Eddie Anderson, a notable acting and musical talent who became famous as Jack Benny's sidekick Rochester, died in 1977. He specified that upon his death, his home--a spacious mansion built in the West Adams district of Los Angeles---should become a rehabilitation center for at-risk and homeless substance abusers.
Anderson's son, Eddie Anderson Jr., took responsibility for creating a foundation and gaining the needed approvals for the rehabilitation center his father envisioned. In 1989, the mansion opened its doors to fulfill that purpose. Fees were on a sliding scale.
But Eddie Anderson Jr. had bigger plans to honor the memory of his dad.
The Anderson Estates
Since that time, Eddie Jr. has created the Anderson Estates. He has purchased and fixed up several homes in the area, all of which are rented out to guests. His father, who was known to welcome the neighborhood kids when the family was using the pool, would very likely think this was grand.
Two of the homes are in the same cul de sac as the mansion. Two more homes are nearby. The ones that are further from the main office at the mansion are for longer-term rental, and both are accessible to those with disabilities.
The mansion itself and the other homes in the cul de sac bill themselves as short-term rentals for artists, musicians, and actors. (Minimum stay is three days.) Its listing as a hostel on some websites brings the occasional tourist who needs an inexpensive bed-and-breakfast while visiting Los Angeles.
Since Los Angeles is a mecca for people interested in the arts, there are plenty of guests who are happy to have found affordable lodging from which to pursue their careers. (Prices range from $20/night for a bed in a dormitory room to $75 for a private room.)
Drew Bradford is just that kind of artist. He is a photographer who was looking for a temporary home base while getting situated in Los Angeles. When he arrived at the mansion, he fell in love with the legacy of the place. "People need to be reminded of Eddie Anderson and what a great performer he was," says Bradford.
Bradford selected the dormitory-style housing in a building adjacent to the mansion. "The vibe is young, and a lot of us work late into the night. Because we're in a separate house, we don't bother anyone."
Anderson Estate Amenities
All short-term tenants at the Anderson properties have access to the swimming pool, the exercise equipment, and they can come for the complimentary breakfast.
The breakfast is held in high regard. While some type of egg dish is usually served, the house specialty is sweet potato waffles. (Currently the kitchen is run by Nora who spent many years living in Asia. She provides healthy, appetizing meals, many of which reflect the cooking she learned in the Far East.)
An additional touch of home is provided by Ruthelen is an elderly dog that lopes around the property.
Eddie Jr. travels for business some of the year, but when he is in town, he stays at the mansion. Also in residence in one of the rooms is his mother, Eva, Eddie's second wife and mother of three of the children.
The properties are managed by Joanne Muwanga, a young woman who obtained her law degree in Uganda. After moving to the States and living in the northeast for a time, she gravitated to Los Angeles for the lifestlyle and climate.
The West Adams Location
West Adams is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. As early as the 1880s, it attracted doctors, lawyers, and business people because it was convenient to downtown. Soon it was known for its gracious Victorian homes and became one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in L.A.
Change began to occur in 1910 with the development of Beverly Hills and the residential parts of Hollywood. These new areas lured the upper class white families away. Well-to-do African Americans began buying in the neighborhood.
Over time, the area became known as Sugar Hill, and it has been home to many celebrities of the 1940s and 50s: Hattie McDaniel, Joe Louis, Sweet Daddy Grace, Little Richard, and Ray Charles whose recording studio was located on nearby Washington and Westmoreland.
Eddie Anderson's New House
By the late 1930s Eddie Anderson was one of the best paid African American performers in Hollywood. When he was ready to settle in a home that was befitting of his status in life, he knew he wanted the famous African American architect Paul Williams to design it. Anderson's skin color limited the neighborhoods where he could live in the 1930s, so he acquired several West Adams lots with smaller homes. These were taken down in order to build the much larger homer Paul Williams designed for Anderson.
The house is located in a quiet cul de sac fittingly renamed Rochester Circle. The other homes in the area are well-kept bungalows.
Eddie Anderson the Man
As Drew Bradford said, "Eddie Anderson is a talent who deserves to be remembered right up there with Lucille Ball."
Anderson was a vaudeville performer who got a call to play a Pullman porter on Jack Benny's radio program in 1937. His gravelly voice made him easy to identify, and the show received many requests to invite him back. A permanent role as Jack Benny's valet make him an integral part of every program. A typical skit showed Benny being the foil to Rochester who tended to get the better of his boss. The two men worked beautifully together, and became great friends. Together they forged an on-screen and off-screen relationship of equals. To read more about Eddie Anderson's career, click here.
When Eddie Anderson Jr. recalled his dad, he didn't speak of his work in show business or his father's hobbies, he talked of familial love: "When he came home, he was just a dad."
If Eddie Anderson were to return to the Rochester Mansion today, he would likely feel quite at home. The people who are there are still warm and welcoming---the kind of people who would be happy if a neighbor stopped by to visit for a while.
For information about the Rochester Mansion or Anderson Estates, click here. The Instagram feed is RochesterMansion; Twitter is @RochesterHostel, and on facebook information can be found at Anderson Estates.
And to read profiles of African American leaders, click here.