HISTORY

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The Villa Aurora was built in 1928 in the hills of the Pacific Palisades. The architectural style was inspired by a castle, Arthur A. Weber, a contractor, had seen in Sevilla, Spain. The wood for the ceilings and a fountain were brought in from Europe. When, a couple years later, Weber went bankrupt, he had to give up the Villa and the house fell into disrepair. Nobody felt like living on those steep wooded hills, far from the City of Los Angeles without schools, shops or doctors, especially at a time, when gas was rationed.

When Marta and Lion Feuchtwanger reached the USA after escaping from Europe, they arrived in Los Angeles via New York and started looking for a suitable residence. The landscape of the Palisades reminded them of Italy and they immediately took to the Villa, despite the fact that all windows were broken, the cellar was covered in cobwebs, and the garden was completely overgrown. Lion had just sold his novel “The Lautensack Brothers” to the journal Colliers and was able to purchase the house for $ 9000. There were no funds for furniture right away, so the Feuchtwangers slept in their backyard in sleeping bags. A neighbor, who admired Lion’s writings, sent a handyman who helped Marta to shovel away the dead lizards and mice.

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© Feuchtwanger Memorial Library / USC

Lion earned well by selling his books and movie rights and so the Feuchtwangers were gradually able to decorate the Villa with antique furniture from second-hand stores. They purchased an oriental rug from a Persian prince, who lived in the hills, built paths to he ocean and bridges over the ravines. Soon, the two of them were able to indulge in their interests, without financial worries. Marta bought trees and Lion rummaged rare books starting his new, third and last library.

Very quickly the Villa became – in Thomas Mann’s words – a “true castle by the sea”. The residence became the central gathering place for German emigrants and their American friends. Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Franz and Alma Werfel, Alfred Doeblin, Ludwig Marcuse, Arnold Schoenberg, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Fritz Lang and Charly Chaplin were among the guests at readings, concerts, and social gatherings. Only Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht who harbored a huge dislike for each other were not to be invited to the same event.

After Lion Feuchtwanger died in 1958, Marta continued her lifestyle at the Villa. A fervent wish of hers was to preserve the Villa as a memorial to Lion. One year later, due to financial constraints (the royalties were not as abundant as in earlier years) Marta Feuchtwanger handed over Lion’s library to the University of California. USC covered the day-to day expenses and provided her with a gardener. When Marta died on October 25, 1987 at the age of 96, USC inherited the house. The sale of the dilapidated Villa seemed imminent and USC professor Harold von Hofe asked the journalist and Feuchtwanger biographer Volker Skierka and Ludwig Marcuse to launch an initiative to save the house.

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© Feuchtwanger Memorial Library / USC

He won the support of numerous public figures in politics and the media, such as the then head of the publishing house Rowohlt, Fritz J. Raddatz and member of the German parliament Freimut Duve. The goal was to create a kind of “Villa Massimo on the Pacific”.

In Berlin, the Tagesspiegel Foundation worked actively to preserve the Villa. As the last remaining memorial to the German exile abroad, the Villa was supposed to signal to the world and generations to come, that Germany considers the refugees of the Nazi era as part of German culture.

In 1988 the two initiatives joined forces and founded the non-profit organization “Friends and Supporters of the Villa Aurora” headquartered in Berlin. Under the leadership of attorney Lothar Poll, and his successor, Marianne Heuwagen, a personal friend of Marta’s , the organization was able to buy the Villa and restore it to its original state. The funds came largely from the German Lottery Foundation and the Foreign Office. In 1996 architect Frank Dimster was honored by the City of Los Angeles for having completed the extensive and complicated renovation of the building. The same year, he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit. Frank Dimster, a German from the Banat and professor for architecture at USC, had also renovated the Freeman-House of Frank Lloyd Wright in L.A.

Today the Villa is a Historic Landmark. 22,000 volumes of Feuchtwanger’s substantial library remain on permanent loan in the house. An additional 8,000 of the most valuable books form the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at USC.

On December 1st, 1995, the Villa opened its doors as an international meeting place for artists. But even before that, the Villa was home to a prominent guest: Heiner Mueller. Invited by the Getty Center in the beginning of 1995 and unhappy with his housing, he moved to the Villa, where he lived and worked, while the place was still renovated and furnished.


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