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BTTF# 26: The Chatsworth Ranch That Broke Hollywood's Femme Fatale Veronica Lake

Photograph caption dated April 7, 1951 reads, "The lavish home of Veronica Lake and her director-husband, Andre De Toth, at 11000 Winnetka Road, Chatsworth, above, was seized by Collector of Internal Revenue Robert A. Riddell, for unpaid income taxes. Riddell said the pair owed $62,000 in taxes and interest on their incomes for 1946, 1947, and 1948." Image courtesy Los Angeles Public Library
Welcome aboard the Delorean! 

Marty McFly here to take you on a special journey to explore the former Chatsworth ranch of Veronica Lake and Andre de Toth located at 11000 Winnetka Avenue (in today's Monteria Estates).  The Delorean has the required plutonium plus some random garbage in the Mr. Fusion reactor ready for this trip. The time circuits are set to May 1946 and the flux capacitor is......fluxxing. The engine is running (not stalled this time) so we need to hurry. Hang on, as the ride can be a little bumpy as we travel back in time.

Veronica Lake was a film, stage, and television actress who was both popular and critically acclaimed. Lake was the quintessential blonde bombshell who captivated audiences and inspired songs, numerous books, and even armies fighting overseas for peace. Her likeness is still being imitated some 50 years later today with "Jessica Rabbit" in the animated film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? released in 1988, in 1990's neo-noir film, L.A. Confidential and in today's star actresses who sport Lake's signature peek-a-boo hairstyle embodied by Taylor Swift, Eva Mendes, and Jennifer Anniston to name a few. 

