Toluca Lake has been home to numerous celebrities over the years. Among them was one of the most successful costumers in film history, who became one of the most successful American couturiers as well — and he started that business in the garden of his Toluca Lake home.
Adrian Adolph Greenburg was better known simply as “Adrian” due to his MGM film onscreen credit, “Gowns by Adrian.” He first came to Hollywood at age 21 as a costume designer for Rudolph Valentino’s new production company, Ritz Carlton Productions. His design work had come to the attention of Valentino’s designer wife, Natacha Rambova, who hired him in New York to design several costumes for Valentino and Helena D’Algy in the 1924 film A Sainted Devil for Paramount Studios.
Adrian left behind a successful East Coast film and stage costume career when he moved to Hollywood, but greater achievements were in his future. Although the Valentino company was not a success, Adrian soon found a new position as chief designer at the new studio of epic filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille. In 1928, he joined the famed director at MGM, where he became a designer for Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Marion Davies, Jean Harlow and Jeanette MacDonald.
Adrian appreciated fine architecture, and after living in a small home off of Vine Street in the Hollywood Hills above Franklin, he moved to the “Tower House” in the French Village section of Hollywood near the Hollywood Bowl that had been built by Walter and J. Pierpont Davis. Adrian’s parents, Gilbert and Helena, had moved to Hollywood in the late 1920s to be near their son. When Gilbert passed away in 1931, Adrian rented another architectural gem, “Villa Vallambrosa” in Whitley Heights, for himself and his mother.
Adrian designed Billie Dove’s costumes for the Marion Davies–starring vehicle Blondie of the Follies in 1932. At the time, Dove was engaged to rancher Robert Kenaston and would soon be selling the 1927 John Klump–designed Toluca Lake home she had been living in since shortly after it had been built. Both Adrian and fellow MGM employee Greta Garbo were interested in the Toluca Lake house known as “Villa Encanto,” but it was Adrian who succeeded in purchasing it in 1933.
After Helena Adrian passed away in 1934, it would be another five years before the home saw another female resident — the first Best Actress Oscar winner, Janet Gaynor. Adrian first worked with Gaynor in 1932, when, unhappy with the studio designers at Fox, she asked for, and got, Adrian. At the time she was married to writer Lydell Peck, but their marriage would soon end. In 1938, following her success in A Star Is Born, Gaynor was signed to a multi-picture deal at MGM. Adrian designed her costumes there for Three Loves Has Nancy, and the two started a friendship that grew into a relationship. They were married in 1939, with Gaynor moving into Adrian’s home. A year later they welcomed a son, Robin.
MGM had changed following the death of leading producer Irving Thalberg in 1936. Louis B. Mayer was promoting the family-values Andy Hardy films, and the advent of World War II had changed the studio’s approach to its most popular international star, Greta Garbo. An attempt to turn her into a “girl next door” type failed, leading to her departure from the studio as well as Adrian’s.
The war had also created an interesting opportunity for American fashion designers, as the inaccessibility of French couturier fashion helped accelerate a growing interest in American fashion. Adrian decided to take advantage of this rare opportunity and started Adrian Ltd. His film work had already influenced American fashion and his name was well recognized by the public; his first ads promised, “And now gowns by Adrian are for you.” He and Gaynor leased the former Victor Hugo restaurant in Beverly Hills to become his salon. Since it would not be ready for the introduction of his first 1942 collection, they decided that the collection would be introduced at their Toluca Lake home, an event attended by buyers for department stores across the nation. The business was a success for the next 10 years, until health issues forced Adrian to close his salon.
By then, Adrian and his family had moved to the more rural North San Fernando Valley, purchasing Zeppo Marx’s former home, which was part of the Marwyck Stables he and Barbara Stanwyck had started in the late 1930s.
Villa Encanto would have several more celebrity residents, and although its address would change both numerically and in street identification, it would remain one of the architectural gems of Toluca Lake.