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Forgotten Hollywood: Old Hollywood Estates

In the 1920s, the average annual salary of an American family was $3,269.40. That average was even lower during the Depression years that followed, in the 1930s. Some Hollywood figures were amongst the wealthiest in the country.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were co-founders of United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, in 1919. That was the year Pickford signed a production contract with Famous Players that paid her $1 million over two years – $22 million today. Rudolph Valentino was earning $7,500 a week at the peak of his career – he died in 1926, in debt. Jack L. Warner was worth $300 million at the time of his death, wealth he amassed over four decades in business. All of them lived lavish lifestyles and built iconic estates in Hollywood.



Douglas Fairbanks bought Mary Pickford, his bride, a hunting lodge at 1143 Summit Drive, Beverly Hills. The press dubbed it ‘Pickfair,’ a combination of their names. After architect Wallace Neff made extensive renovations, Pickfair became a sprawling 56-acre estate. According to Life magazine, the mansion was considered “a gathering place only slightly less important than the White House, and much more fun.”

The renovations and additions, which took five years, included a four-story main house, stables, tennis courts, garages, servants’ quarters, tennis courts, and the first swimming pool built for a private residence. A famous photo of the couple paddling a canoe in the pool still exists. There was also a saloon modeled in the style of the Old West and featuring a mahogany bar.


The 25-bedroom house was luxuriously decorated with ceiling frescoes, paneled walls, and period furniture from the Barberini Palace and the estate of Baroness Burdett-Coutts, a British aristocrat. The various rooms were decorated with antiquities from the couple’s extensive travels in the Far East, and with paintings by George Romney, Frederic Remington, Paul DeLongpre, and Guillaume Seignac. These treasures were admired by the Fairbanks’ guests, which included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (who visited on their honeymoon trip), President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor, Greta Garbo, Thomas Edison, the King and Queen of Siam, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, H.G. Wells, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Amelia Earhart, Joan Crawford, Noël Coward, and Charlie Chaplin. The couple entertained lavishly. Invitations to their parties were highly coveted.

Pickford continued renovations on the estate throughout her lifetime. The marriage ended in 1936 but the two continued to reside in the house till Fairbanks’ death in 1939.

Pickford married her third husband, actor Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers in 1937. They used the house for various charitable functions. The public was allowed to take a glimpse of the sumptuous mansion when the Academy presented Mary Pickford with a Lifetime Achievement in Film, in 1976. She accepted the statuette in her living room. The clip is available on YouTube.


A couple of years after Pickford died in 1979, Pickfair was sold for $5.4 million to Jerry Buss, owner of the LA Lakers. He ended up selling the estate to actress Pia Zadora and billionaire husband Meshulam Riklis, in 1988, for $7 million. They demolished the home. Answering the public furor for razing a Hollywood landmark, which was led by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Zadora at first said the house was infested with termites. She changed her story later on and said it needed to be torn down because it was haunted by the ghost of a woman who had had an affair with Fairbanks. “You can deal with termites and you can deal with plumbing issues but you can’t deal with the supernatural,” she is reported to have said.

A Venetian-style ‘palazzo’ was built. All that remains of the original estate are the gates, the pool, and a guest wing. This new property was sold to a company called Unicom Global in 2005 and is now used for corporate retreats and events.

In 2008, an auction of some of Pickfair’s objects d’art was held. An excerpt from the catalog: “a partial Capo Di Monte Napoleon à Josephine dinnerware service (est. $8,000-$10,000), a pair of fine Chinese carved rhinoceros tusks (est. $6,000-$8,000), a Continental silver, gold, enameled and garnet encrusted small coffer which was a gift to Mary Pickford from Grand Duchess Maria of Russia (est. $3,000-$4,000), a Thai damascene silver lotus form covered urn which was a gift to Mary Pickford from the King of Siam (est. $1,000-2,000), and a pair of Adam style paint decorated armchairs (est. $1,500-$2,500)”.

Fine art selections include two oil on canvas still life paintings by Paul DeLongpré (est. $20,000-$30,000each), a Philip Mercier painting of children in a pastoral setting (est. $25,000-$35,000), and a landscape attributed to Asher Durand (est. $15,000-$25,000). Among the many personal effects to be sold are two handmade leather bound Pickfair guest books signed by dignitaries and guests between the years of 1926-1962 (est. $8,000-$10,000).”




In 2020, Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos, bought the Jack L. Warner estate at 1801 Angelo Drive in Beverly Hills for $165 million. The sale shattered all previous records.

