September 16, 2016

Photo Essay: Oakridge, An Old Hollywood Celebrity Ranch (Updated for 2021)

[Last updated 3/20/21 10:18 PM PT—new Jack Oakie memorabilia photos added at bottom of post]

In the northern part of the San Fernando Valley in an LA neighborhood called Northridge, there's an English country manor (with Tudor Revival elements) that the "Architect to the Hollywood Stars," Paul R. Williams, designed for film (and, later, TV) actress Barbara Stanwyck. 

It was just a small part of a tract of land that she'd split with her agent, Zeppo Marx (and his wife Marion), to breed thoroughbred horses. They nicknamed it "Marwyck Ranch."

Built in 1937, it was only in the possession of the Double Indemnity star for three years when she sold it to actor Jack Oakie. Barbara also sold her share of the horse business to Zeppo, who eventually sold it off to become Northridge Farms.

Jack was an Okie from Muskogee—hence, the new name "Oakridge"—who was known as the master of the "double take."

Jack lived at Oakridge with his wife Vicoria Horne for decades thereafter.

It was the perfect fantasy of an agricultural, rustic ranch retreat with a thicket of oak and pepper trees—and with all the Hollywood amenities they could wish for, like a big outdoor swimming pool.

And, of course, every celebrity needs an equestrian-themed "Great Room" for entertaining...

...with murals painted on wallpaper that line the walls.

Although Jack died in 1978, his wife Victoria continued to live at Oakridge until she donated it to USC in 2000.

Unfortunately, USC didn't know what to do with the 6400 square-foot, two-story, five-wing house with four fireplaces in 12 rooms, so it then sold it to a real estate developer.

Jack and his wife had always wanted to preserve the area with its agricultural, low-density character and had turned down many offers from developers while they were still alive and living at the estate. Victoria has been quoted as saying that Oakridge was "too beautiful to be torn down."

Fortunately, Victoria had had the foresight in 1990 to get the home and nearly two acres of the grounds designated as an historic landmark to preserve it, so all the developer could do was build upon the vacant land adjacent to it. But when that housing development (to be named "Pravada") thankfully fell through, the LA Parks department stepped in and purchased a total of 9.47 acres for $3.35 million to open it up to the public as a recreational site.

That hasn't happened yet.

As it stands now, the only way to get into the this last remnant of Marwyck Ranch is through the Friends of Oakridge organization, which offers a tour once a month.

The waitlist is so big that the tours fill up even before they're announced to the public—so you've got to sign up, be put on the waitlist, and then be ready to pull the trigger as soon as you get notified that reservations are open.

Supposedly, there's a plan in progress for renovating and restoring it—but it's fascinating to see it in its current state...

...which is a bit shabby.

Amazingly, the house is very much in its original condition (though Paul Williams was reported to have made a couple of additions at some point).

A few doorknobs and chandeliers have been stolen...

...but it even survived the 1994 Northridge earthquake, whose epicenter was just two miles away.

Each of the five bedrooms are like their own little time capsule, untouched by the residential subdivision and commercial development from the 1960s that surround the estate (including a car dealership, a couple shopping centers, and an Outback Steakhouse across the street—see screenshot below).

Sure, the circus tent-themed master closet is a little bit stained...

...and a little bit tattered...

...but it's pretty clear what they were going for in all of these rooms—including the eight bathrooms.

The wallpaper continues to be fabulous, no matter which room you're in.

Some of the decor probably even dates back to Barbara Stanwyck's days...

...though no one is exactly sure.

Either way, it's considered largely intact, which is exceedingly rare for structures of the time...

...especially when most bathrooms and kitchens get modernized at some point.

Photo: Google Satellite View

A wall has since been built around the Oakridge Estate. And where there's no wall, there's a chainlink fence. When you're outside of it, you really have no idea of the meadows and groves that lie within those boundaries. And when you're inside of it, you're far away from the suburban sprawl of "the Valley" that cropped up all around it.

Updated 3/20/21—The Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys, CA has entire display cases devoted to Jack Oakie's personal belongings and memorabilia, some of which are pictured below:

circa 2021

circa 2021

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