“Cue the Scary Music.”
Growing up in LA, Halloween was always a little different for my siblings and me. There were the usual Halloween decorations on houses in our neighborhood. But there was one house that needed no decoration. It was known as “The Witch’s House.” Since it was just around the block from where we lived, my brother, sister and me would always visit it on Halloween. We knew that it was the one place we would always get a “trick” rather than a “treat.” The owners at that time would dress up as ghosts and goblins and hand out taffy from a witch’s kettle. There was dry ice coming from the moat around the house and a spooky soundtrack could be heard out the upstairs window.
The house was designed by Hollywood art director Harry Oliver, who went on to play a major role in Storybook architecture. Oliver was a Hollywood art director who worked on more than 30 films between 1919 and 1938 as art director, art department, and set decorator. It was originally built in 1921 to serve as the offices and dressing rooms for Irvin Willat’s film studio in Culver City, and was moved to its present location in Beverly Hills in 1926. The converted private home, with its pointy, lopsided roof, tiny windows and stucco with a distressed paint job were then surrounded by an intentionally overgrown English-style garden and a moat-like pond.
Architect Charles Moore once described the house as the “quintessential Hansel and Gretel house.” The residence appears in movies including 1995’s Clueless. The home has been called a precursor to Walt Disney’s concept of Imagineering, whereby stage sets became fully realized environments.
The first residents of the 3,500 square feet home, the Spadena family, lent the house their name. A second family moved in and renovated the interior in the 1960s, making some exterior alterations including a skylight visible from certain angles. The moat began leaking under the second family’s ownership and they filled it with soil, and planted a garden. By the time the house came on the market again in 1997, it had fallen into disrepair.
The Witch’s House in the 1920s
Because of the value of its prime location, it was unable to immediately find a buyer interested in a teardown of the property. Consequently, Michael Libow, who did not want to see the home demolished, purchased it and began a gradual renovation. After tall, black fencing was initially placed around the lot, the owner received hate mail from people who thought he was going to tear it down. Relief came to all when Libow restored and enhanced the original vision of Oliver.
The home is now listed as protected Landmark Number 8 in the City of Beverly Hills. It’s also a protected landmark of the memories of Halloween for many children who visited it on Halloween night. The one place where the “trick” was better than the “treat.”
The Scary Side Gate of the Witch’s House