By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Special to the Palisadian-Post
Coming from his home in Calabasas, Michael Carbajal often drives along Pacific Coast Highway while making his way to Santa Monica or Beverly Hills for “coffee or whatever” day trips. The drive is an escape of sorts from the tech-related film work he’s done over the years for NASA, Lockheed Martin, and many recognizable names in the private and public realm.
While cruising south on PCH in Castellammare, Carbajal often looks to his right and takes in the blue of the Pacific Ocean, with its mysteries hidden beneath the surface.
But other hidden mysteries inside Castellammare have caught Carbajal’s attention in the last several months.
“The whole area is interesting,” he explained recently to the Palisadian-Post.
During his southbound PCH commute, Carbajal often turns away from the glistening waters of the Santa Monica Bay just as the highway intersects with Porto Marina Way.
There, he glances to his left as he approaches a building he’s “always been drawn to … over the years.” The building that holds Carbajal’s fascination is a sprawling, Spanish-style structure, standing at 17575 PCH.
The budding screenwriter became interested in the white-colored building with many ocean-facing windows, and he began to research it “as a hobby,” explaining that he is “interested in the historic aspects of LA.”
But as he researched the three-level building, he learned that silent film actress Thelma Todd, who starred in such features as the Western-themed “Nevada” in 1927 and the 1929 romance-drama “The Bachelor Girl,” once lived atop the structure.
Todd, who was well known as a fast-living lady off screen, moved into her ocean-view pad during the summer of 1935.
“I love history but am not a watcher of silent movies or the stars of them, though the subject is becoming more intriguing,” Carbajal admitted.
Carbajal’s research also told him that below Todd’s apartment home, the striking actress with famous long legs ran her namesake restaurant: Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café.
Carbajal’s further research into Todd, aka “The Ice Cream Blonde,” also informed him about the actress’ death, one of Hollywood’s most enduring mysteries.
“The more books I read on it, the more interesting it is,” Carbajal explained.
Todd’s death also has a physical tie-in during Carbajal’s PCH commutes. Just as he passes Todd’s former home, Carbajal goes under a pedestrian bridge, which was around—though since redone—during the operational days of the actress’ café.
The bridge allows Palisadians to walk over PCH, leaving the hot summer sands of the beach behind them while leading them to a set of stairs. The stairs lead to Castellammare Drive, and from there, you can take another set of stairs that end on Posetano Road.
Carbajal learned that Todd’s life came to an end on Posetano Road in December of 1935. That was when the 29-year-old actress was discovered dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in her chocolate Lincoln Phaeton. It was parked inside a garage.
The garage belonged to Todd’s lover at the time of her death, film director Roland West, who was married at the time to Jewel Carmen, a retired silent-film player.
Carbajal has his own theories about the often-questioned circumstances surrounding Todd’s death.
“The more I read … the more there is to the story,” he shared. But for now, he is keeping those theories to himself. He added that he “just finished [his] screenplay outline” about Todd’s life and death.
Some time ago, Carbajal was able to get himself a tour of Todd’s former home and café.
Recently, the former Roland-Carmen house has come on the market. Carbajal was “really eager” to tour the Italianate-style property built in 1927. He luckily got his chance to see the bluff-hugging house, known as “Castillo del Mar,” when he tagged along with “a qualified investor who was interested in seeing it.”
Out of courtesy to the sellers, Carbajal will keep some of the finer details of the walk-through of the Revello Drive mansion to himself. He will say he was impressed by the rich historic exteriors of the five-bedroom mansion that sits at the end of the private drive.
The 3,400-plus interior square footage of the ocean-view house offered Carbajal plenty of physical vintage reference points. As the real estate listing states, Castillo del Mar features “solid oak peg and groove floors, magnificent leaded/stained glass windows, hand-carved hardwood doors, original art deco tiles, bow and truss ceilings, hand-burnished redwood beams and corbels, and thick lathe and plaster walls.”
After visiting Castillo del Mar, designed by architect Nathaniel Coleman, Carbajal soon thought of some interesting coincidences about Roland and a childhood TV hero of his that he wasn’t aware of until he left the house. The hero of his was TV’s “Batman” star and former Palisadian Adam West.
Carbajal explained that after leaving the house and joining his friends at Gladstone’s nearby, he thought of something coincidental about the director and Adam.
“It suddenly occurred [to me] that Adam West, the first Batman I can remember, and also the first celebrity I met in my life when I was a child, had died the day before,” Carbajal explained. Adam passed away on June 9, 2017. Roland and Adam “share the same surname in ‘West,’ as well as them both living in the Palisades, where Adam was honorary mayor.”
This was not too strange of a coincidence, until Carbajal realized that a Roland-directed film was the inspiration for the Batman character. Comic book writer and artist Bob Kane claimed that he got the idea for the Batman character from watching the 1930 movie “The Bat Whispers.”
“The Bat Whispers” was based on a 1920 play called “The Bat,” which was adopted into a film of the same name in 1926. Another tidbit of coincidence is that “The Bat” was Carmen’s last picture before she retired from the screen.
Carbajal pointed out recent changes to the onetime homes of both the actress Todd and the Hollywood couple of Roland and Carmen.
He noted that the Todd property is undergoing a massive renovation. And the Roland-Carmen house has been put up for sale, after decades.
These changes are “all happening within a span of a year,” he noted.
Carbajal has no answer as to what, if any, significance is attached to the current simultaneous changes these two historic Hollywood properties are experiencing.
This Palisadian outsider thinks it is an intriguing question
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