In March, it will be exactly 20 years since we first walked into this house and said, ‘Yes,’” actor Eric McCormack recalls as he sits with his wife, Janet, in their cozy Toluca Lake kitchen. “Will & Grace had been on for a year at that point, and we’d been living in the Hollywood Hills in a rental and we had to get out of it. I asked our director, Jim Burrows, ‘Do you think the show’s going to last for a while, Jimmy?’ and his response was ‘Jesus Christ, McCormack, buy a house.’ So I came home and told Janet, ‘God says we can buy a house.’ We started looking immediately, and within a month and a half we were here.”
Eric was somewhat familiar with the area; after moving to Los Angeles in 1993, he lived in the Oakwood Apartments and would celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at Timmy Nolan’s with friends who lived nearby. The couple’s choice of location, however, was mainly based on proximity to CBS Studio Center, where Will & Grace was filming. Janet liked that it was a walkable neighborhood for their dogs, unlike where they’d been living. But the best indication they’d made the right choice came on the day they took possession of the house, when they found a lost kitten in a tree across the street. That cat ended up joining their family for the next 15 years.
“It was meant to be,” Janet says.
After two decades, Eric says they’ve become “pretty typical” locals in that they prefer to stick close to home. “Somebody says, ‘You want to go to Hollywood for dinner?’ and I’m like, ‘Hollywood? Why?’ It feels like what you hear about in New York: ‘I never leave the neighborhood!’ It’s not laziness as much as it’s that we have what we need.”
“We have the best sushi right here at Yuzu,” Janet adds. Their other favorites include bubble tea at Perfect Donuts, the smoked bacon guacamole at Cascabel and manicures at Oasis Nail Spa, where Janet brings her mother, who also lives nearby. “The staff there treat my mom like gold,” she says. “It really is like Cheers in this neighborhood — everybody knows your name.” And the ultimate symbol of becoming true locals? “We were so excited when Patys finally asked Eric for a headshot to put up on their wall,” Janet laughs. “I thought, ‘We’ve made it.’”
Another beloved spot is Prosecco, where the McCormacks have built a family ritual over the years. “Our son, Finn, was born in Santa Monica, and Janet had to stay there for a couple of days,” Eric remembers. “That night I came home to check on the dogs, and Janet’s mom and our friend Peter and I went to Prosecco to celebrate. And the staff there has watched Finn grow up. We’re probably there once a month. Ever since Finn was 5, the same waiter, whom everybody calls Speedy, always comes over before we’ve even ordered and puts down a limonata or something for him. Now Finn is 6’2”. That’s the real sign of having dug into a neighborhood — when people ask, ‘Who’s this?’ and you say, ‘That’s the kid I used to walk past your house with in the stroller.’”
In addition to frequenting local businesses, they’re active participants in treasured neighborhood traditions like the epic Halloween festivities. “When we first arrived, we were warned by neighbors, ‘Expect about 1,000 kids,’ and we assumed they were using hyperbole — but no,” Eric says. “I think it’s doubled since then. Janet is a big Halloween person. She’s one of the big ones in the neighborhood in terms of decorating, and we dress up and make it a real event.”
“When they were young, our son’s friends would come to the house and we’d put a movie on in the driveway, and they would trick-or-treat around the neighborhood,” Janet reminisces. “But within an hour, they would come back and the rest of the time was spent handing out candy, because they had so much fun doing it and seeing all the costumes. One year we ran out of candy, and Finn and all of his friends took their bags and dumped their own treats into the bowl just to keep giving things out.”
Being longtime members of the community also means that the family has experienced health crises over the years that brought them to the emergency room at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank — “fortunately and unfortunately,” as Janet puts it. The unfortunate part was, of course, the frightening and stressful situation that sent them to the hospital; the fortunate aspect is the top-notch care they were able to receive at their neighborhood facility.
In the most critical instance, “Janet had what turned out to be a delightful combination of West Nile and meningitis,” Eric explains. “And the emergency response was crucial.”
Janet says her experience as a patient was “incredible. It saved my life. They actually gave me a spinal tap in the emergency room, and it was amazing — because it was painless, and the doctor was so cool. It was a very scary situation, but they had a way of making us feel very calm, which was wonderful.”
