While the Paramour Mansion (Canfield-Moreno Estate; see story on Antonio Moreno:  Hollywood’s “It” Man) may be Silver Lake’s largest and most historically significant, the mansion on Hathaway Hill (also known as the Garbutt House) is easily its most visible and imposing.  Many tales have been told about the mysterious concrete structure out of a Hitchcock film or Wyeth painting that looms above the south end of Silver Lake Reservoir; not all of them hit the mark.  Fortunately, through an early afternoon spent in the early spring of 2015 with Frank Garbutt Hathaway, son of Melodile Garbutt and Charles Hathaway Sr. and grandson of Frank Alderman Garbutt, I hope to set the record straight.

We met at the Los Angeles Athletic Club (LAAC) which Frank ran for 40 years as president, CEO and chairman of the board until his retirement in 1992.  From the interview the following remarkable story emerged. 

Frank Clarkson Garbutt was born in a tiny farmhouse in the Canadian wilderness on the outskirts of what is known today as Toronto in 1837.  He left home at the age of 16 to “make his way in the world”, eventually working his way through Harvard College, married Mary Alderman and moved with her and their two-year old son to Denver in 1871.  After amassing a fortune in the Colorado mines, the Garbutts moved to Los Angeles in 1882, at the time, a rapidly growing frontier town, where Frank quickly established himself as a player in the booming real estate market.

The family’s association with the LAAC, then a bastion of the city’s elite began soon thereafter.  Following his father’s admission, Frank Garbutt was invited to join at the tender age of 14.  After graduating from Los Angeles High School, Frank dropped out of Stanford after a year, studied law  on his own and learned about mining from his father.  Still only nineteen, he married Emilie Laurine Edouart, granddaughter of the eminent French-orn artist  August  Amant Constant Fidele Edouart, and began inventing oil-drilling tools, which he sold for profit and used the money to drill his own wells.  By the 1890s and still only in his twenties, the entrepreneurial prodigy had joined Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield as one of the city’s millionaire oil kings.

That wasn’t all he became.  A veritable Renaissance man, Frank Garbutt was described as a “boxer, automobilist, duck hunter, pioneer aviator and yachtsman.  On the business front, he expanded his oil operations, helped start the Union Oil Company and jumped into the city’s emerging film industry.  He became vice president of Famous Players Lasky Corporation; the company later became Paramount Pictures.  He helped establish the city’s aerospace industry through financing one of the country’s first aerospace factories which later became Martin-Marietta; he also ran a ferry service between San Pedro and Terminal Island, helped launch the Automobile Club of Southern California and was on the organizing committee for the 1932 Summer Olympics.

The Garbutt-Hathaway connection began with the marriage of Melodile Garbutt to shipbuilder Charles Hathaway.  In 1923 Frank Garbutt and Charles Hathaway jointly purchased a large parcel of land atop what was then known as Dunnigan’s Hill in Silver Lake.  It was decided to keep the land in the family, dividing it into different “spheres of influence” providing a home for Melodile and Charles and their six children and keeping the largest for Frank Garbutt himself, the Hitchcockian mansion at the hilltop peak. A parcel was carved out for the youngest daughter, Theodora, however she would remain in her father’s house until a “suitable time”, meaning when she married, which she never did.

Theodora was the last of the family to live on Hathaway Hill, leaving after the death of her father in 1947.  The house sat empty until 1960 when the three residences, 35 view acres on five lots went up for sale, offered at $725,000 with pipe organ and furnishings available.  There were no takers.  Melodile who was handling the estate wisely pulled it off the market and bided her time for a few years, later selling it for $1.2M. 

The houses remained vacant for several more years as the owners battled the city and preservationists over whether to raze the three houses and build condominiums or a large housing development.  In 1978, two of the houses were torn down to make way fro a one-hundred home development, but the Garbutt House was spared.  L.A. City Council Member Peggy Stevenson represented the district at the time and fervently supported the project.  After the project was completed however, it mysteriously became a gated community, with suspicion pointing to Stevenson’s complicity.  When Michael Woo, a “slow growth” progressive defeated Stevenson is a subsequent Los Angeles city council election, the office accused Stevenson of destroying all her constituent files, removing any possible evidence of collusion.

The Hathaway Mansion was purchased in 2006 by Dov Charney, Founder of America Apparel.  Charney was widely praised in his leadership of the company with fair employee practices and a refusal to outsource manufacturing.  Sexual harassment charges however proved to be his undoing; in December 2014, Charney was terminated as Chief Executive Officer of the company.  He has been the subject of several sexual harassment lawsuits all of which were either settled, dismissed or remanded to private arbitration.

Excerpted from Silver Lake Chronicles:  Exploring an Urban Oasis in Los Angeles– by permission of the author.