Greystone Park


The day broke cloudy--no wait.  The late afternoon had turned out cloudy and rather dark, and there was a moment's hesitation before setting out for Greystone Park.  Writing a blog about Southern California, you would think, would require that all our pictures to be filled with sunlight and, if possible, palm trees.  Then again this house was so obviously designed to emulate a Stately Home of England that the deficiency of sunshine only augments the authenticity.  

Edward Laurence Doheny commissioned the house as a gift to his son, also Edward Laurence but usually called Ned.  In late 1928 Ned, his wife Lucy (nee Smith), and their five children moved in. By the following March Ned and his secretary, Hugh Plunket, had turned up dead as the outcome of an incident which is unclear to this day.  The official version is that Plunket murdered his boss in anger stemming from the latter refusing him a raise in salary.  On the other hand, it was found that the murder weapon was a gun belonging to Ned, suggesting that it may have been a murder-suicide on Ned's part.  It's been suggested that the Roman Catholic church judged him a suicide, accounting for the fact that he was interred at Forest Lawn rather than at New Calvary with the rest of the Doheny familyNed's widow Lucy remarried and continued to live at Greystone until 1955, when she sold the estate to a Chicago industrialist who began renting it out to film crews.   It has been a favorite filming site ever since, beginning in 1965 with The Loved One when it stood in for the Whispering Glades Mortuary, presided over by a funeral salesman portrayed by the surprisingly droll Liberace.

The Dohenys also had a retreat in Franklin Canyon, which we saw in an earlier blog post on Franklin Canyon.

As originally planned, in addition to the present property, Greystone included all of the Trousdale Estates tract, now covered with high-end single-story houses most of which were built in the late 1950s and early 1960s.   

The visitor no longer enters the grounds by the old gatehouse, but it makes sense to begin there.    This gatehouse is quite substantial and looks large enough to have provided quarters for a gatekeeper or security guard and spouse.   The style of architecture evident here gives us a foretaste of what we'll see throughout the rest of the grounds.  The construction itself is steel reinforced concrete under a surface of Indiana limestone.

Gatehouse and gate

Who among us hasn't thought, at some point: "I don't need to have a mansion, but a little house like this, with its slate roof and working fireplace, would be awesome."  Then we learn, eventually, that such distinctive and costly features are almost never found in small houses.

The red brick strips on either side of the long drive can be seen on all the roads in the estate.

Main drive, just inside the gate
Having bought the property some years earlier, the City of Beverly Hills converted it to a public park in 1971.  Although the mansion itself is usually closed to the public, much of the character of its Great Hall can be glimpsed through the windows, as we'll show later on.  In addition, occasional concerts and other public events provide an opportunity to step inside.    Although the visible rooms of the house appear empty, the expansive and carefully tended gardens surrounding it probably appear much as they ever did.

Today, the first thing most visitors see is the view from the parking lot, which sits well above the house and commands views of the entire Los Angeles basin, from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica.

View towards downtown L.A. in distance.  

The large high-rise towards the left is a condominium tower only a mile or so away. The downtown skyline is in the center of the frame, looking like a row of distant, jagged teeth.

The Upper Gardens

Starting down the slate-and-sandstone stairs and paths, we come first to this formal lawn, which we might well call the Fountain Glade.  Today there are several fountains and other water features on the grounds, but formerly there were also a lake, a waterfall, and babbling brooks.  And naturally there was a swimming pool.

Here's a closer view of the fountain.

Below the Fountain Glade is an impressive slate walkway hemmed in by rows of tall Eugenia bushes.  Particularly evident here are the subtle variations in color in the slate slabs.

Eugenia Alley

There are fountains here as well; for in addition to this large one...
Main Fountain in the Eugenia Alley

...the north wall features a half dozen semicircular recesses, each one with a waterspout in the form of a carved gargoyle-like face.

Row of wall spouts

Until we looked closer, we thought one of these gargoyles was Old Man Doheny himself--of course it wasn't, and that's a good thing. If you looked like this would you put a relief portrait of your face in your garden?  On the other hand, seen from this distance it corresponds perfectly  to in the popular image of an industrial tycoon in the 1920s.  It's not hard to imagine such a face belonging to a stock-character American millionaire in a P.G. Wodehouse story.


It was a pleasant surprise to see that all of the fountains were working.  Some of the gargoyles, like this leonine example, are less anthropomorphic in their appearance.

The abundant fountains and ponds throughout the grounds remind the visitor that water is the main reason why Beverly Hills was never annexed by Los Angeles: it taps all the water it needs from its own wells.

The Main House

The lawns and terraces we've seen up to this point are all well above the house itself, and with respect to the original gatehouse seen at the beginning of this article, behind it. 

As we continue our walk down the hill, the lawns give way to slate-paved courtyards and terraces, for we now approach the house itself.   Along the way we can get a good view of the gables over the north end of the building.

 We pass the porte-cochere on our left.   


We pause to take a closer look.

Porte-cochere, interior
Nearly all the exterior lamps on the property have a style similar to this one.

Although the house is closed, as we've mentioned, we can see a bit of the interior through the french doors.

View of hall from porte-cochere
 The interior floors are surfaced with differently colored varieties of marble.  

Having seen the main entry we come back out, and continue on our way.  To the west of the house, we notice a break in a low wall...