The couple has also accompanied Janet’s mother to the emergency room several times, including one late-night scare when she was having difficulty breathing because of an adverse reaction to a medication. The ER was overflowing and all the beds were full, so they were temporarily placed in an area where patients struggling with mental illness were awaiting transfer or examinations. “I watched how the security guards and the nurses and the doctors treated everyone with such respect, such dignity and such kindness,” Janet remembers. “I get teary-eyed thinking of it. They really had to multitask, and they did such a wonderful job. They were working with so little, and yet they gave so much.”
It was those unforgettable experiences that inspired the McCormacks to get involved when neighbors invited them to a presentation about Providence Saint Joseph’s campaign to expand its emergency services department. The hospital is currently raising funds for the project, which will begin construction later this year and open by the end of 2021. Eric and Janet immediately knew it was a cause they wanted to help however they could, and they joined the Toluca Lake Committee of the Emergency Services Campaign.
“We’ve seen how great the people at Providence Saint Joseph are, but we’ve also seen firsthand that everything else needs to be brought up to speed,” Eric explains. “There’s the wait time, the fact that it’s a very small emergency facility servicing a huge area, and it just needs updating.”
In fact, the hospital’s 39-year-old emergency services department is one of the busiest in Los Angeles County. The expansion will more than double the available space for critical treatment, from 13,800 square feet to over 33,000. Janet highlights that the plan also creates an on-site urgent care center that will reduce wait times and expedite treatment for more minor cases, while the emergency room will feature separate illness, injury, pediatric, geriatric and psychiatric waiting and treatment areas.
“It’s very smart, the way they’ve divided up the areas,” she says. “You’ll be able to be triaged and sent to the right place and you won’t have to wait as long. I especially like that people with mental illnesses will have a specialized place and be taken care of, so they won’t get lost in the shuffle of a busy Saturday night.”
The addition of dedicated imaging and lab facilities for the emergency room is another important innovation, Eric points out. “X-rays, ultrasounds and scans are a huge part of diagnosing and treating so many emergency cases, but the hospital’s imaging department is currently about one-and-a-half football fields away. The journey there and back, those are the minutes that you lose. Now that will all be part of the same area.” In fact, the Toluca Lake Committee has committed to raising $5 million from the community to fund this area, with naming opportunities commensurate with gift size.
The expansion will increase the emergency department’s treatment capacity from the nearly 71,000 visits per year it’s currently handling to more than 93,000 — an improvement that’s vital to all residents of Toluca Lake and other neighboring communities, whether they realize it or not.
“I think hospitals are something that people take for granted,” Eric says. “You assume it’ll be there if you need it, but if you don’t need it, you don’t think about it. Then suddenly you have kids, or in our case, you bring your elderly mother down from Canada, and you start to think more and more. And then something crazy happens, like meningitis out of the blue, and you realize, ‘Wow, I may need that at any time.’”
That’s the message the McCormacks have been working to convey as spokespeople for the Providence Saint Joseph campaign. When hosting a fundraiser in their home and helping to spread the word among their fellow community members, they shared their own experiences as examples of how unpredictable life can be and what an invaluable resource the hospital provides.
“I know that there are other choices of hospitals, but in an emergency, there’s not,” Janet attests. “So many things happen close to home, in the evening, at night or on the weekend. In those cases, you’re going to go to the nearest hospital, so you want to have it be the best facility possible. Minutes matter in those moments, and I’ve experienced it firsthand.”
And so have numerous neighbors, they’ve learned. While medical emergencies may not be something people usually chat about as they pass each other on the sidewalk every day, Janet says that sharing her own story has made her realize how many other locals have also been patients at Providence Saint Joseph or know someone who has. “We all have stories, and we just need to remind people that it’s not out of sight, out of mind,” she says. “We need to pull together and raise some money to prepare for the future.”
The couple wants to impress on their community members that everybody can give to the cause, and every contribution helps. “Any donation to the hospital fund, small or large, is going to speed this along,” Eric explains. “The designs are there and they’re gorgeous — it’s really just about getting enough money soon so that we can get it done.” The campaign has already raised more than $56 million of its $78 million goal, thanks to the generosity of nearby corporations like Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and NBCUniversal as well as individual donors.
“It’s our community, and it’s our hospital, and we need to support it,” Janet sums up.
Above all, for the McCormacks, the campaign is an opportunity to give back to the hometown they’ve found in Toluca Lake. “Being from Canada, although we lived in a few apartments before we found this house, this really is the first place we owned in the U.S.,” Eric says. “I realized the other day that I’ve been in this house longer than I lived in my parents’ house. This is the longest either of us has ever been in one spot.” Now, their efforts are helping to ensure a healthier community for all their neighbors.