In 1921, McDermott purchased a plot of land “so high above the valley; the address was listed as ‘Cloud 6, Hollywood.’” The land was in a largely inaccessible area of the Hollywood Hills, so remote that no direct roads led to the home even as late as 1962. As he was deciding what to do with his new property, several accounts recall how McDermott moved a large piano box to an empty lot of land one day and used it as a makeshift weekend home. While we can’t be certain, we believe this was an actual box or crate for a piano and not a “piano box” style home popularized in the mid-west after the turn of the century. Not long after the piano box made its debut, McDermott began to piecemeal his estate together into what would become known as the “craziest” and “zaniest” house in America, often lovingly referred to as simply “the crazy house.”
McDermott’s work as a director and later a comedy screenwriter of early Hollywood films served as inspiration for his home. McDermott found intricate props and sets regularly discarded and destroyed once a film had wrapped. One day, while admiring the style and handiwork of an exotic temple set at his studio, he couldn’t help but think what a nice room it would make. Upon permission from the studio, McDermott took hold of the set and, with the help of his donkey, hauled it up the steep hillside and started to build a home.
The house soon became “a monument to the whimsy and ingenuity of the man who built it entirely by hand from stage props used in lavish productions of the silent screen era.” The odd structure established itself as a nonsensical collection of various architectural styles and eras, incorporating elements from films including The Mark of Zorro, Robin Hood, The Thief of Bagdad, Omar the Tentmaker, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. As the house neared completion, a curious architect visited McDermott and asked what period he would call the home. McDermott replied, “no period at all. It’s an exclamation point.”
The iconic Spiderpool mural is the largest remnant of screenplay writer and director John W. “Jack” McDermott’s (1892-1946) estate, which was razed in 1962, and a popular backdrop for cheesecake and nude photography. Nude photography, including photos of cult favourite Tura Satana taken by silent film star Harold Lloyd, started in the late 1940s after McDermott’s death. Other models photographed here included Dolores Del Monte, Donna “Busty” Brown, Dixie Evans, Jacquelyn Prescott, Marguerite Empey (a.k.a. Diane Webber), Melody Ward, Candy Paige, Thelma Montgomery, and more.
The house was partially destroyed by fire in 1947, demolished piecemeal by Darrell Gregory in response to the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety’s demands, and eventually razed in 1962. Only the spider mural, parts of the pool, the remnants of a structure that predates McDermott’s estate constructed no later than 1900, and other scattered remnants remain.
The site is located on private property and has been tagged in the interest of “describing the world” rather than as an encouragement to trespass.