Silver Lake has played a seminal role not only in the development of the film industry, but remains home to some of the most iconic architecture of the 20th Century. Among the more neglected of its iconic architects—albeit in the more romantic than modernist vein that has garnered the most attention–is Armand Monaco (1895-1981). Monaco, whose name couldn’t be better suited to the grandiosity of many of his projects, designed one of Silver Lake’s most elegant villas and other lavish homes for wealthy clients and celebrities, as well as commercial projects, public housing and churches. Also, unfortunately, as Los Angeles’ and Hollywood’s shadow side seemingly went with the territory, Monaco’s extended family would be touched by tragedy and an early Hollywood scandal.
Armand Monaco was twelve when his Italian parents joined the massive turn-of-the-century immigrant wave to the United States, settling with their five children in Chicago. After graduation from Northwestern University, Monaco joined the architectural firm of Jarvis Hunt as principal designer. By 1921. he was working in Los Angeles briefly in the offices of Robert D. Farquhar and Myron Hunt, after which he formed a partnership with William Bordeaux. The new firm designed several opulent Italianate-style residences, including one for actress Betty Blythe in Los Feliz and the Villa Monaco in Silver Lake, which Monaco designed for himself, his wife Carlotta and their two sons Renaldo and Rudolfo Raymond.
Seeking more creative self-expression, Monaco branched out on his own in 1927, designing the original French Hospital in Chinatown (now the Pacific Alliance Medical Center) and in 1928 built a mansion in Palos Verdes for men’s clothing magnate John Joseph Haggarty. It wasn’t all high-end design for Monaco. In 1937 he was among a select group of socially-conscious architects selected to design the William Mead Public Housing Project; the project was the eighth in a series of garden apartments created to offer a higher quality of life to low income families.
Monaco resided at his Silver Lake villa until 1965. In 1967, Renaldo, Armando’s first born son and his pregnant wife along with another child were killed in one of Los Angeles’ signature hazards–a head on collision on the Interstate 5 Freeway. Compared to this horrific tragedy, the Hollywood scandal that rocked the family was a minor inconvenience; and here’s where the tale gets really bizarre:
Having achieved near god-like status among his myriad fans, Rudolf Valentino’s crypt at Hollywood Cemetery was visited by an estimated 100,000 people in the first two years after his death in 1926. One of his most ardent admirers was a fellow Italian immigrant, Angelina Coppola, who reportedly visited Valentino’s crypt several times a week, located a few blocks from the cemetery. When her baby boy tragically died soon after birth in 1928, the Coppolas named him, Rudolph Valentino Coppola, in honor of the film idol. Two years later, she sued Dr. Rodolfo Monaco, the child’s pediatrician for malpractice to the tune of $75,000.
The circus-like trial that ensued featured Angelina’s claims that she had been warned by Rudolf Valentino’s spirit of the child’s endangerment. But the highlight came when a woman from the gallery burst out, claiming to be channeling the spirit of Indian chief Gray Eagle, alleging that Valentino’s spirit had sent her to the courtroom to protect Angelina! After this latest fiasco, the judge granted a motion for a mistrial. A second trial two years later ended in full acquittal.
Whether one is beckoned to Villa Monaco by the ghost of Rudolf Valentino, the palatial Villa Monaco estate on Waverly Drive remains one of the grandest of Silver Lake homes.