...beyond which there is a reflecting pool populated by what appears to be at least half of the world's population of carp.

 The solid monumental urn at the far end, almost certainly, does not contain anyone's ashes.

Monumental urn

Now, if we all turn around, we can look back towards the south terrace. 


Don't miss the lighted exterior lamp in the cornerWith its vaguely Art Nouveau-ish style, it imbues its surroundings with an almost magical quality.

All about the house the architectural details are little short of stunning.  The bronzed window grilles, the bay windows, and the brazen exterior lamp add up to an impressive picture.  The drainpipe is solid lead, which doesn't sound that great in light of what we now know, but in the 1920s everyone probably though lead pipes were the bee's knees.  After all, they weren't going to drink it, or so they thought.

Southwest corner architectural details

Peering into the windows facing the south terrace, we see the other end of the great hall.  In the background one can see the french doors leading to the porte-cochere.

Great hall seen from south terrace

From here, if we were to continue southward, we'd come to the great lawn below the house, seen in this picture which was taking from just outside the grounds.  This lawn is the first thing a visitor would see on arrival, back when this was a private home; then continuing along the drive he or she would eventually reach the main porte-cochere on the other side of the house.

Xericultural garden and a shy turtle

On an earlier visit we took some views of a small side garden of several drought-tolerant plant varieties.  These pictures aren't as good, because of the poorer-quality camera used to take them, but some may find them interesting nonetheless.

Dwarf Bottlebrush

We have already described the rectangular pond filled with carp, but on this earlier occasion it contained a couple of turtles.  It wasn't immediately apparent that there were turtles, because in this next shot the one visible turtle resembled an oddly shaped waterspout or some similar fixture.

Once were turtles

In the next photo one turtle seems rather shy, just barely poking his nostrils above the surface.

Bashful turtle


Sepulveda Boulevard's Motel Row

In the earlier post Left Turn OK, we presented a trio of mid-20th-century motels, with most of their period styling still intact. With the advent of shorter days and earlier sunsets, now offer a few night photographs to show off their signs to the best advantage.  But why do we bother?  It's simply because, like the motels they adorn, these illuminated signs are utterly evocative of the same postwar commercial aesthetic.  In the older cities of the east, pedestrian focal points such as Times Square have long played host to a wild variety of neon-illuminated hucksterism.  

Today, neon signs have become less popular as an advertising medium, and when we do see them they usually advertise alcoholic beverages and places in which to consume them.  By contrast, in postwar depictions of Times Square, for example, we see elaborately lighted signs touting not only expensive things like air travel to exotic places, or addictive and highly profitable products like tobacco, but also such humbler wares as Planter's Peanuts.  With the exception of trucks emblazoned with names like Frito-Lay, when was the last time you saw outdoor advertising for a cheap snack--of any kind, let alone neon?

These motel signs express that same ideal which is now nearly extinct.
We'll start with the Half Moon, holding forth at Sepulveda and Pigott.  

We're staying at the Half Moon tonight!

 Of all the three motels, this one undoubtedly has the best sign for the simple reason that it is exclusively neon.  The intersection of Sepulveda and Pigott is not one of your pulsating and vibrant entertainment districts, but at least there's the Cinema bar across the street.

The Alpine Carpet store to the right seems to go well with a couple of other alpine or Swiss-related features to be seen in the area.  In the earlier post we noted the vaguely chalet-like red-and-white decorations on the second floor railing.

But rather like the Swiss Motors garage, the owners of Alpine Carpet have been content to commemorate alpine life by their business name alone, and let it go at that. 

There's also the Villa Italian restaurant a couple of doors down.  Nothing much to say here, except possibly to mention the neon sign and the brand-new crescent moon floating above.  Incidentally, the word neon in this context isn't always accurate; any of the stable inert gases will work in this type of lighting and can be used singly or in various mixtures to get different colors.

Moon Over Villa Italian

We already noted the rather overdone signage of Deano's, just up the street.

Rather overdone?  Wildly excessive is more like it, but to really appreciate it in its full, glorious exuberance, you need to see it at night.  You can almost hear the jarring background music  as the main character in some film-noir drama, no doubt staggering from the effects of the Mickey he just got slipped in his drink, is running along here...running from something...running to someone...running, running, running ... until finally the oblivion of unconsciousness smothers him like a cold dark blanket.

Although they have upgraded COLOR TV to CABLE TV, the sign still touts the presence of TELEPHONES, giving off a decidedly retro vibe in view of the fact that nearly all adults these days carry their own mobile phones.  As for the signs' design and arrangement, the daytime shot above betrays a certain cheap feel compared to the all-neon signs at the Half Moon.  But after sundown, it shows up quite well indeed, aided by the one bit that actually is neon: namely the green-hued arrowhead.  In daylight, you hardly even notice it.  Or rather, you can see it, but without the illumination to set it off it looks like it's only there to old up the actual signs.

As for the Astro, we hoped that the Jetsons-like abstract structure upholding the words Astro and Motel would similarly be outlined in neon, but sadly that isn't the case.  It was a missed opportunity to be sure.

But at least the horticultural business next door has a herd of dinosaurs.  During business hours they can be seen in various places around the grounds, but here we see them  penned up for the night, where they must have already fallen asleep by the time this photo was taken.

 The dino that looks like a Bactrian camel is a new one to me.