A VistaVision View of the Ocean Frames This Seaside Hideaway
Story by D.J. Palladino
Photos by Jim Bartsch
Lots of homes have views; Molly Dolle’s beach house feels like widescreen cinema. Just sitting at the little desk not far from her front door where Dolle writes letters and pays her bills, you can look up through one large frame opening into an elegant but homey living room. Across from that setting, another rectangle opens even wider onto the Pacific, where the VistaVision ocean rolls all day.
Or maybe it’s more like Sensurround. If a river changes every time you step into it, imagine seaside variables: tides, weather and sunlight angles sweeping around dramatically not only from the bay window but also from other points. There’s a view from the dining room, another from Dolle’s master bedroom with its fossil-brick fireplace, and yet another from the hallway leading back to bedrooms kept cozy for visits from friends and grandchildren.
“I look out there all day, and I can see nice waves and water,” says Dolle one late afternoon, standing entranced by the big window. “I see birds and dolphins, too. There’s so much life. People walking down the beach hand in hand. But what I love most about the house is just the natural light coming through the windows.”
It’s nice from outside the windows, too; a drive-in for the flip-flop set. “Molly entertains a lot,” says Alida Aldrich, Dolle’s landscape designer, principal of The Aldrich Company (aldrich-landscapes.com) and now her friend. “So we created all these different ‘rooms’ outdoors.”
Indeed, outside the kitchen, living room, bedroom and along the sides are benches, hot tubs and tables from which tea, barbecue or morning paper might be enjoyed as the sea churns and dolphins leap. Even Dolle’s new puppy has a time-out pen and roost from which to watch the waves unfurl.
One great thing about movies, though, is that we get to watch while sitting in the lonely dark, undetected by those we peep—something this bright house manages to do with a combination of strategic hedges and a nice setback from the sand. You can see out, but from the ocean’s edge, the house seems to disappear. “The really nice thing about the house is the privacy,” says Aldrich.
It is certainly the haven that Dolle wanted. The granddaughter of Texas Governor Pappy O’Daniels (who was lampooned in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou), Dolle’s parents divorced when she was three, and her father, Jack Wrather, married Bonita Granville, then the youngest Academy-nominated actress (she played Snip in The Glass Key, also used by the Coens as the source story for Miller’s Crossing). Dolle’s father and stepmother produced Lassie and The Lone Ranger and somehow found time to build Disneyland Hotel, which may figure DNA-wise in Dolle’s later restless love of homemaking.
Raised in Holmby Hills, Dolle was divorced with four grown children when she came here, antsy for some real estate. “I just get a little bug in my whatever,” she laughs. Intending to buy a Summerland hotel, she landed in Montecito’s enchanted enclave, Riven Rock, where she first met Aldrich, also from Hollywood stock, who landscaped Dolle’s home in Montecito.
Dolle was immediately smitten with the area. “I loved Santa Barbara in the 1990s,” she says, dazzled by its combination of small-town comfort and sophistication—the cultural amenities from theater and music to the thriving art world. She immediately became involved with charities—as a docent at Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, a driver for the FoodBank—and today sits on a number of boards, including Family Service Agency.
Restlessness soon took hold, though. “I decided to start casually looking for a beach home,” she says. Two years later, her realtor called and said if she wanted a great buy, to come see it right away. “I didn’t have any appointments, so I went down, and I looked out that window. And…” She smiles and nods, remembering.
The house, which splits a lot with a road-fronting friendly retired neighbor, took a solid year to metamorphose from beach shack to Dolle’s home, a redesign of the three-bedroom, two-bath house that originally would have been hard to distinguish from similar breezy seaside dwellings built in the 1950s lining the coast from Malibu to Miramar Cove. (It was built in 1953.) After extensive reshaping, the shack became a place of air and light with the element of water always surrounding.
Blue is picked up in the upholstery, and the water theme splashes nicely in art by Santa Barbara mood luminaries Patricia Chidlaw and Hank Pitcher. Perhaps the color schemes seem best caught in a Marc Chagall poster that Dolle found immediately after laying claim here. “I bought that in San Francisco as soon as I knew I had the house.”
“There’s something else amazing about this place,” explains Aldrich, walking up the beach stairs. As the house and its grounds magically reappear, she points out roses replanted and thriving, including one called Pal Joey, another little reference to the cinematic-ness of the house and these lives.
“Look at all the things Molly gets to grow here, like citrus, roses and lavender. There are a lot of rose bushes in this town, but not many this close to the beach.”
Although they never met in Hollywood, their backgrounds nearly echo. Aldrich is the daughter of brilliant director Robert Aldrich, best known for the noir masterpiece Kiss Me Deadly. Growing up, she thought nothing about hanging with Gary Cooper and Charlie Bronson (Kim Novak was her favorite, she says). She also married, divorced and came to Santa Barbara for a hotel, although Aldrich came to work as a publicist at San Ysidro Ranch.
Why flowers and plants do so well at Dolle’s home is an anomaly, but it likely has something to do with Aldrich’s planning and care of the outdoor operations, such as tearing out a “scary bougainvillea plant” and installing irrigation and draining on the small plot of land that ends in sand, where dry weeds and ice plant usually thrive.
“She likes primary colors, so there are a lot of yellows,” Aldrich says, pointing out some daisies in bloom. Much of the creative work in the gardens had to do with designing environments, but Aldrich still can’t get over the variety of plants that thrive so near the coast.
“Molly is a dream client,” she says, but she also credits the others who worked with her on the grounds and the house, including Bruce Giffin at the construction company Giffin and Crane (805/966-6401), gardeners Wayne Covert and Cal-Western Landscape (805/962-4216) and Nola Stucky of NS Ceramic (805/962-1422), whom she commissioned to create a sea-themed fountain.
“I like to quote Chuck Close, who said that inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and do the work,” says Aldrich. By “the work,” Aldrich very much means “the collaborations.”
“In 20 years of doing this, I found that the biggest challenge is to find the right trades people. You have to kiss a lot of frogs.”
She found royalty in the meantime. “I love the collaboration with the client. Over the years, I’ve seen what I do as being very important. It’s an art like dance, literature and painting. If I’ve gotten any legacy from my father, it’s that I think I see myself as a director. I can’t do the sound and camerawork, but I can get others to do it. And I learn from them, always.”
Dolle splits her time between the “shack” and ten acres with horses in Santa Ynez Valley. “I’ll go away for a week or two, but I know I can always come back to my little house,” she says, which she openly appreciates for what the little home looks onto, something like an epic sweep, a big-screen view of eternity.
“Everything is good about a beach house. It’s fresh, you have the fresh air, and then you have all that,” she says, pointing to the blue. “I mean, what’s the next thing you could see out there? Hawaii? China? It’s very freeing and it’s very soothing, like watching a fire in a fireplace; it’s very freeing.”