Stan Waves from his Balcony

We finally decided on an apartment and will move in on June 15th. It’s an expensive joint, but we got a pretty good deal for a year’s lease.

Stan Laurel

On June 15, 1958, Stan Laurel and his wife Ida moved into the Oceana Apartment Hotel in Santa Monica, California. He lived there for the rest of his life, spending a good part of his time answering fan mail and greeting friends and admirers who came to visit—including scores of celebrities like Jerry Lewis, Dick Van Dyke and Marcel Marceau. Stan and Ida’s apartment was small by Hollywood celebrity standards, but quite spacious for a retiree and his loved one.

“We finally decided on an apartment and will move in on June 15th. The address is the Oceana Hotel at 849 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. It’s an expensive joint, but we got a pretty good deal for a year’s lease. The place is brand new and faces the ocean—about 3 blocks North of Wilshire.

“The apartment contains a large living room, dinette, modern kitchen, bedroom and two bathrooms (one is private in the bedroom). There is a swimming pool in the court, two elevators from the garage to all floors. Utilities are included—gas, electric and water, and a new 21-inch Philco TV in each apartment, so think we shall be very happy there.”

Recently, I had the rare opportunity to spend three nights in what was Stan Laurel’s Oceana apartment. And while a lot has changed over the past 40 years, the basic layout of the apartment (with few exceptions) remains unchanged. More important than paint and furnishings long gone is Stan’s spirit, which still remains.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to feel Stan’s presence when you run your hand along iron railings around the inner courtyard surrounding the pool that once steadied him as he walked down to the front desk each morning to retrieve his mail. Looking out of the large living room window at the same Pacific ocean and swaying palm trees that gave Stan pause each day he looked out at that very same scene caused shivers to run up and down my spine.

I never got the chance to visit with Stan Laurel back in his day, but I did walk in his footsteps today. And though you can all join me on a rare journey to take a look at the Oceana now.

The Oceana Apartment Hotel in Santa Monica, California

Our new number is EXbrook 3-5656. Easy to remember isn’t it?

Stan Laurel

The Oceana recently underwent a major renovation. Guests arriving at the original “apartment/hotel” that existed when Stan lived there might still recognize the outside structure of the building, but a lot has changed. If you compare the photo above (taken in 1975) with the photo below you can make your own comparisons.

All of the wIndows have been replaced, and the entryway has been jazzed up with a new logo and new doors. The second floor balcony over the entrance has been enclosed and the original concrete panels that once lined all of the hotel’s balconies are long gone.

Additionally, just about all of the original palm trees that dotted the ocean front view remain—albeit a little thicker and taller.

“We just moved in here yesterday. Even though I liked the place in Malibu, it was a bit too far out and was a little lonesome at times—not seeing our friends too often—plus the bad TV reception made it kind of dull, especially through the Winter months.

“This new apartment faces the bay, so we haven'’t lost our view of the ocean entirely and we can now get all 7 channels on TV instead of only 3! Now that we are back in town, hope you will have a chance to visit us soon. The Wilshire Bus runs to within three blocks from here. We would love to see you again. Our new number is EXbrook 3-5656. Easy to remember isn’t it?”

Guests would enter through the main doors of the building on Ocean Avenue. After walking up several steps and immediately to the left of the front door was the hotel desk. Opposite that, to the right of the entry door, was the elevator.

Each morning, Stan would take the elevator down to the desk to collect his fan mail, which numbered anywhere from a half dozen letters on a “slow” day to well over a thousand, as was the case on his birthday or after an article on his retirement appeared in the national press.

  • Stan and Pat Stowell in Stan’s Living Room and a Floorplan for the Oceana Apartment
  • The Swimming Pool at the Oceana in Santa Monica, California

You can see a number of details of Stan’s apartment in this great 1964 color photo of Stan and Pat Stowell standing in Stan’s living room at the Oceana apartments in Santa Monica. They pose for the camera facing the ocean with their backs to the front door and entrance.

Behind the pair is a decorative wall panel featuring a series of cutouts that served as a separation between the entry door and the living space. To the right of this wall is a guest bathroom, and to the left (right behind Stan’s head) is the entrance to the kitchen.

To the right of the kitchen “pocket door” is the dining room, which included a simple table and chair set with a hanging lighting fixture centered above.

While at the Oceana, I made careful measurements and drafted a blueprint of the apartment as it probably existed when Stan lived there. The total footprint of Stan's Santa Monica apartment measures approximately 935 square feet. His apartment had an ocean view and was located on the second floor of the complex. Refer to the blueprint to get an orientation of things as you look through the following photo gallery of Stan's Oceana apartment—then and now.

After exiting the elevator on the second floor today, you turn right and take a short picturesque stroll across the same balcony Stan traversed, overlooking the Oceana’s magnificent indoor swimming pool.

  • The Door to Stan’s Apartment and a Look Inside at the Oceana in Santa Monica, California
  • Stan’s View of the Pacific Ocean at the Oceana from his Living Room in Santa Monica, California
  • Stan’s Living Room View and the Balcony at the Oceana

Surprisingly, Stan’s old apartment still carries its original suite number: 203. The original dividing wall no longer greets guests upon entering the apartment. Instead, you walk right into the living room with its magnificent view of the ocean.

This is the view outside of Stan’s Oceana apartment living room window. It is essentially the same view that Stan saw each morning as he sat at his typewriter and attended to his daily correspondence.

The closest anyone can come to feel Stan’s spirit is to spend some time where his infectious laugh could be heard by guests in his Santa Monica apartment from 1958 until his death in 1965.

