Architecture Bespoke Living

Author David Silverman on the History of Hollywood Homes

If you’ve ever wondered who lived in your property before you, then turn to David Silverman, the man who can reveal all your home’s secrets

David Silverman, the man behind LA House Histories, is telling me about 300 Delfern Drive: “I’ve heard so many stories about this house, how the butler couldn’t bear to look at the Van Gogh portrait, how the children, forbidden to touch the art, would pull on ribbons on priceless sculptures, and of course the parties and movie stars. Then the photo editor for the 1966 wedding party got in touch with prints!”

Edie Goetz Delfern Drive
Society hostess Edie Goetz at 300 Delfern Drive. Photo: Eliot Elisofon/Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Banner image: David Silverman at his sister's home in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles, which was the subject of his first book. Photo: New York Times/Redux/eyevine

The nuptials in question were those of Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra; the place the legendary Goetz mansion on Delfern Drive, a residence so steeped in Hollywood folklore it is worthy of a movie in its own name. Or book.

The pictures, along with party notes handwritten by the late Edie Goetz, movieland’s one-time uber socialite and hostess, are among myriad treasures Silverman has collected as he sets out to tell the mansion’s story his way—in a one-off, custom-made tome. Silverman’s most recent work is also a tale worthy of a Hollywood film script. Cursed blue diamonds and media moguls figure in the telling of a 1930s hacienda-style estate in California, and the one-time home of Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.

Sinatra North Carolwood Drive
Frank Sinatra photographed outside 320 North Carolwood Drive in 1949.

Silverman says he is a “storyteller, bringing the story of a house to life” through meticulous research and endeavor, poring over newspaper clippings and magazines, vintage photographs, architect plans, and brochures. He contacts relatives and friends for anecdotes weaving it all together to chronicle the lives of the homes of the rich and famous. That is not a prerequisite, but as Silverman admits, “a Hollywood celebratory angle helps. It puts the house in the spotlight.”

Documenting the memoirs of golden age revivalist homes hasn’t always been Silverman’s work. Until June 2018, the native Californian was a practicing lawyer and had been for 25 years until he “finally got sick of it and quit. I wasn’t passionate about it, but I am passionate about what I do now. I love it.”

He began some six years ago. “I was sitting with my sister in her Holmby Hills home, built in 1925, when I saw a sign on an outhouse that read ‘Mille Fleurs (Thousand Flowers)’. She didn’t know anything about it, so I began investigating.” Silverman found the origins of the sign—the LA businessman who built the house was an avid gardner and Francophile—and bound this with all his discoveries into a bespoke book for his sibling’s birthday. A love affair and business were born.

Shirley Temple 209 North Rockingham Avenue
Famous child actor Shirley Temple at 209 North Rockingham Avenue, the subject of one of Silverman's books. Photo: Courtesy of David Silverman

Each book takes the same format, a chapter per owner. Their length depends on the drama involved, but averages 150 pages. Silverman spends a minimum of 100 hours on each project, and includes as many personal sketches and memories as he encounters. It is his uncanny knack for by-chance meets, coincidence, and luck that have led to spectacular finds. His work on the Shirley Temple house runs to 250 pages, and listening to his account of researching former producer David O Selznick’s Beverly Hills estate that surely will too.

“This house has a fascinating history. I met David’s son Daniel, who showed me home movies from the ’40s. He’s 82 now and the grandkids now want to meet the new owners. Another time I picked up an LA Times article about a man who had a coach-built Rolls-Royce, one of only two of its kind in the world and once owned by [Edie’s husband Bill] Goetz, so I got in touch with him. He drove the car up to the driveway!” Silverman says. “These crazy stories, they come out of nowhere.”

David Silverman's volume on 209 North Rockingham Avenue, the one-time home of Shirley Temple, is 250 pages long, featuring photographs, drawings, and text.

Once each book is ready it is bound—the client chooses leather or linen—and custom finished. There are other options, such as loose leaves of photographs and captions, architectural drawings, and aerial photos encased in a bespoke linen-covered clamshell box.

Silverman also works with architects, interior designers, and decorators helping with information for restoring today’s homes to their former glories, but it is his books that garner fascination. How does he describe them? “They are private books. There is only one copy for each commission.” Requests come from clients who want to gift a book or from the home’s new owners or real estate brokers, but, says Silverman, “None is for sale.”

There is no history of Silverman’s own abode, a 1950s ranch. He has tried researching but came up blank. “It’s too ordinary, nobody famous ever lived here!” That hasn’t dampened his fervor. Along with current plans, what would be his dream commission? “That would be Greenacres, built in the 1920s by the silent film star. Harold Lloyd. It is one of the largest and oldest of LA estates. I would love to do that,” he beams. It would be a perfect match: a house described as “the most impressive movie star’s estate ever created” and untold crazy stories to be discovered.