By 1946, Lake was a recognized actress in Hollywood's golden era and had just completed The Blue Dahlia with Alan Ladd which generated $10 million in revenue (the equivalent of $120 million in 2014 dollars). Lake wanted the privacy of the Chatsworth-Northridge area where other great celebrities were maintaining ranches like Lucille Ball, Andy Devine, James Cagney, and Josef Von Sternberg  to name a few. The Lake biography, Peekaboo: The Story of Veronica Lake, by Jeff Lenburg published in 2001 through the assistance of Lake's mom best describes the move and life at the Chatsworth ranch (note: the book has several bad reviews at Amazon). 
Following this screen triumph (The Blue Dahlia), Veronica and Andre decided to put their Hollywood Hills home up for sale and buy a twenty-three acre ranch in Chatsworth, which was thirty-five miles east of the San Fernando Valley area. In May 1946, the DeToths plunked down three hundred thousand dollars for the property. It featured rolling hills, stables for horses, and plenty of acreage for growing crops. Andre also bought a vacation house in the mountain resort area of Bishop, California. 
Helene Nielsen, who moved in with the DeToths when they relocated to the Chatsworth ranch, recalls that it was beautiful piece of property, but costly to maintain. "It took a lot of money for the upkeep. I think thats why they were both working to pay off the debt that had gotten into. Veronica liked the outdoors and wasn't the type who wanted a big house, the big parties, and didn't want to appear like a big show-off."
Nielsen remembers that the Chatsworth ranch was "a rambling sort of house" with three bedrooms, a large living room, a modern kitchen, and three bathrooms. The dining room was separate from the kitchen, and Veronica hired a maid and one servant to help maintain the household.
According to Nielsen, Veronica and Andre once tried raising wheat to make money, but they were never home to properly supervise harvesting the crop. "They kept working so much that they were hardly home. When they did come home, they were tired and went to bed. I was usually with the nurse and Elaine when they weren't home, doing errands." 
The Chatsworth ranch was everything Veronica had hoped for. As she once said: "We want a place with a pool and room for a couple of horses and lots of dogs..But what we won't have is an 'estate.' THe place will be no bigger than what one good cook-maid, a nurse, and I can keep up."
When Andre and Veronica purchased the property, there weren't any floors in the place, or trees on the premises. The rest of the landscape was underdeveloped with the exception of the foundation for the stables. But Veronica kept her promise to fill the ranch to capacity with livestock. She owned four Doberman pinschers, chickens, rabbits, ducks, and two horses. The Chatsworth ranch became her peaceful hideaway from the daily anxieties of Hollywood.  
But like all great celebrities especially actresses who have it harder than men in show business as they get older, reach a peak in their careers and begin the slow descend. While most continue to make a modest living and are still respected and active like today's  Betty White (age 92), who recently won a Grammy award in 2011. Lake's story is tragic and sad as she quickly lost her fortune, fame, and completely fell out of the limelight almost over night.
Veronica Lake and Andre de Toth on the Chatsworth Ranch. Image courtesy Pinterest.
Lake's decline was the result of her heavy drinking, being difficult to work with, and her failed marriage to the violent Andre de Toth. After her busy and prosperous career, she had only completed one film in 1951, Stronghold, which also happened to be the year she and Andre claimed bankruptcy including the Chatsworth ranch. Lenburg's Peekaboo book describes the hostile environment when Lake's career crashed:
By 1947, life at the Chatsworth ranch was no longer Shangri-la. Serious financial problems began to surface with increasing frequency and Andre's free-spending ways cut off any chances of saving. Despite their rather substantial combined incomes, Andre was financially irresponsible, spending their money freely and consistently.......Back home, Andre continued to buy new goods for his own enjoyment, from Palomino horses to yachts to new automobiles. And Veronica always capitualted. He also started taking long and frequenty trips to Europe and Mexico, supposedly in search of new film properties for his wife. 
 All during their seven-year marriage, Andre's promises were about as good as the paper on which they were written. Her marital woes heightened, however, when he accused her of fooling around with one of the Mexican film stars (from filming Stronghold). That was the last straw, and as far as Veronica was concerned, the distance between them had opened for the last time.
In April 1951, Veronica and Andre filed voluntary petitions of bankruptcy in U.S. Court, listing debts of $156,573.91 and assets of $168,050. The principal assets listed were their ranch home in Chatsworth, which they valued at $120,000, and $45,000 that Veronica claimed was owed to her from the performance in Stronghold. The petition also itemized almost one hundred creditors with claims varying from a few dollars to several hundred dollars.
The Chatsworth ranch, which the bankruptcy petition stated had two encumbrances totaling $36,900 against it, was seized by a collector of internal renvue for unpaid income taxes of approximately $63,000. The ranch was to be put up for sale at public auction to satisfy the tax bill. In addition to unpaid income taxes, the petition in bankruptcy noted that the state of California had a tax lien of $13,000 against the Chatsworth ranch and that unpaid Los Angeles county and municipal taxes tallied another $5,000, the equivalent of Veronica's former weekly salary at Paramount.
Veronica and Andre moved to a smaller, secluded, home on 6630 Jamen Avenue (I believe the correct spelling is Jamieson) in Reseda.  Helene Nielsen was asked to move out. Recalling the incident, Nielsen said recently: "Andre told her to make me leave. She came to me and said, 'Helene, I love you and want you here. She never talked directly, she was very soft-spoken, with her eyes down. She felt badly to have to tell me. But she said, 'Andre wants you to leave.' I didn't know where the hell I was going, but I left." 
The auction of the Chatsworth ranch was scheduled for May 8, 1951, at which time fifty potential buyers viewed the property. Minimum bid was $65,000. But there were no takers. In fact, no bids were made at all. 
Image courtesy Google News/Toledo Blade
In the summer of 1951,  Lake decided for a complete makeover and quit Hollywood, de Toth, and even her kids flying to New York alone to start a new career in TV and theatre. Eventually she would try to raise the kids but this became difficult as working became a huge time commitment. By the 1960's, she quietly and unnoticeable to the patrons worked as a waitress at a hotel bar in Manhattan which allowed her to continue in her drinking ways. One day she was discovered by a reporter which led to a mini-revival of her career which included a well-received autobiography, Veronica, but her films were unsuccessful. By 1973, her body had taken a toll from the alcohol addiction, suffering from paranoia, and her mental decline. She passed away alone on July 7 with speculation that it took several days for someone to identify her.

