2012-10-24

Greystone Park


Introduction

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.
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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.   

 
Porte-Cochere

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
Grevillea

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












3 comments:

  1. My kids and I love going here. My son runs around everywhere it is a great place if you have a 3 year old with tons of energy, it will tire them out and at the same as you enjoy the view not featured here. If you are on the back deck ((oddly the house faces north as if it's backwards)) there is a beautiful chimney made with pure skilled craftsmanship don't miss it!. It's a multi-pattern intricately put together piece of art my favorite feature of the house. Besides the turtle pool there is a real pond with a bench under a bib weeping willow tree like a painting oh and there are Koi fish that you can feed from your hand :)
    Sadly for Doheny his wife and daughter it was short lived after all that work. Turn out he was shot in the head by the room just off the turtle pond you see here. ... By his male butler aka ''HIS LOVER'' the wife donated the house no one has lived there since. Tons of filming and weddings go on here, it is truly picture perfect!

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    Replies
    1. I think Plunket was more of a confidential secretary than a butler or ordinary servant. With regard to their actual relations, what you're suggesting is probably true at that, but I didn't think it would add much value in the body of the text, attempting as I was to focus on the visual features that we can see today.

      With regard to the house being "turned around", this sort of thing isn't too uncommon in houses designed particularly to impress people, as I believe this one was. On the way to the front door of the house, on the uphill side, the arriving visitor got an eyeful of the imposing mansion and its expansive south lawn. I think this was a common thing in houses of this type and era; you could demonstrate your wealth and power to all comers without necessarily having to admit them to the back terrace and garden.

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