The Lost Houses of L.A.

Hollywood Babylons
Paul Harris/Newscom

Before the age of the McMansion, during the classic age of Hollywood glamour, Los Angeles was home to some of the most exquisite architectural treasures.

At left, actress Jayne Mansfield's home on Sunset Boulevard in Holmby Hills. Newlyweds Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay bought this seven-bedroom Mediterranean mansion in 1958 for $76,000. The couple painted it pink — the actress’s trademark color — and dubbed it the Pink Palace. 


Before the age of the McMansion, Los Angeles was home to some of the most exquisite architectural treasures, from Jayne Mansfield’s Pink Palace to the famed Garden of Allah.

Jayne Mansfield’s Pink Palace
Sunset Boulevard, Holmby Hills
Lost: 2002

Newlyweds Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay bought this seven-bedroom Mediterranean mansion in 1958 for $76,000. The couple painted it pink — the actress’ trademark color — and dubbed it the Pink Palace. Features added by Mansfield included a heart-shaped pool and pink shag carpeting, even on the walls and ceilings. The actress lived there until her death in 1967, and it was part of her public persona. Says L.A. Bizarro co-author Matt Maranian: “She’d invite reporters into the backyard. She’d hang out on the balcony and wave to tour buses.” Engelbert Humperdinck later lived in the house, which was sold to a developer in 2002 and torn down.

Josef von Sternberg House
Tampa Avenue, Northridge
Lost: 1972

Director Josef von Sternberg, whose films with Marlene Dietrich made the actress an international star, commissioned architect Richard Neutra to design a modernist home in the rural San Fernando Valley during the early 1930s. The iconic house, known for its curvilinear front wall and aluminum-clad exterior, is considered one of Neutra’s finest works. It was later bought by writer Ayn Rand, for $24,000, but it fell into disrepair after she sold it. The residence was razed in 1972, and a housing development is now on the site. “I was happy he didn’t live to experience that,” says Dion Neutra, the architect’s son.

Marion Davies’ Beach House
Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica
Lost: 1956

In the 1920s, tycoon William Randolph Hearst built the beachfront mansion for his mistress, actress Marion Davies. The pair entertained Hollywood with lavish parties at the property, part of a posh enclave where the neighbors included Jack Warner and Irving Thalberg. She sold it in 1947 for $600,000, and it was converted into a hotel and beach club. After the hotel foundered, the mansion was demolished in 1956. Recently, an Annenberg Foundation grant paid for the restoration of the pool and guest house; it opened as a community beach house in 2009. “We are very lucky that we have what does remain,” says Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy.

Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford’s Pickfair
Summit Drive, Beverly Hills
Lost: 1990

No home better embodied the spirit of old Hollywood than Pickfair, the estate of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. The property, which the couple purchased in 1919 and extensively renovated — transforming a hunting lodge into a 22-room mansion — is believed to have been L.A.’s first house with a swimming pool. Pickford lived there with her third husband until her death in 1979; a decade later, Lakers owner Jerry Buss sold it to Pia Zadora and Meshulam Riklis for $6.7 million. Citing termite damage, they demolished Pickfair and built a new mansion in its place. The current owner, businessman Corry Hong, paid $17.7 million for the property in 2005.

Alla Nazimova’s Garden of Allah
Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Lost: 1959

From the 1910s to the 1940s, the Garden of Allah was a go-to spot for Hollywood stars who wanted a getaway for a lovers tryst or simply a place to stay while shooting a movie. The property, which was owned by silent-film star Alla Nazimova, consisted of a mansion and 25 villas. The apartment complex’s pool was shaped liked the Caspian Sea as an homage to Nazimova’s Crimean roots, says Tony Lovett, co-author of L.A. Bizarro. Nazimova died in 1945, and the complex was torn down in 1959 after falling into disrepair. The property is now home to a shopping center; its fate reportedly inspired the Joni Mitchell lyric from “Big Yellow Taxi”: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

The Bel-Aire Fire of 1961

Before Malibu became synonymous with natural disasters, Bel-Air was the site of one of L.A.’s most infamous catastrophes. on nov. 6, 1961, a fast-moving wildfire — spurred by Santa Ana winds — ripped through Bel-Air, destroying nearly 500 homes and damaging nearly 200 others. The blaze, which also singed Brentwood, gained attention because of the many celebrities who lost their homes.