After a reading a story like this, the inevitable questions always surface; what if Lake didnt develop a drinking habit? Or marry de Toth? Or turn her back on Hollywood? But the answers will never be known as there is no real life Delorean to alter the course of history. What is known is that Lake has become a significant part of Hollywood's glamour days that we can proudly say has a connection to the SFV.

Now its time to hop in the Delorean and check out the years 1947, 1952, 1972, and 1980 courtesy of Historicaerials.com.
The ranch is located within the Monteria Estates with an address of 11000 Winnetka Ave. The home was accessed via a long driveway. 
The red outline shows roughly  the 23 acres of the property. The year shown is 1952 which shows mostly undeveloped land and was already in the hands of a new owner. 
By 1959, surrounding area was still undeveloped but it appears that the new owner added trees or hedges to the driveway as well as a pool. 
By 1972, the home was demolished for an unknown reason possibly damage from the 1971 Sylmar quake or was abandoned and occupied by squatters but that is speculation as I have not been able to find any info. However, the pool remains. 
By 1980, the pool was demolished and Monteria estates was still mostly undeveloped but now for long as the 80's brought the mansions. 
Now its time to go back to the future in the Delorean to present day 2015. Ironically the former Veronica Lake site contains a lot of trash and ruble. I dont believe it is from the original home and it looks like some dumping took place or possibly the construction of a new home that didnt happen. Today the property is owned by the Porter Ranch Development Company with offices in Beverly Hills, CA with an unknown purchase date and price. The same company developed most of Porter Ranch north of the 118.
Image courtesy Bing Maps















And as a bonus as mentioned in Lenburg's Peekaboo book, Lake moved to Reseda after losing her Chatsworth home renting 6630 Jamieson Ave (shown below) which has been confirmed by the always reliable Movielanddirectory and a 1985 LA Times article which mentions Jamieson. The home measures 3 Beds/1 Baths on 1,017 sqft on a total lot size of 6,496 sqft built in 1949. The home is currently owned by Linda Barker of Provo, UT which was previously transferred from Evelyn and William Bergelin. The purchase price and date is unknown but appears to maybe have last changed hands sometime in the 60's or 70's as property taxes paid in 2014 were a ridiculous $877 on an assessed value of $60,555. Gotta love prop 13. Its hard to believe Lake lived in this property as there is nothing glamorous about it but does reveal the impact of the bankruptcy. 

Image courtesy Google Maps
You can view more SFV BTTF and history here

Sources:

Veronica Lake - Wikipedia

Andre de Toth - Wikipedia

Bankruptcy Filed by Veronica Lake and Husband, Toledo Blade April 17, 1951

Giving New Life to Old Hollywood, Northridge-Chatsworth Patch by Partick Willliams on August 8, 2012.

Hollywood Heroine Film

Veronica Lake Biography - Turner Classic Movies

Stories, Glories of Stars Are Reflected in Former Valley Homes by Stephen G. Bloom on October 6, 1985, LA Times.

Unconfirmed info:
A news article from the May 13, 1973 edition of The Van Nuys News shows an ad for Veronica Lake's mansion in Toluca Lake being offered for $36,950. I have not found any info for Lake owning a property in Toluca Lake if I am reading the ad correctly. Nor can it be the Chatsworth Ranch because it was demolished by 1973 according to the historical satellite photos from above. 

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Marty Mcfly

Anything and everything about the San Fernando Valley. This blog will take you back in time when the valley was covered with dirt and orange groves to a leader in the space race to its current status as America's suburb. Come along and join me on this adventure, I guarantee you have been influenced/impacted by the San Fernando Valley in one form or another even if you have never visited or heard of the SFV.

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