Kage Baker was a queen of searches. She was patient, implacable and ingenious – when something caught her attention, she would track it down to the uttermost limits of the Internet. However, she was also incredibly busy and slightly distractable. That combination served her very well as a writer – she wrote a lot (like, all the time); she was always willing to track down an obscure reference and thus locate a new story idea. But it meant that some of her obsessions waited years before she began to hunt them in earnest.
The Spiderpool was like that. She began a methodical search for it only a few years ago, between novels. The project was initially hindered by a couple of intractable physical facts: she didn’t know it had an official name, The Spiderpool – she had called it the Sentinel, but was pretty sure it wouldn’t be on the Net that way. She had no street address for it. We’d never even found the street it was on. We’d only ever gotten there by crawling up a hillside and under someone’s chicken wire fence.
Google Earth was one of Kage’s personal favourites for finding things, but it was of limited use in this search. The biggest problem was that there is essentially no flat ground up in the Hollywood Hills – a lawn, a porch or a house foundation might be rendered flat for purposes of building, but the land itself – and the streets – are nothing like level. Bringing the viewpoint on Google Earth down to street level yielded distorted psychedelic landscapes but no easy recognition; Google Street View was in its infancy when Kage started searching. And the Spiderpool wasn’t on a street to begin with.
However: most amazingly, Kage found immediately that she was not the only one fascinated with – and hunting for – the Spider. There was a whole community online just as obsessed as she was, whose interest in the thing had begun with, of all things, cheesecake photos … it turned out that there were a lot of old photos and movies out there, and some of them had a very, very weird background. The Poolies, as they call themselves, had initially been collecting antique girlie pics when they started getting obsessed with the drug dream backgrounds.
Kage was elated, triumphant, and thrilled Then, terminally embarrassed – there were lots of photos, all right, but most of them had pertinent details of architecture blocked by scantily clad young women. Bear in mind, Dear Readers, that these photos are from the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s – they are so incredibly mild as to be practically fit for LIFE magazine. But Kage Baker was very likely the most modest woman in the United States, who was not in a religious order; she was too shy to go online and evince a desire to look at photos of semi-naked girls …
As we ultimately discovered, the Poolies themselves (though most are cheesecake fans) were not that interested in the girls in the Spiderpool pictures. They wanted to know about the setting. There are some hilarious conversations on the group site, that basically boil down to: Q: “Does that look like a really cool castle-motif tile behind that girl’s leg?” A: “I don’t know! I can’t see that really cool tile, there’s some tit in the way!”
Anyway: while she was paranoid about putting her name to anything, Kage could not pass up the chance to join the Poolies. Besides, we had information to share! We grew up there! We’d been up to the site! So, working on our perpetual theory that we were sharing a brain, I joined and we both talked.
It was another example of the Universe turning its eyes on whatever intrigued Kage. Almost as soon as we joined, discoveries began to pour in. A few people made it up there; old photos began to surface everywhere; the architect of the insane fantasy was unearthed. And the fantasy entire turned out to be much, much more than we had ever imagined …
The Spiderpool and its attached house, garden, mosque, assorted zenanas and cabanas and tool sheds were built by Jack McDermott, an early auteur in Hollywood. He made and decorated films in the tweens and ’20s; he built his house of the sets used in such classics as The Thief of Baghdad and The Phantom of the Opera. It was glorious madness:
He lived there until 1946, when he died. The house passed to an ex-wife and/or a son (Jack was the kind of guy whose past was a little unclear …) and for the next 20 years it was used for parties, photo shoots and general mayhem. It grew neglected. It burned at least once and was (sort of) revived. But in 1962, it was declared abandoned and the City of Los Angeles razed a lot of what was left – except for the wall of The Sentinel that caught Kage’s eye all during her childhood.
There are lots more details to share, and I’ll resume tomorrow. But I will leave today’s offering with a photo demonstrating the sort of torrid photos once shot there – and one shot by another eager Poolie only a few years ago, when she too crawled up the hillside hunting for the house that Jack built …