Sunday, September 23, 2007


I finally saw Greystone for the first time today. After fifteen years in L.A., I'm still finding cool places. I knew of Greystone, of course. The fabled Doheny family mansion, once home to the American Film Institute (AFI). I knew of it long before I became friends with one of the grandchildren of the family. But I had never seen it.

I certainly had no idea that the grounds are a park, open to the public. It was a beautiful, sharply clear afternoon after our several days of rain, and Greystone was a lovely, relaxing place to spend the afternoon. I went with several friends, and we wandered all over.

According to the official site, (, Greystone had "55 liveable rooms, (67 in all) in 46, 054 square feet." (Yep, it really is that big.) "The estate included tennis courts, a swimming pool and pavilion, kennels, waterfalls, lakes (!!), stables, greenhouse and a playhouse." (The exclamation points are all mine. Lakes! In L.A.! And I love the idea of a private playhouse. I'd love to know who performed there. Wouldn't you?)

A lot of the original acreage has been sold off. The lakes are gone, as is the greenhouse. The old gardens are mostly intact - or, at least, have been somewhat replanted as a water and firewise demonstration garden. Part of the upper garden was sacrificed to make the parking lot.

The main water feature, a series of falls down to the main house, is dry, the bed filled with blue glass as an art installation. The pool has been filled in with brick, but the pool house is still there. Here's a photo of the bricked in pool, and the pool house in the background. Ignore the white square in the middle: the actual outline of the pool is the curving white outside line. (photo by Alan M. Pavlik.)

Even with the pool filled in I was irresistibly reminded of the scene in "The Philadelphia Story" when Tracy is in the pool, pushing a model of the True Love. "She was yar. Until she developed dry rot." Where are Tracy Lord and C.K. Dexter Haven when you need them? This house cries out for them....

The grounds have numerous fountains, courtyards, several ponds with Koi and turtles, and a fantastic view of L.A. Of course, I neglected to bring my camera. I'm skillful like that. If there's something to be forgotten, I'm just the girl to forget it.

The house was closed today, but you can call and arrange to go on their tours of the property, including the first floor of the house. The house and grounds have been used as a filming location for many, many movies and tv shows. Of particular interest to me was its use in the Spider-Man films, no doubt as the interior of Harry's house.

The Gothic English house is incredibly imposing, a grande dame, magnificently beautiful in her decay. We peered through leaded glass windows all around the first floor, gaining glimpses of gorgeous hand-carved woodwork, lovely tile floors, incredibly ornate ceilings, and a huge painting over a fireplace.

The weight of the past is felt everywhere around the property. The beauty of what's left is a shadow of the glories of the past. And of course, the house comes complete with it's own murder mystery. In 1929, just six months after moving in, Ned Doheny and his close confidant and private secretary, Hugh Plunkett, were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Plunkett was having mental problems, and shot Doheny and then himself -- at least, that's the official version. This is a Hollywood scandal involving the very wealthy: of course there are many competing theories. If you're curious, you can read more about the murder here: Meanwhile, here's a photo of Greystone from 1929. That good sized building in the foreground is the gatehouse.

The only blight on the afternoon was the hideous, and hideously large construction project right next door. Except that this is one of the most exclusive residential neighborhoods in Beverly Hills, you would swear that somebody's building a mall next door. Ghastly. I wish I had my camera. Mere words can't do this behemoth justice. Here's hoping it looks better when they get the facing on the building, and get the grounds planted again. Actually, here's just hoping it's really not a damn mall.

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