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Investor buys Charlie Chaplin's bungalow court, plans full restoration

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The 1920s-era storybook cottages are fenced off for now

J Jakobson / Flickr creative commons

Early Hollywood filmmaker Charlie Chaplin built the Chaplin Court bungalows in 1923 on North Formosa Avenue to provide living quarters for cast and crew working at his studio a couple of blocks away on La Brea Avenue.

Over the years, stars such as Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Judy Garland spent time in the tiny bungalows (560 to 700 square feet), which were designed in the then-popular "storybook" style.

The studio is now home of The Jim Henson Co., but the cottages remain at 1328 North Formosa Avenue, looking pretty much the way they did when they were designed by architects Arthur and Nina Zwebell.

The good news is that the cottages have been sold to a local real estate investor, Michael Kesler, who has vowed to preserve them and restore them to their original condition, according to Kesler's real estate agent, Robert Cipolloni, of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. (Cipolloni represented Kesler with sales associate Finneus Egan.)

"He's a local guy who buys investment properties and favors ones with special meaning and significance," Cipolloni told Curbed. "He's an LA native, and he was always going by it as a kid, and when the opportunity came up to invest in it, he took it." Escrow is expected to close on the property in the next couple of weeks.

J Jakobson / Flickr creative commons

The cottages, which were leased to various tenants over the years, came up for sale for $2.5 million in 2015 after owner Larry Davis died. The bungalow court was subsequently taken off the market and was not for sale when Cipolloni approached the Davis estate about a possible sale. Davis' sister, Marcia Ferstenfeld of Michigan, agreed (for a price that wasn't disclosed).

"They're going to restore it," the Davis estate's real estate agent, Brian Byhower of RE/MAX Estate Properties, told Curbed. "We've had offers by other people that wanted to tear it down, and we didn't accept those offers."

Indeed, buildings next door to the Chaplin Court are being demolished, Byhower said: "They wanted to buy our building, too, and we didn't want to sell it to them."

Kesler is already contacting contractors who specialize in restoring old houses, Cipolloni said. The bungalows need extensive work on plumbing, electrical systems, termite-damaged wood and the cobblestone paving, among other things, he added. Ultimately, Kesler plans to lease the units out.

The bungalows do not have historic protection, but Kesler will apply for a Mills Act tax exemption, which would require the buildings be preserved, and will consider other historic protection, Cipolloni said. Kesler "wants to hang onto it and pass it down to his family," he said.

The Chaplin Court is one of several residential developments Chaplin oversaw to house his actors and crew, according to Wehoville:

Chaplin lived in one of the units here, just as he did in each of the other two cottage clusters he built. These quaint apartments also were home to film luminaries like Douglas Fairbanks, who lived here in the 1920s when the movies The Thief of Bagdad, The Black Pirate and The Iron Mask were released, and Rudolph Valentino, who lived at these Chaplin bungalows in the 1920s when his movies The Cobra, The Son of the Sheik and The Eagle were released. had this bit of history:

Screen legend Douglas Fairbanks also stayed in one of the cottages, and he literally left his mark—a large Z to commemorate his film The Mark of Zorro. ...

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