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The Mauretania


The Larchmont Chronicle: September 2001
By Sydney Swire

article-Rossmore-NightSerene as a safely harbored ocean liner, cresting the waves of traffic along Rossmore Ave., the Mauretania is the flagship in a fleet of 30 Art Deco apartment buildings Dave Goldstein owns throughout the city. Curving back from the sidewalk, the gem of retro architecture at 520-522 N. Rossmore Ave. was built for actor Jack Haley, who achieved screen immortality with his portrayal of the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.” Haley and his wife Flo commissioned Milton J. Black to design the building in 1934.

Black was the architect for numerous small apartment buildings in Southern California. He adapted the Streamline Moderne style’s characteristic aerodynamic and naval motifs for the Haley project, and named it after a British luxury liner which had set a transatlantic speed record in 1909.

The 10-unit, stucco Mauretania was built around an open courtyard area and topped by an extensive penthouse flat where the Haleys lived for 20 years. The structure’s rounded exterior walls suggest an ocean-going vessel, and the second floor balconies with railings of steel pipe evoke the feeling of a luxuriously large deck.

Although its tenant roster has included film stars, supermodels, architects, rock musicians and writers, the Mauretania’s best known occupant was a career politician who only stayed four days. But during that time, he was nominated for president of the United States, a position he won four months later.

article-Rossmore-SignIn the summer of 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy rented the penthouse apartment from the Haleys during the Democratic National Convention. In addition to its convenient location, near the Biltmore Hotel, headquarters of the Democratic National Committee delegates, and the Sports Arena, site of the convention, it was private enough so Kennedy could have some seclusion.

Decades later, when restoring one of the kitchens in the building, Goldstein found a yellowed newspaper clipping from 1960, describing how JFK eluded the press, who had discovered his hideaway, to go swimming at Marion Davies’ beach house by climbing down the penthouse fire escape. Longtime tenants described another Mauretania legend to Goldstein: on the night of the nomination, Kennedy knocked at the door of his downstairs neighbors, the actor William Gargan and his wife. His own televisions had blown fuses, so JFK joined the Gargans, who were watching the convention in their pajamas, until the power was restored in the penthouse. Kennedy returned upstairs to watch as the Democratic delegates named him their candidate for the presidency.

article-Rossmore-NightWith such history, and such architecture, Goldstein approached the Mauretania’s renovation with respect when he purchased the building three years ago. Several owners, including the Ahmanson family, had succeeded the Haleys, and 64 years of renters had left their mark. Major structural repairs were required, kitchens had been “upgraded” with cheap appliances, the landscaping was a far cry from the original, and every bathroom was in dire need of refurbishment.

Goldstein knows his audience: there are no anachronistic granite counter-tops or steam showers to besmirch the charm of living in one of his lovingly refinished time warps. While Goldstein’s tinkering with the Mauretania is ongoing, his devotion to his buildings takes a back seat to his reverence for history. Along the elegant baseboards of the penthouse apartment runs a thick length of 40-year-old black telephone cable, which Goldstein refuses to remove. It had been installed before the Democratic Convention to link the Mauretania with the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass. As his party’s official nominee for president, Kennedy’s first telephone call was to his wife. “That cable is ugly,” concedes Goldstein. “But it’s history.”

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