Stan’s desk was against the wall just to the left of the living room window as seen in the first photo above. A balcony, above right, is located off the bedroom. It was on this balcony that Stan would often wave goodbye to his departing guests.

  • View from Stan’s Balcony at the Oceana in Santa Monica, California
  • The Current Bedroom and Bathroom at the Stan’s Apartment in the Oceana
  • Stan’s Fountain Pen and Perpectual Calendar

The view from Stan’s balcony is just as peaceful and idyllic as it was 50 years ago. It’s hard to not get caught up in the moment as you gaze at such a beautiful bit of scenery that was Stan's little bit of heaven on earth.

Now a luxury hotel, the Oceana is completely refurbished, which means that while you can’t sleep in Stan’s actual bed, you can still sleep in his bedroom. A well-appointed modern bathroom occupies the same space as Stan’s.

Lou Sabini, who corresponded with Stan in the early ‘60s as a child, paid a visit to Ida, his widow, in 1975. “One of the things I vividly remember about visiting the Oceana is that Ida still kept Stan’s desk calendar atop his desk. The date was fixed at February 23—the day Stan died.”

And on day, for the first time in over four decades, Stan’s fountain pen desk set and his perpetual calendar—still set to February 23—were returned to his apartment, near the spot his desk once sat. At that very moment, I could swear I heard Stan’s inimitable laugh echo through room 203 at the Oceana in Santa Monica, California.

Stan’s Apartment

By Jack Stevenson

The Oceana Apartment Hotel

Over the years, I had collected and seen so many articles, letters and the like (with mentions of Stan’s Santa Monica apartment). In my mind I began to form a clear vision of Stan’s final years of contentment looking over the Pacific with Ida at the Oceana. Over the past twenty years I had walked and driven past it times too numerous to recollect.

I had indeed walked around it with Della Lind (star of the 1938 film Swiss Miss)—a resident at the same time as Stan. I thought of the stars of entertainment who did just the same to honor a giant of comedy: Peter Sellers, Jerry Lewis, Dick Van Dyke, Leslie Caron, Dick Cavett etc. I also imagined the vast output of correspondence that came from Stan to people the world over who wrote and all received a reply of some degree. Here was the roots of our organization formed with Stan and Jack McCabe. The Oceana still for me had a presence of Stan and I was always drawn to it.

So why not stay in his old apartment? Well, finding it proved more difficult than one could imagine. Memories fade and what once seemed like the first floor strangely became confused with the second floor.

“The end apartment I think was his, although I am sure this door in the middle is how I entered.”No help from the Oceana, they positively discouraged the likes of me, “These nuts come and chip off pieces from the wall.”

A few aborted attempts were rewarded in October 1989 when I had no doubt that I had found which apartment was Stan’s. I lost no time in honoring Stan by making the first phone call to his daughter Lois—and by cracking a beer! What became amazing in our protracted telephone conversation (thanks to a long lead) is how little had changed in the basic fixtures and fittings since Stan lived there. Lois’ memory was so sharp that as I walked from room to room she talked me through it. She could not accompany me as her mother needs constant nursing and leaving her becomes very stressful to her mother.

I had studied photographs in detail taken at the Oceana and began to compare. Some are published now and hopefully some more in future editions. This is my own ‘then and now’ mini series. When Stan's great friend, Booth Colman knew I was staying at the Oceana he replied, “Stan only appears on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” It was a quip that I have no doubt would have brought Stan to it Booth knows in detail the humor of the great man.

It was a great pleasure to spend time with Booth and talk in depth about Stan. They talked almost daily and Stan wrote regularly when he was on tour. Booth is still treading the boards and has just completed his eighth Christmas appearing in Michigan in a Dickens play (over 300 performances). By the time this journal reaches him the Californian sun may have defrosted him.

I have no doubt that some buffs will think me zany to have done this visit to the Oceana—I care not. It was for me a pilgrimage and I am fulfilled with the few days I stayed. To watch the sun set under the Pacific from the balcony just as Stan did, to sleep in his bedroom and to walk down to reception as he did daily to collect his mail was a joy. Why? Well, if I really need to explain then the meaning is lost.

However, I do hope that for many fellow buffs the joy of my visit and the published photos give you some of the pleasure and sense of fulfillment that I received. Yet somehow I feel that Stan might have thought my efforts “odd” to say the least.

Here it was that Stan fulfilled his last days, responding to the world. Our Exhausted Ruler Jack McCabe states that Stan’s daily output was around 25 letters/cards. He was generous to the end with his daily output of correspondence, so much of it now avidly collected by L&H buffs. Following his stroke, all his letters were typed and one can only guess the number of ribbons his old typewriter went through.

Note his tape recorder TV (bottom left of desk) on which he played the numerous tapes that people sent him of their acts or TV shows that he may not have seen. He comments on this in some of the letters in my collection. Amazingly, more than thirty years on, the telephone still has the same number! Now, aren’t you sorry you didn't ring?

I was pleased to offer Dick Bann the opportunity to stay at Stan’s apartment for the day with me. Apart from friendship he has been supportive of this magazine. Hardly a book published on L&H does not have his name credited. He is a constant authoritative source on the Boys and a true L&H man.

Note the ‘show business’ make-up lights around the mirror. Perhaps many a reflection of days of yore was spent by Stan at this very spot. Also note the dated wooden drawers and side vanity unit unchanged since Stan stowed his shaving equipment in it.

As a constant companion of Mr. Roach (they went shooting together the following day) he has promised one day to complete his biography of the boss. HATS OFF to you Dick, from all at The Laurel & Hardy Magazine. Thanks a million.

—The Laurel & Hardy Magazine (1990)