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A Brief History of LA's "Witch House"

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Paul Narvaez, Flickr // CC BY NC 2.0

One of the houses on Beverly Hills’ North Walden Drive is not like the others. With its steeply angled roof, askew shutters, rickety picket fence, and moat, the Spadena House—or, as some call it, the "Witch House"—looks more like it belongs on the set of a fairytale film than on a street in Los Angeles. And, in fact, that’s exactly where 516 N. Walden Drive was originally built: On the lot of Willat Studio in Culver City.

The house was designed by Oscar-nominated art director Harry Oliver in 1921. The owners of the studio, Carl and Irvin Willat, instructed him to build a structure that could house the studio’s office space and dressing rooms and double as a set to save money. According to the Culver City Historical Society, Oliver began studying the architecture of bungalows in the old English countryside and "came up with the idea of an 'English cottage fantasy' architecture." Although it looked "tumbled down," the Los Angeles Express assured its readers that the studio’s offices were "equipped with the most modern appurtenances."

The future "Witch House" on the Willats Studio lot in Culver City in 1921. Photo courtesy BeverlyHills.org [PDF].

The designer couldn’t have predicted the reaction to his "story-book" house, which fronted 6509 Washington Boulevard—it reportedly caused car accidents, drew a number of visitors, and garnered lots of press. "Only a movie director could design such a quaint structure," noted The Norwalk Hour in 1922. "Those who live in Hollywood are always searching for the strange and unique.'

When the studio went out of business, the Willats planned to demolish the house. Instead, it was purchased by Ward Lascelle, a producer, who moved it to its current location in Beverly Hills in 1926. Lascelle turned the house "into a functioning home," Michael J. Libow, who bought the house in 1998, told Los Angeles Magazine. "It was really small at the time. There was only the entry foyer, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a tiny kitchen."

The Witch House in its new location on N. Walden Avenue. Photo courtesy BeverlyHills.org [PDF].

Lascelle’s wife, Lillian, would eventually divorce him and marry a man whose last name was Spadena (hence the Spadena House). In 1965, Lillian sold the house to the Green family. The home’s fame was an adjustment: Tourists and gawkers came by the carful. "I used to run in the house when people came by," Doris Green told the LA Times in 1994. "Now I'm in a lot of pictures with my gardening clothes on." Eventually, though, the Greens got in on the fun, dressing up and handing out candy to kids on Halloween. Urban legends about the house formed; according to one tale, the house was built by a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs obsessive.

Eventually, the Greens stopped handing out candy on Halloween, and the house fell into disrepair. In 1997, Mrs. Green put the Witch House up for sale. Most prospective buyers wanted to tear the house down, but Libow, who grew up in the area, "always loved the structure," he told the LA Times in 2005, and didn’t want that to happen. So he bought it for the price of the lot ($1.3 million), and set about remodeling it with the help of Nelson Coates, a film production designer.

It was not an easy job: In addition to a dilapidated exterior, the interior 3500 square foot home was stuck in the 1960s, when the Greens has last remodeled it. "I had been to Barcelona, Spain and fallen in love with Antoni Gaudi’s sensibility," Libow told LA Mag, which also has exclusive photos of the interior of the Witch House. "I was fascinated with how his buildings appear to emanate from the ground in an organic fashion. I wanted my home to have a similar vibe as it is such an anomaly for the flats of Beverly Hills." Libow raised the ceilings, added wood cabinetry and accents, had glass custom-made for the interior, and put in a pool. Despite all the changes, according to a 2013 report prepared by Ostashay & Associates Consulting for the City of Beverly Hills [PDF], "the house appears similar to photographs taken of the property in the 1920s."

The house continues to be an attraction; between 3000 and 4000 kids visit the house every Halloween, and tour busses stop by "countless times per day," Libow told LA Magazine. "I was told by a Starline tour guide that mine is the most requested and most visited non-celebrity house in all of the West Los Angeles!" The house will be around for generations to come: In 2013, it was designated a historic landmark by the City of Beverly Hills.

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science
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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