In 1926, the studio boss bought three acres of land near the Beverly Hills Hotel. He slowly bought the adjacent land over a decade and ended up with an estate that comprised nine acres and included a 13,600 square-foot Georgian mansion with eight bedrooms and nine bathrooms, two guest houses, a nine-hole golf course, tennis court, pool, formal gardens, and a gas station. At that time, he was married to his second wife, Ann Page.

The renovation was done by architect Roland E. Coate. According to an article in Architectural Digest of 2016, “At the Warner mansion, the front door opened into a two-story entrance hall, notable for its extraordinary parquetry floors with patterns executed in a variety of woods and a sweeping cantilevered staircase that led to the upstairs bedrooms. On the first floor, the living room boasted eighteenth-century English paneling, corner niches for the display of Wedgwood china and other objects, and a George Ill-style cutglass chandelier. The room, like most of the others, displayed many fine antiques, including a George Ill-style mahogany library table and a George III writing desk. With its parquetry floor, wall niches, Adamesque serving table, and early-nineteenth-century French wallpaper with picturesque scenes of India, the dining room typified [actor turned interior decorator] William Haines’s pleasing style. The multi-pedestal dining table usually sat sixteen at dinner parties, but it could be expanded to accommodate several dozen guests. The Warners owned a set of no less than forty-eight Regency-style dining chairs.”

Haines also designed a library and a sunroom in the mansion. A Salvador Dalí portrait of Ann Warner sat above a fireplace mantel.


Warner’s home became the social center of Hollywood life in the 1930s and 40s, taking over from Pickfair. According to AD, Warner would not let most guests into his house, preferring to entertain them on the grounds designed by landscape architect Florence Yoch. “The estate’s gates opened onto a winding driveway lined by sycamores, that proceeded up the hill and ended at the brick-paved motor court. On one side stood the mansion’s porticoed entrance, its whiteness and Neoclassicism a handsome contrast to the heavily landscaped grounds. On the other side of the motor court, Yoch installed an elliptical fountain, followed by a series of landscaped terraces decorated with urns and statues, another fountain with statues of Cupid riding a sea horse and finally a seventeenth-century-Italian style colonnade in front of an ivy-covered wall.”

Guests that Warner entertained included Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Paul Newman, Doris Day and Merv Griffin, Olivia de Havilland, Howard Hughes and Jimmy Stewart.

After Warner died, in 1978, his widow lived there till her death in 1990, at which time the property and furnishings were sold to David Geffen for $47.5 million, the highest price paid at the time for a Hollywood estate. Of course, the subsequent sale to Bezos set a new record.




In 2021, the site of silent star Rudolph Valentino’s house, Falcon Lair, was sold for $15 million to Hollywood film producer Jenifer Westphal and her husband Jeff. Set in Benedict Canyon, on Bella Drive, the original house once also belonged to tobacco heiress Doris Duke.

Valentino bought the 4-acre property in 1925 for $175,000 ($2.7 million today) and named it after a film, The Hooded Falcon, that he hoped to make but never did. He built the mansion in Spanish-style. Extensive gardens were modeled in the Italian style, lined with cypress trees. Stables for his four Arabian horses were built as well. There were garages for his many cars – including a custom-made Isotta Fraschini.

According to Valentino biographer Emily W. Leider, “The new residence . . . was a two-level, sixteen room Spanish style villa at 2 Bella Drive, with stucco walls, a red-tile roof, hardwood, and travertine floors, grand fireplaces, and wood-beamed ceilings. Purchased from a realtor, George F. Read, it had been built in 1923 on an eight-acre lot, which was large enough to accommodate stables for Rudy’s horses, kennels for their many dogs, a multi-car garage, and servants’ quarters.” Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd were his neighbors.

According to the LA Times of 1926, “The long, winding road led up to the white, rough-plastered house, with its gates of Italian grill work and its fountain in which the laughing waters sang of love. Far below lay the city of Los Angeles.” The Times wrote that Valentino spent “lavishly for the things which interested him – horses, dogs, ancient swords and firearms, antique furniture, historical armor and first editions of rare books.”

Valentino was married at the time to Natacha Rambova but the couple split before he moved into the house. Unfortunately, Valentino died in 1926 of complications from gastric ulcers, at the age of 31. His possessions were auctioned off in December of that year – clothing, paintings, a script of The Sheik, automobiles, furniture, cars. He left behind huge debts.

The property changed hands several times, once being owned by actor Harry Carey before Duke bought it in 1953 and moved in with her boyfriend, a musician at the Mocambo restaurant called Joey Castro. Duke had several homes but, eventually, she settled full-time at Falcon Lair. There, she became a virtual recluse after several surgeries followed by a series of strokes. She died in 1993, leaving Falcon Lair to her butler and $100,000 to her dog.