Oh, crumb. Dennis McCarthy’s column in the Daily News brings word that the 11-acre Jack Oakie estate — maybe the last intact vestige of the old Northridge horse culture — is being developed into 29 homes. The estate at 18650 Devonshire Street, just west of Reseda Boulevard, dates to the golden age of Northridge thoroughbred breeding. In 1935, actress Barbara Stanwyck left her husband, Frank Fay, and moved into a small stone house on the Northridge property. Her agent Zeppo Marx, brother of Groucho, Chico and Harpo, lived next door. They jointly formed the 140-acre Marwyck Ranch and raised thoroughbreds.
She commissioned an English Manor-style home by Paul R. Williams, one of Hollywood’s favored architects. After marrying actor Robert Taylor, who also had a Northridge home, Stanwyck in 1940 or ’41 moved back to the city. She sold her share of the business to Marx and the home on Devonshire to Jack Oakie.
Oakie was a comic actor whose big role came as Benzini Napaloni, a broad spoof of Benito Mussolini, in Charlie Chaplin’s talkie The Great Dictator.Oakie raised Afghan hounds on the estate, claiming at one point to have a hundred dogs running around. He planted a citrus orchard on the hill below the house, where the ranch bumped into the pasture of Northridge Farms, a prominent thoroughbred breeder that lined Reseda Boulevard as far south as Lassen Street. Oakie wrote later that his chores were interrupted one day by a call from Sid Grauman telling him to come in to Hollywood right away to put his hand and footprints in the wet cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
The Oakies socialized with nearby neighbors Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, William Holden and Gordon McRae. They also hosted backyard swimming pool parties that became Valleywood rituals. “‘Ah, those bacchanalian Sunday binges at your baronial manner — Northridge’s last stand against civilization — the most palatial rabbit hutch west of the Pecos,” writer Seaman Jacobs wrote in ”Dear Jack: Hollywood Birthday Reminiscences, one of three books by Oakie or his wife, Victoria Horne Oakie. (The others are Jack Oakie’s Double Takes and Jack Oakie’s Northridge)
Jack grumbled about his beloved Northridge turning from country into suburb, complaining once to neighbor Lionel Barrymore about all the new stop signs slowing down their trips into Hollywood for work and parties. ”The next morning [Barrymore] pulled into my gate…’This way, young man!’ he called to me and led me down Balboa Boulevard. He had found the last street that was left wide open.”
Oakie died in 1978 and is buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale, the same final resting place as his Valleywood contemporaries Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Spencer Tracy, W.C. Fields and Walt Disney. Oakie’s widow lived in the home until her death and donated the property to USC, which has a scholarship named for Oakie. The university sold the estate to a developer, but McCarthy writes that the Paul William-designed home will remain, perhaps as a community center.
A dense thicket of trees guards the house, as you can see in the photo — click on it for a large scene of the property. In both photos, Devonshire is to the right and the top of the photo is west. You can sneak a nice glimpse of Oakie’s old orchard by peering over the brick wall in the vacant field on Lemarsh Street, between Yolanda and Gladbeck Avenues.