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Secrets of the Spider Pool Part 5: 1952-2005

by Rowan

1952-58: The Photo Parade

The estate passed through many hands after 1950, and nude photography continued on a steady basis until about 1960. Burlesque legend Dixie Evans was one of the many beauties who posed at the old McDermott estate. Though none of her Spider Pool photos appear in the Harold Lloyd book of stereo nudes, Dixie retains prints that Lloyd made for her. The pair, it seems, were on very good terms with each other. Pin-up icon Diane Webber, a mainstay of photography and nudist magazines from the late 1950s well into the 1960s, appears in Spider Pool photographs. The March 1958 issue of Modern Man featured Melody Ward in a Spider Pool layout that describes the Spider Pool as the swimming pool of “the Swanky Nouveau resort hotel”. Jacquelyn Prescott posed for Mario Casilli at the Spider Pool, for a layout that appeared in the September 1959 Caper magazine.

1958-62: City Hall

Information published in 1962 suggests that the old castle was on its last legs:

“Weeds, brush, and neighborhood vandals took their toll of the rambling structure. Even the tiled swimming pool on the hilltop above fell into disrepair. Eventually teenagers [shudder] discovered the house. Their wild parties brought the wrath of both neighbors and police.”

Darrell Gregory, a 28-year old studio policeman, purchased the property in 1958, and “his quick handling of the continuing juvenile invasions earned the admiration of the neighbors”. Unfortunately, his grateful neighbors’ earlier complaints had attracted the attention of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. In response to LADB&S demands, Gregory “tore down most of the outside house, most of the terrace walls, the archway and a utility porch as ordered.” He was granted a delay during which he worked desperately to meet the inspectors’ demands, but ultimately the decision was handed down to raze the house. To make matters worse, the “road below, over which McDermott had brought building supplies, had long since been abandoned and sold to neighbors”. Gregory’s home was landlocked. Even with help from neighbors, perhaps guilt-ridden neighbors, Gregory was unable to bring the building up to code. During a series of inspections, delays, and more inspections, the city passed an ordinance that would prevent division of property in such a way as to deprive a landowner of access. This “Spider Pool” ordnance was too late to help Mr. Gregory. The final decision came in the fall of 1962. Gregory abandoned the property and not long afterwards the house and pool were bulldozed.

2007: Epilogue

The transient coincidence of the Spider Pool’s aesthetic appeal and seclusion, the post-War boom in amateur camera clubs and stereo photography, and a succession of willing owners, allowed the Pool to flourish in its saucy role for a few short years.

The Spider Pool and Jack McDermott’s castle are long gone from any public recollection, but plenty of witnesses to its 1950s career are still alive. A few have been located, and some have been happy to share their memories of the time and place. Others have no interest in reliving that part of their life. In the neighborhood, new residents are dutifully regaled with tales of McDermott’s parties from old ones, and local historians of the offbeat are probably well-versed in the lore of the estate. But when a corps of online Spider Pool enthusiasts set out to pinpoint the estate’s location, there were no witnesses and no experts to be found. Fifty-year old photos were studied with scientific precision for clues that would allow the site to be pinpointed, and after months of concerted effort, the remains of the estate were found. Only later did the spectacular story behind it all begin to unfold.

Thanks, Jack, for continuing to entertain us.

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