James Dolena was born in Russia and emigrated to the US in 1905. Trained as a painter as well as an architect, he joined H. Valentine Fanshaw in Los Angeles to install a mural in a public building in LA. He stayed, making a name for himself as one of the most famous LA architects working in Spanish Colonial, French Regency, Monterey and Hacienda styles of the 1930’s. He, along with his peers, Paul Williams, Wallace Neff, Reginald Johnson, Ronald Coate, and George Kaufmann, are hugely credited for creating the glamorous, distinctively Californian, architecture that expresses look of LA in the golden Hollywood era.
James Dolena worked on a grand scale, conceiving total environments in collaboration with some of the best landscape designers and interior designers of the time. For his celebrity and wealthy business clients, he worked mainly in his trademark Hollywood Regency style, which he was instrumental in popularizing in the 1930’s. The trademark style of flat exterior walls enveloped by panels of trellises, windows hung like pictures, and dramatic entrances eventually led to a craze of miniature mansions, which almost looked like inside-out, with urns and finials placed on rooftops like bibelots.
One of the best examples of James Dolena’s work was Casa Encantada in Bel Air, built for Hilda Boldt Weber in a combination of French Regency, Georgian and Grecian influences. He utilized famous landscape designer Hammond Sadler (who trained with the Olmsted Bros in Boston) and interior decorator T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbin to complete the elegant estate that would later be home to Conrad Hilton. Other notable projects included a home for William Powell and Carole Lombard, (with the collaboration of celebrity interior designer Billy Hanes), the Boddy House in La Canada, (which is now Descanso Gardens), and The LA Farmer’s Market.