concierge, regular housekeeping, valet parking, daily continental breakfasts and music and cheese nights every Friday. As stated on the lodging’s official website, “Bring your suitcase, and we’ll take care of the rest.”
The welcoming communal areas include a gorgeous 1,500-square-foot lobby accented by mahogany woodwork, hand-stenciled coffered ceilings, a towering stone fireplace, custom-designed Studio Preveza furniture and a grand piano gifted by a former resident. Outside, guests can avail themselves of the rooftop deck and its stellar views of the Hollywood Sign, the swimming pool surrounded by plush chaises, the sun-dappled central courtyard, a gym boasting Peleton bikes and a pool house complete with a bar and a lounge.
Villa Carlotta’s prime location in Hollywood’s trendy Franklin Village neighborhood also can’t be beat! Thoroughly walkable, “An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles” describes the area as “a Manhattanesque block of sidewalk cafes, a little theater, a newsstand, and the like.”
Post-renovation, the building has become a favorite backdrop for photoshoots with Rumer Willis, Zoey Deutch, Jon Hamm, Kaitlyn Dever, Natalie Portman, Linda Cardellini, Sharon Stone, Regina King and Samuel L. Jackson all posing against its beautiful scenery for various publications.
And it, of course, makes several prominent appearances on “The Offer.”
On the series, Villa Carlotta masquerades as the fabled Chateau Marmont hotel. Why didn’t the production make use of the actual West Hollywood lodging, you ask? As The Hollywood Reporter broke in a September 2020 story, the Marmont has been the site of seriously problematic issues in recent years, ultimately resulting in a union boycott due to the layoff of “over 200 workers during the pandemic without affordable health care,” as well as “claims of unchecked racial discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace pre-pandemic.”
As such, “The Offer” production designer Laurence Bennett and his gifted team looked elsewhere for a suitable onscreen replacement, ultimately selecting Villa Carlotta, with its Old Hollywood glamour, gorgeous beamed ceilings and dimly lit elegance, as the perfect stand-in. In the show’s premiere episode, “A Seat at the Table,” future “Godfather” producer Albert S. Ruddy (Miles Teller), then working as a computer engineer for the Rand Corporation, heads to the Carlotta with his neighbor for drinks. The visit is a fortuitous one for the wanna-be show biz exec as he meets actor Bernard Fein (Kyle S. More), who soon becomes his writing partner, as well as Chateau owner Francoise Glazer (Nora Arnezeder), who soon becomes his girlfriend.
In real life, contrary to what was portrayed onscreen, it seems that Francoise’s first husband, Guilford Glazer, actually ran the Marmont. The steel tycoon/developer, who once made the Forbes 400 List and was responsible for building Torrance’s Del Almo Fashion Center, purchased the hotel in early 1965, with Francoise filing for divorce shortly thereafter. Guilford promptly moved out of their marital house and into the Chateau, which he attempted to modernize. In Shawn Levy’s 2019 book “The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont,” Glazer is quoted as saying, “We added some touches and upgraded to some extent, but it became a pain in the neck. I poured a lot of money into the place . . . [but] it became an expensive project and a losing proposition.” He sold the hotel in late 1965, having owned it for less than a year.
And Francoise? Well, she might as well have an entire series dedicated to her life story because it is just as scintillating as what went on behind the scenes of “The Godfather!” While it wasn’t depicted on “The Offer,” she and Al tied the knot for a brief time and, following their divorce, the ex-Mrs. Ruddy went on to have a “very impressive resume,” as “The Castle on Sunset” details. After their uncoupling, Francoise headed to India and fell under the spell of fantastical guru/controversial cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, eventually becoming his personal secretary and right-hand woman, helping him to secure his Oregon compound, Rajneeshpuram. Yes, Francoise is none other than Ma Prem Hasya, who figured prominently in the 2018 Netflix docuseries “Wild Wild Country!”
Villa Carlotta goes on to appear in several additional scenes peppered throughout “The Offer’s” first few episodes, as Ruddy romances Francoise before “The Godfather” shoot begins and the storyline shifts locations to New York, with the central courtyard (above) and rooftop deck gloriously showcased.
Considering its revived beauty and ongoing Hollywood lore, the Villa is sure to remain a legend for decades to come!