Monday, July 25, 2011

The Witch's House

File:Spadena Witch House.jpg
The Witch's House. Photo by Kafziel

Last night I visited the magical Witch's House in Beverly Hills, arguably the foremost icon of Storybook architecture in the United States.
 Also known as the Spadena House, it is located in a quiet residential neighborhood at 516 Walden Dr., Beverly Hills, at the corner of Walden and Carmelita, walking distance from The Beverly Hilton hotel and several nice parks. 
The quirky house is not normally open to the public, but last night the owner held a political fund-raising event on the property so I was afforded the rare treat of going beyond the front yard fence.  Even better,  a 5-year renovation to the house and property had just recently been completed so everything looked pristine. Well, as pristine as a house intentionally designed to look a little dilapadated can look! 

Built in 1921 by silent film art director Harry Oliver, the structure was originally built to house offices and dressing rooms for Willat Studios in Culver City, a city to the west. When financial losses due to the advent of "talkies" struck the silent film studio, the building was abandoned and became a source of curiosity for many passing by. The Spadena family bought it in 1934 and moved it to its present, more private, location in Beverly Hills. There has only been one other owner, a woman who lived there a long time, decorated the interior in 1960's fashion, and who eventually could not keep the house and grounds from falling into disrepair. But this woman had the spirit of the house within her, and she would greet trick-or-treaters on Halloween dressed as a witch. Some began calling the place "The Witch's House" and the name stuck.

The house now belongs to 47-year old real estate agent Michael Libow, who originally merely showed the house to potential buyers back in 1998. But time after time the interested parties indicated a complete tear-down would be in order to meet their needs. No one was inclined to preserve the house. So a determined Libow bought the house himself for 1.3 million dollars, and began planning renovations to provide more living space that would blend with the existing Storybook styling he was intent on preserving.

The curved wall to the sideyard contains a door with a spider web design. Note the Storybook element of the stones that are embedded in the wall.

Close-up of the wooden door and iron spider web

Quaint lighting fixtures fit the Storybook theme 

This bit of vine-like ironwork serves the same purpose as barbed wire

Mature trees shade the corner lot 

A patriotic witch adorns the curbside address marker

Several rustic signs held by gnarly manzanita branches warned against trespassing 

Two stone turtles graced one end of the pond

The Storybook styling extends to the chimney

View along the sidewalk of the side of the property
The front entrance gate

Storybook-style pillars look quite organic with branches applied

The mailbox

The bridge over the pond, which is actually a moat
Backyard. The rear windows all resemble the one seen here (click photo to enlarge)
Near the back gate, a portable toilet remains from the home's recent construction 
The garage and room additions as seen from the back alley
See more pictures of the house here,  and read about Libow's and several other Storyboook homeowner's experiences here. 

My next post will be about the gardens at the Witch's House

Friday, July 15, 2011

Butterbeer Recipe

Would you like to sample some of Harry Potter's Butterbeer?

This is from Amy Small who says she's tried many Butterbeer recipes, and this is her favorite.

1 can of Cream Soda (A&W, Mug, Jones etc.)
1 teaspoon of Rum Extract (imitation rum extract is in your grocery store for $4, or try ordering pure online)
1 teaspoon of Butterscotch Extract (probably need to order online)
1 tablespoon of Brown Sugar
1 cup of Vanilla Ice Cream

It's delicious and very frothy and it looks just like beer.

Note that both of the extracts can be ordered from Amazon. I bought 4 ounces of both from OliveNation via Amazon,, and with combined shipping it came to $21.66

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Signs of Harry Potter

We recently visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, and we were completely blown away by detail work that tops anything Disney has done. As a huge Disney fan, I certainly don't say that lightly. For example, the rocks pictured here on the castle cliff don't just have a paint job; there is three-dimensional lichen all over them. Trash cans resemble iron barrels. Store clerks hand you a quill pen to sign your credit card reciept.  Even the smallest of details were attended to in this section of the park.

While the other areas of Islands of Adventure looked tempting upon arrival, we made a beeline for the back of the right-hand side. This is where the area called the Wizarding World of Harry Potter lies, just over a bridge. The entrance arch to the area has a sign that said "Please respect the spell limits". When you walk in, the village of Hogsmeade greets you with a riot of snow-capped rooflines, and the soundtrack to the movie plays from hidden speakers.

The space may be ridiculously crowded with visitors, but you forget about the crowd when you see the Hogwarts Express train puffing smoke as it comes through Platform 9  3/4 immediately to your right.

