135 Fremont Place


While vintage images of the house built at the far southwest corner of Fremont Place in 1924 have so far proven elusive, the man who came to dominate it for a time is much less of a shrinking violet, even 60 years after his death. Harry Cohn was one of many behind-the-cameras Hollywood legends who came up from the Lower East Side; the man, like the B-movies, serials, and not small number of classics he produced as boss of Columbia Pictures, all remained true to a grittier reality, unlike, say, Louis B. Mayer's patriotic and deracinated America. Beginning as a streetcar conductor and coming west as one of two brothers who'd gotten into the movie business, Harry and Jack Cohn formed a so-called Poverty Row studio with a partner. Originally named CBC and rechristened Columbia after the initials were mocked as Corned Beef and Cabbage Productions, the brothers, Jack on the business end in New York and Harry overseeing production on the coast, were ambitious but unpretentious. Which is not to say that once the studio took off, allegedly with some mob financing, a nice house wasn't in order. In 1924, Harry had married Rose Barker, whose sizable settlement from her first husband had also fueled Columbia's growth. The next year, the wife of a third Cohn brother, Max, died in New York, leaving two daughters adrift with a father who was a less capable man than Harry or Jack. Lee and Judith Cohn came to live with their aunt and uncle in California. Rose, unable to have her own children and recognizing her husband as a loose cannon, libidinally and otherwise, sought a base.

Hedda Hopper once called Harry Cohn "a sadistic son of a bitch";
one of two nieces who lived with him—she would later go on
to become Mrs. Walter Annenberg—considered him to have
a "third-rate" character but also credited him accurately
as "brilliant in the movie business." Cohn helped
build Los Angeles, if in less genteel ways than
some of his Fremont Place neighbors who
moved in the sedate circles of the
old downtown establishment.

Maurice B. Korman was a real estate from Washington, D.C., who'd set up in Los Angeles to take advantage of the city's population as it began to double in the early 1920s. A man given to building one house in the up-and-coming West End of the city and moving into it as he worked on his next, Korman had built 343 South Windsor Boulevard in 1922. On November 11, 1924, the Department of Buildings issued him permits to begin construction of a nine-room house and a garage on the most southerly of three parcels into which Fremont Place's Lot 131 had been subdivided. The obscure De Luxe Building Company is cited on the document as the architect, Korman as his own contractor. Mannie and Dora Korman moved into the resulting 135 Fremont Place until it was put on the market less than a year after it was finished; 912 Longwood Avenue, their next project, was ready by the fall of 1926.

Whether 135 Fremont Place was sold directly to Harry Cohn once the Kormans left or whether there was an interim owner or lessee is unclear; the Cohns were listed at the address in the 1928 city directory. After the death of their mother, Lee and Judith Cohn had been placed in a boarding school; Rose, possessed of a heart and no doubt lonely, took to them on a visit and decided that she wanted to raise them. Harry was the kind of neanderthal who was uninterested in any child he hadn't fathered himself; he acquiesced to Rose's wishes and said that he would pay the girls' bills but wanted them kept away from him. An only somewhat arguably small man outside of the movie business, Harry concentrated on work, to no small reward: There would come, among many others, It happened One Night, You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, All the King's Men, Born Yesterday, From Here to Eternity, Picnic, On the Waterfront, Bridge Over the River Kwai and 45 Academy Awards. He was also famous for his casting couch, if not having invented it. Rose paid dearly for her privilege.

Lee Cohn Annenberg grew up on Fremont Place observing power; she never let go of it

The young Cohn girls reportedly first lived in an unoccupied maid's room at #135; Harry did allow Rose to add proper rooms for the children and a series of renovations—which included a projection room—followed from 1929 to 1933. Rose entertained Hollywood royalty for her husband, who himself entertained starlets in between industry functions. Eventually, he took an apartment at the El Royale, leaving Rose the doormat more and more alone. Gathering her self respect long about 1941, she spent six weeks in Reno that summer, gaining a divorce on July 28. Harry married his latest squeeze, forgotten B-movie actress Joan Perry, within days. Rose appears to have gotten #135 in her settlement, although, with the girls off to college and no need for a house of its size, she leased it in the spring of 1941 and made plans to move into the Chateau Marmont on her return from Nevada. The house would gain more Hollywood cred with her tenant. Another legendary producer, B.P. Schulberg, stayed until mid-February 1943, although Rose was not happy when he left. She in fact sued Schulberg for stains and other damage and unpaid rent. One more bad memory of #135 prompted her to sell the old barn, which before long became the property of clothing manufacturer-turned-restaurateur Henry Licht.

Peter Bart was not the first power-minded resident of #135 to have the
question asked about him, this particular one posed by Los Angeles

magazine in September 2001 when Bart was living Cohn's old
 house. Bart, up from the Upper West Side rather than
from the Lower East, relished his predecessor's
screening room as well as his editorship
of the legendary Variety magazine.

Having come from being a poor relation to someone fond of nice things, Lee Cohn went on to marry two rich men and then a third to whom she was legendarily well suited. As Walter Annenberg's wife, she became the third famous name associated with 135 Fremont Place, one that would, as a dear friend of the Reagans, connect the Lower East Side origins of Hollywood to the American Presidency. There would, in fact, come to be a fourth name of Hollywood note associated with the house when longtime Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart moved in. Bart made good use of Cohn's old projection room. It was after his ownership that #135 began to lose its integrity in overexpansion. While really no more than a typical 1920s Los Angeles Mediterranean the loss of which would not necessarily be lamentable, the original house now appears lost among bunkerlike additions, with a massive, unattractive fortress wall facing the traffic roaring just feet away on Olympic Boulevard. While conveniently close to Fremont Place's southwest gate—convenient at least when it was opened to traffic—135 Fremont Place was never one of the subdivision's prime addresses, especially with "Below Wilshire" having been somewhat of a handicap for the development from its 1911 beginnings.

The southwest gates of Fremont Place, having long since lost their flanking colonnades, are seen
at lower right; the original house at 135 Fremont Place remains but is lost in the bunker-
like agglomeration that fills most of its lot. The house's south wall, facing Olympic
Boulevard, resembles less the side of house than a highway sound barrier.

Illustrations: LogopediaSony PicturesSunnylandsLos AngelesGoogle Maps