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The House That George Built

In the Hollywood Hills there's a house, and an owner, that defy description.

Editor's Note: This is a house in a part of the Hollywood Hills that some call Hollywood, some call Studio City, and the owners have used both. But anyone driving in the hills above Valley View Elementary School knows that's a spectacular site. Studio City writer Irene DeBlasio explores the man behind the monument. Also check out.

 

There must be a magnetic force buried deep in the Hollywood Hills.  Why else would I get such a feeling of exhilaration and anticipation driving along those hilltop roads?

I love the bright sunlight, the scenery, the trees, the terrain and the houses up there. Sometimes I reflect on Maria, the character in Joan Didion's masterpiece Play It as It Lays—if only she could have driven high up here, she would have come to appreciate the majesty and beauty of Los Angeles.

One day I was gliding along when something twinkled and caught my eye. I slowed down and did a double-take. There was a house, a huge one, covered with mosaic tile. I eased to a stop directly in front of it and noticed an elegant man puttering around the floor of a carport.

I asked, "Is this your work?"

He approached my car and smiled, "Yep, been working on this for 44 years so far. Hope I've got another 40 years so I can finish the job."

I hesitated a beat, not wanting to interrupt him.

"Come on, I'll show you around," he said. And so my friendship with George Ehling began. 

How could I resist the offer of a personal tour by the artist in residence? He showed me his work space: a table where he cut scraps and squares of tile. He also rounds off the bottoms of Coke, wine and Heineken beer bottles for texture and color.

The mosaics are done in intricate patterns, some repetitive, others bursting with color and design. He has built archways throughout the house replicating Roman, Moorish, Byzantine and Renaissance mosaics. In two places he has created the illusion of small mosques. There are statues that resemble saints and madonnas as well.

One of his favorite features is an outdoor shower room that he built with the help of a young, aspiring carpenter who many years ago had lived across the street: Harrison Ford (yes, that Harrison Ford).

George would holler across the street, "Hey, kid, come here and help me lift this stone into place!" Harrison would run to assist George in whatever way he could. George jokes, "Can't afford him anymore."

George Ehling is now 84 years old, married to a loving Brazilian woman named Ivenia and a proud father of Otto, a virtuoso pianist who is a music student on scholarship at the University of Las Vegas. Otto played a difficult piece for me one day, showing the same intensity and skill as Gustavo Dudamel does while conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

George bought his house in 1967 and immediately began decorating the interior and exterior with mosaics. Amazing is the fact that he is self-taught and has never had training in this unusual art form. For years he worked as a carpenter at Universal Studios, enabling him use his immense talent off camera.

In his youth, he was a wrestler known as Cowboy Cassidy. Eventually he went to Rome and began acting in sword-and-sandal epics at Cinecitta, Italy's major film studio. This was the period in films known as Hollywood on the Tiber, a marvelous time in the history of movies. George has movie posters and memorabilia along with fantastic antique furniture that he had shipped from Rome.

As you absorb all the details of his past and present, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the energy, talent and recollections of this brilliant man.

I recall seeing an issue of Life magazine in the '50s with a cover photo of a handsome, bronzed, athletic man named Gardner McKay. Life proclaimed him a one-of-a-kind Renaissance man, a multitalented superstar.

I only wish the people from Life had met George Ehling; they would have realized that there were two of them.

Irene DeBlasio July 30, 2011 at 12:03 AM
Many thanks to Joshua Cain for his help. Josh toils through the sun and the rain/He works through the glory and pain/He edits our Patch with the greatest dispatch/He's our very own Citizen Cain. Bravo!
zarkava July 30, 2011 at 04:21 PM
What a fascinating story! He does indeed sound like a renaissance man (can we clone him?) and thank you for bringing his story to life. I don't know which idea I like more... the thought of living in a house that's a piece of art, a work in progress, or being able to yell across the street for Harrison to join me in the outdoor shower. Thank you, Irene, for shedding light on an interesting neighbor! I hope there will be more stories like this one (although I realize he is one of a kind).
Linda Rubin July 30, 2011 at 08:08 PM
This house is gorgeous. I know the neighbors probably don't want a parade of cars cruising though but how about some clues for intrepid urban explorers?
Irene DeBlasio July 30, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Linda, Glad to hear from a fan of George's (and of his home). For the sake of privacy I can't divulge where the house is located but I can tell you that it's off of the Cahuenga Pass heading toward heaven.
Irene DeBlasio July 30, 2011 at 11:44 PM
Zarkava, Once again you have made my day! How flattered I am to receive yet another compliment from you (obviously a discerning patron of the arts). Yes, life is about choices. My mother always gave me a choice for dinner, 'Take it or leave it'. Sadly, we cannot clone George and Harrison doesn't live there anymore. C'est la vie.
Irene DeBlasio July 31, 2011 at 07:58 PM
Mike and Josh, Thanks for putting up the picture of George's house. Some people like Linda Rubin may be able to spot it easier now. George's own favorite seems to be the one featuring his work table in the carport. Chacon a son gout, as the French say.
V. Rosenthal August 01, 2011 at 01:07 AM
Truly, a lovely story, about someone I would like to know. And thanks for recalling Gardner McKay. I was very much a fan of his; my young imagination was kicked into overdrive watching 'Adventures in Paradise'--the theme song is now playing in my memory! How nice to offer words of appreciation for someone who'll never meet most of us.
Irene DeBlasio August 01, 2011 at 01:33 AM
V. Rosenthal -- How generous of you to share such beautiful thoughts. I'm so glad you enjoyed the article about George. I admired Gardner McKay (as well as Joan Didion) and will never forget that Life Magazine cover (July, 1959?). Would you like to meet George Ehling and come to his home?
Ann Clark Beurskens September 10, 2011 at 09:10 PM
"...some call Studio City"? Having grown up in the area just up the street from Mr. Ehling's fantastic house it has always had a Hollywood zipcode and telephone prefix. Not sure why there would be any confusion linking this area to Studio City.
Irene DeBlasio September 10, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Dear Ann, You're correct. Call it a case of Ehling-envy -- we did a little creative redistricting of our own in order to import George's masterpiece into Studio City. Alas, we were caught red-handed. In the future we promise to adhere to proprietary principles and never attempt to swipe a portion of Hollywood again. Pax vobiscum.
Mike Szymanski September 10, 2011 at 11:41 PM
George himself says those borders and boundaries are confusing, and most people think of Hollywood as starting at Mulholland, and that doesn't extend into the Valley... I consider this area as an area that I cover for Studio City Patch, like the fire story above, and not Hollywood, but the Valley.
Irene DeBlasio September 11, 2011 at 12:23 AM
You, Mr. Szymanski, are the Boss of All Bosses. I'm so glad you cleared that up -- even though we, in Studio City, might be accused of 'jurisdictional incoherence'. I will keep my US Passport current just in case things change. Courage.
Bob Blanchard November 26, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Ms De Blasio, You mentoned that George Ehling might offer another afternoon at his home featuring the music of his son at the piano. Since I missed the last event I wonder if he is scheduling an open house during the holidays?
Irene DeBlasio November 26, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Bob, You remembered! Yes indeed, I'm in touch with George and we'll see about another open house with a recital by Otto Ehling. I'll let all our readers know about it in Studio City Patch within the next two weeks. Stay tuned...

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