Old Hollywood mansions may not be as large or lavish as many celebrities' homes today, but considering their size and cost during the time in which they were built, they're still impressive. Often located on acres of property, many featured amenities like swimming pools, tennis courts, and even golf courses. Residents and their guests could make use of dozens of bathrooms, bedrooms, and private screening rooms for their films. While ideas of living in excess have changed since Hollywood's silent film era, the need for successful Hollywood residents to live beyond the means of ordinary mortals is pretty much the same.
Old Hollywood estates aren't limited to the silent film era, however, and stars from the golden ages of the 1930s and 40s through the 1960s all used their wealth to create elaborate living spaces for themselves. Many became places for the famous to gather and hold parties. From acres of gardens and stables to garages large enough to hold an entire fleet of cars, these estates provided an appropriate setting for Hollywood's larger-than-life elite to spend their days and nights.
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Silent film legend Buster Keaton built his Beverly Hills home in 1926, one block away from the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he lived with his wife Natalie Talmadge. Their newly built home measured nearly 11,000 square feet and sat on 3 and a half acres. Containing 20 rooms, it resembled Italian and Spanish villas, with wrought iron, stonework, and arched glass.
There was a 5-foot-wide fireplace and a room with a pool table and a hidden bar that could be converted into a screening room. Keaton's property also held a tennis court, a swimming pool built to resemble a Roman bath, and an aviary. Among the gardens outside, he built a trout stream and planted 42 palm trees, which cost a total of $14,000. Talmadge kept the estate when she and Keaton divorced in 1932, and she became the owner of the property. The house saw many visitors, counting Cary Grant and James Mason among those who lived with Keaton's former wife there. In 2016, Keaton's estate was finally reassembled by new owners, who purchased the $16.2 million property.
Henry Huntington made a fortune in real estate and railroads, and in 1903 he purchased 600 acres of land in San Marino for $240,000. In 1905, he began planning the design of his enormous home, commissioning an architect to carry out his vision three years later. After its completion in 1911, Huntington's 55,000-square-foot house took on the look of Spanish and Italian Renaissance homes with its porte cochere entryway and many classical ornamentations. The estate featured an 8,000-square-foot garage and a private railroad spur to accommodate deliveries. There were several large gardens, and Huntington purchased a Japanese tea garden originally located in Pasadena, relocating it onto his property.
Living in the home with his second wife, Arabella, Huntington amassed a large collection of expensive art which he assembled into a gallery inside his home after she perished in 1924. After Huntington passed in 1927, his collection, as well as his entire home, were opened to the public as a gallery, now known as the Huntington Art Gallery.
Although actress Myrna Loy once claimed, "[We have] no ballroom, no game room, no projection room, no elaborate bar," the home that she and her husband shared was still more than impressive. Known as "Lime Orchard," the house sat in Pacific Palisades off Sunset Boulevard. What it lacked in indoor amenities, it made up for with the grounds. With an English garden, lime orchard, swimming pool built to resemble a lake, and a tennis court built into the side of a hill, there was much to enjoy.
Loy enjoyed growing food in their gardens and taking care of their hundreds of varieties of roses. She also built a bathhouse near the orchard to remind her of her days as a young girl. The couple's servants also had their own quarters on the property, and the staff included a cook, seven gardeners, a chauffeur, and a variety of maids, including one who was employed solely to do laundry.
In addition to newspaper mogul William Randolph Heart's famous castle in San Simeon, California, he also built a home for his mistress, actress Marion Davies, with whom he was having an affair. In the early 1920s, he purchased property along the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica to build Davies her palace, and she became one of the many wealthy celebrities to own land on what was becoming known as the "Gold Coast." Hearst bought 15 plots of land along the ocean and combined them into one property that totaled 5 acres.
Construction on Ocean House began in 1926 and when it was complete, the Georgian Revival-style structure boasted more than 100 rooms including a ballroom, a banquet room, and a complete tavern. Guests most likely had little difficulty finding a bathroom since there were 55, and they could easily stay warm in front of one of 36 fireplaces. Outside, the mansion featured a 110-foot-long pool, tennis courts, gardens, and houses for the staff. Hearst reportedly spent $7 million on the house, with only $3 million of the costs going toward actual construction. The rest of the budget went to pay for furnishings. The expense was reportedly worth it, however, since Ocean House became one of the era's premier party places for Hollywood's elite.
Davies sold the house in 1947 to Joseph Drown, who turned the property into an exclusive hotel and the Sand & Sea Club. Although the Sand & Sea Club continued to operate, the main house was torn down in 1956 and the property was sold to the State of California several years later. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake wrecked all of the structures on the property, the City of Santa Monica decided to convert the property into a community area. With the funding help of the Annenberg Foundation, they created the Annenberg Community Beach House at Santa Monica State Beach, which opened to the public in 2009.