The Stone House, Part 4: ‘An Artist in the Family’

By Pablo Capra

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The Stone House, Part 4: ‘An Artist in the Family’
Theatre at Ace Hotel
The stone house was next purchased by Dutch immigrant Antonius “Anthony” Bonaventura Heinsbergen (1894-1981) for his parents Chrisosthomas “Chris” (b.1867) and Johanna “Jans” Heinsbergen (b.1869). Chris and Jan had raised their three children in Haarlem, Netherlands, with an appreciation for the Dutch Masters. “...three Sundays a month [they went] to see the paintings of Frans Hals in the Hals Museum there. And on the fourth Sunday they travelled 20 miles to Amsterdam to see the Rembrandts.” This is according to Anthony’s obituary, “Artist Was Famous for Deliberate Excess,” in the Los Angeles Times, 1981-06-22. The oldest child, he was apprenticed to an artist at 10 and developed an extraordinary talent. “He was so good that instead of taking the 50 cents fee Heinsbergen was supposed to pay, his master paid him 25 cents a week.”
Biltmore Hotel

Anthony’s success made the family’s fortune and brought them to Los Angeles in 1907, where he got his first job painting murals in the mansions of Fremont Place. When Chouinard Art Institute opened in 1921, he became one of founder Nelbert Chouinard’s (1879-1969) first students.
Chris gave up his gardening job to help with Anthony’s business, which, in 1922, became the Heinsbergen Decorating Company, noted for painting murals in “movie palaces” around Los Angeles.
In 1924, Anthony began working for his biggest client, Alexander Pantages (1967-1936), whose chain of theaters stretched across the country.

“At the height of our busiest period we had 20 theaters on the go all at one time... I once spent 57 consecutive days on trains criss-crossing this country.”
Anthony’s company grew to employ 185 decorative painters, and moved into a castle-like building at 7415 Beverly Blvd. in 1928. He was now the foremost theater designer in North America.

“Anthony Heinsbergen’s canvases were the ceilings, domes and interiors of the most opulent theaters and civic buildings from Mexico City to Alaska.
“One of only a handful of international craftsmen who had the combined talents of a master painter, decorator and muralist, Heinsbergen’s florid murals with their smiling cherubs, fleshy nudes and gilded borders epitomized the deliberate excesses of the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 30s.
“William Wilson, Times art critic, once said of Heinsbergen’s murals: ‘They are a delightful mish-mash of byzantine sumptuousness, Art Deco cubism and pure kitsch, perfect for the timeless and vulgar opulence of movie-going.’”

Design for Pantages Theatre ceiling, c. 1930
In the LA area, Anthony’s work can be seen in the Wiltern Theatre, the Los Angeles Theatre, the Palace Theatre, the United Artists Theatre (now the Theatre at Ace Hotel), and the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro. He also painted murals in churches, hotels, libraries, and civic buildings. Local examples include Los Angeles City Hall, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel, and the Park Plaza Hotel (now The MacArthur).
In the early 1930s, Anthony built a house at 17800 Tramonto Dr. in the Castellammare neighborhood of Pacific Palisades, where he lived with his wife and two children.
He moved his parents into the stone house. Topanga must have felt like a safer place to be during World War II, when an attack on Los Angeles seemed imminent. Soldiers, posted at Camp Wildwood, stood guard over the town’s entrance.

“We are living near the shore of the Pacific Ocean which is one of the principal theatres of this global conflict. We are fighting a cruel, crafty and courageous foe. It is only a matter of time until the Japs will attempt to invade California....
“Next Monday, the 7th of December, is the first anniversary of the Japs’ first attempt to invade the United States. Soon or late they will attempt it again, and again, and again. They may strike anytime. They may come before the ink on this warning is dry. They may come tomorrow, or next week, or next month. But they will come.”
(“Be Ready,” Topanga Journal, 1942-12-04)

The former Heinsbergen Decorating Company, 2008
After the war, in 1946, Chris and Jans moved back to Los Angeles. However, their time in Topanga resulted in two lawsuits for Anthony.
The first lawsuit began as he was leaving the Canyon in 1944, presumably after visiting his parents. His car, driven by Leo Lessard (his chauffeur?), collided with the oncoming car of Cletus S. Penny of Short Trail. No injuries were reported, but both parties denied liability and sued for damages.
The second lawsuit came in 1949. The Heinsbergens befriended the stone house’s next owners, Lee and Dora Conger, but were sued by the Congers’ father-in-law, John Heron, who accused his family of not paying him back for the purchase of the house. Heron ended up taking the house.
Of the 757 movie palaces that Anthony painted, about 200 exist today. To step into one is to be steeped in the dreams of another era. He gave this bathetic reason for the palaces’ decline.

They stopped building them in the 1940s, when there was a depression in the movie business. There were no good pictures coming out and television was just coming in. But do you know what really killed them? No parking. People started going to the suburban theatres so they could park their cars. It’s as simple as that.

Pablo Capra is the Archivist for the Topanga Historical Society and author of “Topanga Beach: A History” (2020). More at
Anthony Heinsbergen at his easel, 1965

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March 18, 2022