Sunday, May 22, 2011

Along Came A Spider And Sat Down Beside Her

As you'll no doubt have gathered from my Winchester Mansion post not so long ago, I do rather enjoy stories that entail a mysterious old house. So while I was skipping about the internet looking for pictures of Tura Satana for my last post, I happened upon a link that led me to the story of the Spider Pool, a strange and elusive site secreted in the hills of Los Angeles that was also the setting for thousands of cheesecake and nudey camera club photos in the fifties. And I thought to myself, "Why yes indeed Mr. Internet, I'll be having some of that."

In 1920s Hollywood, John McDermott, an actor-turned-director of silent films, had seen his fair share of beautifully designed movie sets being used for an hour or two and then unceremoniously consigned to the scrap heap. Balls to that, thought he, and he proceeded to build himself a crazy-ass house in the Hollywood hills constructed of the various pieces of sets he collected. The result was an amazing, rambling house that was Algerian looking one minute, Navajo next and Egyptian too just for the craic, along with dozens of other styles. There were three canons mounted on a parapet, tombstones from the set of The Hunchback of Notre Dame built into a wall, a tunnel staircase that spiralled up to a mirrored bedroom that had a fireplace under the bed and most importantly, a gorgeous swimming pool area that featured a huge mosaic of a spider with a hornet embedded in the tiled web.

The dwelling became known locally as The House That Jack Built and gained notoriety for the wild parties thrown by McDermott. A Hollywood columnist wrote an account of her visit to the house for one of its legendary shindigs, in which she describes underground passages, trap doors, duck ponds and pieces of elk meat being roasted on a spit. Stories abound of party shenanigans such as dollybirds dressed as harem girls shimmying out of said trap doors to the sound of John beating a drum and also of the host surveying the beautiful pool from a throne atop the infamous spider mosaic, as apparently it was his wont to furnish lady guests with swimsuits that dissolved when they hit the water, the absolute HOUND.

So, it's that pool area that all of this is leading to. A few years ago, a group of people online were trading vintage pin-up and cheesecake photos and became fascinated by this one recurring location, the Spider Pool.

It was a hugely popular backdrop for girlie photography, the tiled spider wall had countless hotties in varying states of undress pout and pose on it and near it. Including my heroine du jour, Tura.

Anyhoodle, the various fans of this mysterious locale did their damnedest to work out where it was. As it happens, a relative newcomer to their cause, whose post was the first article I read about it, set off on a mission into the hills and only went and FOUND the bloody thing. After McDermott's death, the house passed through a few owners, barely survived a fire and eventually fell into disrepair at the hands of vandals and squatters, before ultimately being condemned and bulldozed to the ground. All that remains of the once wondrous home is the chipped and weathered spider wall, which still must have been overwhelmingly exciting to uncover.

It's a shame that there don't appear to be any pictures of the house itself from its debaucherous heyday, but I do love that somewhere hidden away in the hills of L.A. lies this weird memento and one time playground of showbiz stars and cheeky pin-up models. There's a hugely detailed timeline of the house here, put together by a member of the discussion group, and this is the post by the intrepid Jacy Young who rediscovered the amazing Spider Pool and took the present day photos above. Colour me obsessed.


  1. I like the idea of a hidden world that's almost beyond our reach. There's a glen near where I grew up that always held this kind of mystique, where the side of the mountain have slipped away to leave a mile long trench that has sheer stone walls up to 100 feet high either side overgrown with ferns and littered with fallen trees. I'm sure it's ripe for an Amazonian style photo shoot!

  2. That's insane. Imagine happening across a photo of your granny or something back in the day, spread across the spider's web!
    HIs house sounds like some sort of Disneyland for adults. I love stories like this and I love hearing of all these secret and sordid parties, and things like what went on at Studio 54 etc - I'd love to have been around back then, all these madly creative people letting their hair down and just going for it.
    I wonder are there any secret party pads like this nowadays, or is the Playboy Mansion the closest we have? Not much of a secret then..

  3. Weird historical research. Something for River Song to investigate - seems like her sort of thing.

  4. Actually, if you read Jacy Young's blog - she was not the first to re-discover the Spider Pool. "By November, 2004, they had come up with a triangle of likely territory and a couple of locals to confirm the location. Using a telescope, these explorers saw the spider on the retaining wall. It was on some vacant land, wedged in-between properties. They hiked up a empty lot to get to it."

    My husband and I (Tom & Cara) were members of the group and were the ones who located it with a surveying device and telescope from across the Cahuenga Pass in 2004. Then we hiked there the next day through some cacti and around some private property because the owners would not allow us to walk down their driveway. I have many pictures of that first sighting and the members of the group were elated. I'm sure any of them would confirm this. If you would like to see more pictures. I'm happy to pass them on!


Hey hot stuff! If you leave a comment I'll give you a present.