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.
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 LettersFromStan.com you can all join me on a rare journey to take a look at the Oceana now.
Our new number is EXbrook 3-5656. Easy to remember isn’t it?
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.
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.
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.
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.