On May 13, the world bid a fond farewell to actress, singer and activist Doris Day, who passed away at the age of 97. While she was most strongly associated with Carmel, where she resided for 45 years, earlier in her career Day spent nearly a decade living in Toluca Lake — a period that was among the happiest of her life.
By her mid-20s, Day had already recorded a number of hit big-band songs and been married and divorced twice. With the proceeds from her first movie, Romance on the High Seas, she was able to purchase a house in Toluca Lake in 1948 — “for $28,000, furniture and all,” she remembered decades later (after the house was razed to make way for the construction of the 134 Freeway). It was her first home of her very own, and the first time she was able to live full-time with Terry, her young son from her first marriage, who had been raised by her mother in her hometown of Cincinnati while Day established her career. “The house was cute. It was a special time for all of us,” Terry later recalled of moving to Toluca Lake with his grandmother and mother.
As her stardom grew, Day moved her family to a second home in the area in 1950. Purchased for $42,000 from actress Martha Raye, the house on South Valley Street came furnished but was “a wreck,” according to Day. She embarked on a full redecorating project with help from her manager, Martin Melcher, during which the two fell in love. “Marty wooed me with a hammer in one hand and a paintbrush in the other,” she said. The couple married at Burbank City Hall in 1951, Melcher moved into the house and legally adopted Terry, Day’s mother relocated to an apartment nearby and helped care for the family, and Day enjoyed the idyllic domestic life she had always dreamed of.
Like so many other celebrity residents, Day took advantage of the neighborhood’s close proximity to the studios, specifically describing in her memoir how she “jumped on my bike and rode over to Warner’s” to record the Oscar-winning song “Secret Love” in a single take in 1953. The family would move to Beverly Hills in 1955, but the legacy of their time in Toluca Lake lives on in the dozens of press photos that captured Day swimming, gardening, cuddling her French poodles and playing with her son in the happy home she’d created.