 Visitors dressed in their house robes, like this Gryffindor boy, add to the illusion of being in Harry's world. (Adult robes are $99 at the park or pay $12 shipping and get the same robes-and other merchandise- at Universal's online store here. Select Filtch's Emporium.)

The quaint village shops have windows with interesting and often, animated, items. More often than not, the storefronts are false; there is no store and the windows are just for the entertainment of passers-by and to supply the correct ambiance. For example, below is Wiseacres wizarding supplies store, with a hanging iron telescope for a shop sign. The window is filled with astronomical devices, and you can see a room filled with other assorted wizard paraphenalia. Above this, there is a music store with music paper flying madly around as though  in a whirlwind, and the cacophonus toots and blasts of beginners playing instruments can be heard. Instrument cases are left on the stairs that could be seen through the door. You cannot enter either of these places, but they are entertaining none the less.

Several books had tiny moving video scenes embedded in the covers. Gilderoy Lockhart waves and preens on this book cover.

I bought one of these Hedwig owls. They are puppets with a stick inside so you can swivel their heads.

Ollivander's wand shop has a short show, wherein the wizard selects a participant (usually a youngster) and then decides which wand is a good fit for that person. Flicking the wrong wand causes lightening and other displays of commotion. When the correct wand is chosen, something else happens (I don't want to say too much). There is always a line to see that small show, as only a handful of people can fit in the room.
The number of wand boxes in Ollivander's is simply astounding. The shelves full of them go up...

...and up and up! And it is like this all around the room and partway into the next room as well.


Ollivanders connects to the Owlry post office, which sells stationary, post cards, stamps, wax seals, and pens. You can send outbound mail there, with a Hogsmead postmark.  The other stores in Hogsmead you can actually enter are Zonko's joke shop, Honeydukes candy store, Dervish and Banges for clothing and all kinds of souvenirs. In this area there is also the Three Broomsticks restaurant and Hog's Head Pub, as well as the entrance to Dragon Challenge roller coaster (and Hagrids hut and other things we missed because we didn't know there was more than a roller coaster there. Next time, I am going to join the queue so I can see everything and then bail out before getting on the coaster.)  The ATM says Gringott's Bank, and the restrooms are alive with the sound of Moaning Myrtle.

Honeydukes candy store window, from the inside. Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Bean is featured in this display.

Butterbeer barrel cart and Honeyduke's candy store

Butterbeer from the tap or frozen like a slushee, your choice!
I got a frozen one, without the more expensive plastic souvenir mug. It does have a frothy top and a delicious vanilla-y flavor.

The frog chorus entertains with "singing" puppet frogs

Set decoration in Dervish and Banges' inaccessable 2nd story includes Spectra Specs and an Advanced Potion Making  text book, as well as a broom that "flys" slowly up and down a bit.

There are many items not for sale, but just for ambiance in the stores.

You can get your outbound mail stamped in the left corner with a Hogsmead postmark
The Owl Post is stuffed with parcels to be mailed (all are set decorations)

The Owlry is an open-sided bench-filled pavilion with many animated owls roosting on the high beams.
The owls very subtly swivel their heads and flap their wings and blink

The Monster Book of Monsters was sleeping and snoringin a big cage with a warning sign.

There were some things that caught the eye of this Halloween-lover:

skeleton in Zonko's Joke Shop

Mini Halloween candy buckets (on the drum) at Zonko's joke shop

This cart looks like an old  funeral coach to me. (The Hipppogriff rollercoaster is behind it.)
The pumpkin lids on the rather vile-tasting Pumpkin Juice.  At first it tasted good, especially when you are parched in the heat, but then it turned flavor on my tongue. I poured mine down a drain and kept the bottle.

And finally, the signs of Harry Potter, or really, the signs of Hogsmeade, each one so unique:
golden snitch at Spintwitches sporting goods (fake storefront)
Another shot of the Golden Snitch with quidditch balls. Spintwitches has quidditch supplies in the window.
Hanging witch and wizard signs for the ladies and men's restrooms. Above hangs a mortar and pestle for the 2nd story Potions shop (fake store)
Potages Cauldrons (fake storefront) gets 2 hanging signs. A room with more cauldrons and an oven with a self-stirring  cauldron are viewed through the window.
Zonko's joke shop's hanging sign is a man with a big mouth
Ollivander's wand shop's elegant hanging sign
Dervish and Banges for clothing and souveniers
Tomes and Scrolls (fake storefront). The animation in the window is a quill pen scribbling unassisted in a book.
Excuse me, I need to go finish my Butterbeer now!

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