2744 Cardwell stands among some of L.A.’s most coveted homes. Suspended high above the city, along the ridges and canyons of the Hollywood Hills, interactions with wildlife are as common as those with celebrity neighbors.
Viewing the world from here one could believe all things are possible. Such was the case for 2744 Cardwell’s former owner, Neil Norman, who realized many of his dreams while living in this home, and while growing up in the Hollywood Hills. As 2744 Cardwell’s über-modern makeover launches the promise of a new era for this address, Neil looked back on younger days.
“We’re an old Hollywood family,” said Neil. “My father, Gene Norman, came to Los Angeles in the 1940s, and he was smart enough to buy a house on top of Sunset Plaza. Gene, said Neil, dated a lot of movie stars before settling down with Neil’s mother, June Bright, a cover girl and actor who had appeared in movies, most notably, Easy Living, with Lucille Ball; and in We’re Not Married, with Marilyn Monroe and Ginger Rogers.
Neil’s father, Gene Norman, began his professional life as a disc jockey and was for more than half a century an influential presence on the American music scene. Gene founded the label GNP Crescendo, its initials stand for “Gene Norman Presents”, in 1954 which is still run by Neil.
Artists recorded by GNP Crescendo over the years include Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Max Roach, George Shearing and Art Tatum, as well as the bluesmen, Jack Dupree and Memphis Slim, the garage-rock band, The Seeds, Bing Crosby, Dick Dale and Tito Puente.
That same year, Gene opened the Crescendo nightclub on the Sunset Strip, where he presented virtually every record and cabaret star of the era, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Mathis, Stan Kenton, and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass. He also booked some of the era’s foremost comedians, such as Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles and Woody Allen.
“He was like the Johnny Carson of radio with a distinctive voice,” said Neil. “Gene Norman was the most famous disc jockey from 1947 to 1963. And because my father was so famous on the radio, all the artists who worked with him would act like my father was more famous than they were.”
Living in the hills affforded views of city lights, mountains, and trees, but one was never out of touch with Hollywood. Many dreams after all, have been realized in this magical intersection where Laurel Canyon meets the Sunset Strip. Neil’s childhood home on Sunset Plaza Drive was surrounded by nature, even though it was just a stone’s throw from his father’s Crescendo Club on glitzy Sunset Strip.
“I used to hike a lot in the area. I liked mountain climbing and scaling cliffs, and riding my skate board,” said Neil. “There wasn’t the traffic back then. It was a unique. You could swim in my dad’s pool and look at Catalina Island in the distance.” Neil described simpler times in the 1950s and 1960s, but being the son of a Hollywood Icon, Gene Norman, gave Neil uncanny access to some of the music industry’s greatest artists.
“The Hollywood Hills was the enclave of show business,” said Neil. “I got to hang out with a lot of stars.
Gene Norman continued to put on big concerts, and produced a series of live albums and studio recordings based around his promotions. Norman’s jazz recordings evolved into a vast and varied catalog with many original film and television soundtracks, and artists including a band that would have a big influence on Neil, not to mention all of punk rock, The Seeds.
“All that and I had a front row seat. I saw The Seeds when my dad signed them. How exciting they were. The music is marvelous! And my dad asked, ‘Do you like it, Neil?’ Sky Saxon, the singer, had an unusual raw sexual sound. He was a real rock star—his story is incredible—Bruce Johnston, and Iggy Pop, The Clash, and a lot of young artists were inspired by The Seeds. I had an unusual vantage point and I saw things a lot of people don’t get to see,” said Neil. “I got to be their mascot. ”
“A truly bizarre Southern California proto-punk garage band, the Seeds claimed to have coined the term ‘flower power.’ One of the most popular acts during the peak years of the Sunset Strip scene, the Seeds were led by a true eccentric, Sky Saxon, who was born a Mormon in Salt Lake City, and best known for the hit song “Pushin’ Too Hard,” as well as such classics as “Mr. Farmer and “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine.” From the Doors FAQ: All that’s Left to Know About the Kings of Acid Rock, Rich Weidman
Neil remembered one of the highlights of The Seeds’ brief career was a benefit concert with Buffalo Springfield, Johnny Rivers, The 5th Dimension, and the Supremes, for the United Negro College Fund at the Hollywood Bowl in April 1967.
“I was 14. The Seeds got a standing ovation. They reached every body,” recalled Neil. “Where The Doors were more intellectual, The Seeds were more evisceral.”
Amazingly, Neil still had time to be a kid, albeit a childhood perhaps more typical of growing up surrounded by showbiz. A talented guitarist, Neil played his first gig at actor Jennifer Jones’ house at age 12. While still a teen, he played as a session guitarist. Neil soon became resident film scorer as a student at UCLA Film School. He recorded his debut solo album, Not of This Earth, while still attending school.
Neil’s musical career saw him perform in 44 states as well as Europe and South America from Roswell to Rio, Pasadena to Las Vegas and London. His music and experience was out of this world.
As producer, Neil has worked with such artists as The Ventures, Queen Ida, Robin Trower, Jerry Goldsmith, and Savoy Brown. He served as executive producer of 20 Star Trek albums including the Emmy award-winning Star Trek Voyager, and executive-produced the soundtrack albums of Mission: Impossible, Land of the Giants, The Outer Limits, Lost in Space, Forbidden Planet, The Time Tunnel, Godzilla, Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Quantum Leap.
Neil’s latest project, a retrospective on The Seeds, brought Neil back down to his earthly Sunset Strip beginnings. Of course, there’s no one better than Neil to tell that story. Using vintage footage, rare photos, memorabilia, audio of The Seeds, and fresh interviews with band members and associates as well as notable fans and observers, Pushin’ Too Hard relates the bizarre rage-to-riches-to-rags tale of the rock quartet who took Los Angeles by storm in the mid-60s.
“The band‘s story is examined in detail in The Seeds: Pushin’ Too Hard. All four original Seeds are represented, alongside auxiliary members, band associates, and contemporaries such as Kim Fowley, Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys and Johnny Echols of Love. Major fans like Iggy Pop and The Bangles weigh in on what The Seeds meant to them. Narration is by noted author Miss Pamela Des Barres.
The Seeds: Pushin’ Too Hard is directed by Neil Norman, produced by Alec Palao and edited by Dan Schaarschmidt. The movie is accompanied by a major overhaul of the Seeds’ catalog and the gripping original soundtrack on GNP Crescendo and Ace/Big Beat Records in the UK.” Courtesy.gnpcresendo.com
See the trailer for Pushin’ Too hard, here:
Neil sold his house at 2744 Cardwell Place in 2014 but not before leaving it a better place. He was instrumental in establishing the Briar Summit Open Space Preserve so that his childhood neighborhood could maintain some of the nature he was privileged to enjoy in his younger days, leaving things as he had received.
Neil’s home was listed as “one of the quietest, most beautiful and peaceful locations in the Hollywood Hills. Perfect for the owner/user looking to customize to their own aesthetic or for the developer looking for a signature project,” a suggestion that was clearly taken to heart.
Round interiors rethink living with the distinctive impression of having just landed.
Lautner-esque design elements, with convertible spaces for seamless entertainment.
This three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom 1960s estate is figuratively a new house.
The view remains the same, but how one enjoys the outdoor space is updated to enjoy a big blue sky perched for otherworldly contemplation.
2744 Cardwell sold last year for $1.85 million, the reimagined dwelling, and the .79-acre of land it sits on recently listed for $4.695 million. Current listing courtesy: Carl Gambino, Westside Estate Agency