The Bessie Love Compound in Encinitas

June 11, 2019

Downtown Encinitas is full of historical homes and buildings. One of these historical sites is the Bessie Love Compound. This historical home is actually made up of three homes; two front cottages and a larger two story home toward the back of the property. These were inhabited, according to some, by Bessie Love, a famous actress and dancer from the 1920's, and her chauffeur and her Russian wolfhound, Olaf.

At the peak of her fame in the Roaring '20s, Bessie Love was one of the hottest actress in Hollywood.

A young starlet who lit up the silver screen with big brown eyes and an angelic smile, Love is credited with introducing the Charleston to America through her part in “The King on Main Street” in 1925.

That was before people even talked on screen.

After they started talking, Love starred in the first film musical, “The Broadway Melody,” and was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 1929, the second year the little gold statuette was awarded.

Bessie Love's star has long faded from Hollywood's firmament, but it still glows in Encinitas, where she left a small shrine to the beach town's brush with the Hollywood glitterati of the 1920s: the Bessie Love Compound.

Those cottages – a two-story house and two tiny bungalows on Fourth Street between D and E streets – were demolished and then completely rebuilt as near-exact replicas. The builders were inhibited a bit by current building codes and were forced to make a few adjustments. The homes were slated for demolition, but rather than replace them with something grander, Joel Schwartz and his wife, Helen McManus, built near-replicas of the originals and live there, so Encinitas will always have its monument to the former star.

“They're so falling apart it was better to take them down and duplicate them,” said Schwartz, who has owned the cottages since 1995. Painted a cornflower blue behind a white picket fence, the cottages are typical of beach-town construction in the early 20th century – simple, functional Craftsman-style houses with gables, wood trim and shingles. A small peaked arbor shades the entry to the property. They neatly frame their 10,000 square-foot lot, with the two bungalows near the street and a two-story home – now divided into two apartments – presiding over a large courtyard.

Schwartz said part of the former star's legacy is that her Love cottages has been a breeding ground for – what else – love. “There's a cute analogy that a lot of couples that move into them get married,” he said.

He noted the cottages' legend is bigger than their actual history. A report he commissioned by experts in historical properties says that despite their name, Bessie Love never really lived in the cottages.

She didn't really own them, either.

Bessie Love's real name was Juanita Horton and she was born in 1898 in Midland, Texas. Her parents – Emma and John Horton – moved the family to Los Angeles, and her mother got her sweet-faced child into the movies. Bessie Love's first role was an uncredited part in D.W. Griffith's early classic, “The Birth of a Nation.”

By the 1920s, Love had an uncle in Encinitas, Edward A. Biby, who was a real estate broker.

 It was her parents, not Bessie, whose names appeared as owners of the Bessie Love Cottages, from April 1924 to July 1925. The historical report says the three cottages were built in 1924, and despite a legend that there was a fourth cottage, no record of any other structure exists.

It was likely that Love's parents lived there and that the actress stayed on weekends.

After July 1925, the property passed to a new owner.

Some stories of Love's stay in Encinitas are utterly fantastic. One is that she lived in the large two-story house in the back, her chauffeur lived in one cottage and her Russian wolfhound, Olaf, lived in the other. Olaf was reputed to bathe in a large, claw-foot bathtub. Schwartz said that when he bought the property, “Way in the back was a clawed bathtub. I didn't know that was the bathtub that Olaf got his bath in.”

But according to a story by an Encinitas historian, the late Ida Lou Coley, in The Beach News in October 1997, Love left Olaf and the tub with her uncle when her career became too demanding, and her uncle gave them to an Encinitas resident when Olaf and the tub became too demanding.

By 1929, when Love was nominated for an Oscar for her part in “The Broadway Melody,” a talkie and the first Hollywood musical, Encinitas was in her past.

She lost that Academy Award to Mary Pickford, who was practically a neighbor. Pickford and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, were Hollywood's first power couple. They lived part time in North County, giving Fairbanks Ranch its name. Pickford attended the opening of Encinitas' La Paloma movie theater in 1928, according to Coley's writings.

By 1935, Love not only was done with Encinitas, but also with Hollywood and the United States. Her marriage to a Hollywood producer had ended, and movie offers dried up. She moved to England, where she did stage work and small film roles.

Her last appearances were in the films “Reds,” “Lady Chatterley's Lover” and “Ragtime” in 1981 and “The Hunger” in 1983.

She died in 1986, but the rebuilt cottages honor her brief fling with Encinitas.



Built: 1924

Location: 535-545 Fourth St., Encinitas

Original owners: Emma Jane Horton and John Gross Horton, parents of silent film star Bessie Love

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