Trousdale Estates is one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Beverly Hills. Made up of a little over 400 acres and developed in the 1950s, it was originally known as Doheny Ranch where the famous Greyhouse Mansion is.
The New York Times wrote a great article on the enclave, speaking to its Mid-Century architectural appeal and long history of famous inhabitants. Read more below.
Once favored by the leading lights of Old Hollywood, the Trousdale section of Los Angeles fell out of fashion in the ’70s — its trove of midcentury architecture tarted up or torn down — only to be rediscovered by a new wave of glamorous Angelenos devoted to preserving its unique style. It’s ready for its close-up, again. See the slide show.
Having renovated seven other houses all over Los Angeles, the comedian Ellen DeGeneres and her wife, the actress Portia de Rossi, headed to Trousdale Estates, a newly fashionable Beverly Hills subdivision, for their latest domestic project. The house, designed by the architect Harold W. Levitt in 1956 for the movie theater magnate Charles Skouras Jr., features a monolithic entry colonnade, a soaring marble atrium and 15-foot floor-to-ceiling glass walls. It has been photographed by Julius Shulman, appeared in a Versace campaign photographed by Steven Meisel and was the subject of a coffee table book by Kelly Wearstler, which features an image of the decorator perched on a marble hearth in a vintage Dior gown, trimming a fig tree in the living room with a pair of enormous pruning shears.
A look at the midcentury architecture and interiors of celebrity-owned homes in the Trousdale section of Los Angeles. More…
“That’s exactly how we trim it,” DeGeneres deadpans.
“I like to wear cocktail attire all day now,” de Rossi adds.
“And I wear a purse,” DeGeneres says. “I’ll just put a purse on and walk around in my shorts or pajamas.”
Whatever their sartorial leanings, when it comes to design matters the couple are decidedly earnest. Their decorators, Kathleen and Tommy Clements, recently put the finishing touches on a seemingly effortless composition of rustic antiques, furniture by modern French masters like Jean Prouvé and Jean Royère, and artworks by the likes of Ai Weiwei and Rikrit Tiravanija. “Because of the light and the good walls, it’s a house that shows art incredibly well,” DeGeneres says. “I love everything Hal Levitt did. And to be in a community where people feel the same way about architecture is fantastic.”
Trousdale, a place many Angelenos know best as a shortcut to the Valley but which is also home to a treasure trove of midcentury architecture, is having a moment, or rather, another moment. Its recent rediscovery by A-listers like Elton John, Jane Fonda and Vera Wang as well as investors is quite a comeback for a high-end housing tract about which the esteemed architecture historians David Gebhard and Robert Winter once said, “Everything is so wrong it forms a kind of unity.”
Situated in the foothills at the northeast end of Beverly Hills, Trousdale Estates spans 410 acres that once made up the Doheny Ranch — a patchwork of orange groves and hunting grounds belonging to the oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny. In the late 1920s, Doheny built a 46,000-square-foot Tudor pile, and gave the house and the land to his son Edward (Ned) L. Doheny Jr., and his wife, Lucy. Five months after they moved in, Ned and his male secretary were found dead of gunshot wounds in a guest room. (Speculation that the deaths were the result of a lovers’ quarrel persists.) Lucy remained in the house until 1955, when she sold the mansion to an industrialist and the grounds to Paul Trousdale.
Trousdale, who sold gum and advertising before going into real estate, conceived of Trousdale Estates as an exclusive enclave offering residents “a life above it all.” He oversaw a monumental grading project that transformed the scrub-covered hills into 539 lots, precisely stepped to maximize their canyon, city and ocean views.
From the beginning, Trousdale courted the rich and famous. Dinah Shore and Richard Nixon were among the early buyers, both of them commissioning modern ranch houses from Allen Siple. “I’d rather have Nixon in that house than the other House,” Groucho Marx quipped of his Trousdale neighbor. Marx, who hired the society architect Wallace Neff to design a low, curvilinear home with an open carport to showcase his three DeSotos, was a common sight in the neighborhood, walking his black and white Scottish terriers, Scotch and Soda. Danny Thomas built a sprawling Levantine mansion he called Villa Rosa. Like Paul Trousdale, Dean Martin and Elvis Presley both chose houses in the theatrical Hollywood Regency style.
While Trousdale’s building codes mandate single-story construction, there are no dictates as to style. The midcentury vintage of most of the residences, along with their generous budgets, yielded exuberant variations on the modern theme. Flat-roofed horizontal houses were shamelessly tarted up, whether the embellishments were Greco-Roman in spirit (free-standing colonnades, skinny windows, mysteriously blank facades); neo-Regency (mansard roofs, delicate porticos, Brobdingnagian double front doors); or Trader Vic’s tropical (lava rock walls, indoor-outdoor swimming pools, jungled gardens).
Behind the froufrou lay surprisingly good bones. “The real takeaway is how many great architects built there,” says Steven Price, a local design writer currently working on a coffee table book about Trousdale. “You had architects at the twilight of their career, like Wallace Neff or James Dolena or Paul Williams, at the same time as newcomers like Hal Levitt, Richard Dorman, Ed Fickett, Quincy Jones and Lloyd Wright.”
Inside the designer Vera Wang’s home, which was once owned by the actor Burt Reynolds.Douglas Friedman/Trunk ArchiveInside the designer Vera Wang’s home, which was once owned by the actor Burt Reynolds. See the slide show.
They created stage sets for lavish indoor-outdoor living, Southern California style. The “Tonight Show” producer Freddie de Cordova and his wife, Janet, entertained social lions (the Reagans, the Bloomingdales) and industry titans (the Gary Coopers, the Jack Bennys) at their home. Across the street from the de Cordovas, in a stone-clad villa by Robert Earl, the Hollywood agent Irving Lazar’s legendary Oscar parties started out as small gatherings. “Irving and Mary had wonderful parties, with Billy and Audrey Wilder and Frank Sinatra and divine people from Europe and New York,” recalls Angie Dickinson, who still lives down the street. “I met Gloria Vanderbilt there once and nearly fainted.”
As the area’s original homeowners began to die out, so did the enthusiasm for open, forward-looking residential architecture. The first tear-down occurred in 1977: a house designed by William Sutherland Beckett (with a Mondrianesque facade of colored plastic screens) and inhabited by Wilt Chamberlain was replaced with a bland stucco contemporary. The fall of the Shah of Iran brought many Iranian immigrants to Trousdale, whose hilly topography and low-slung architecture reminded them of their homeland; they in turn imported an eclectic design vocabulary — arches and columns, moldings and gildings — that made the earlier ornamentation look positively restrained.
In 2000, Steven Meisel shot an ad campaign for Versace called “Four Days in L.A.,” which featured, among other locations, the Skouras house now owned by DeGeneres. A pair of models with Veruschka coifs lounged amid the louche splendor of marble walls and bronze screens, crystal chandeliers and rank houseplants. “Those were all their own original furnishings,” Meisel recalls. “That’s the way the owners lived, and it blew me away.” By most accounts, the ads helped to spur a revival in local interest in Trousdale. Kelly Wearstler bought the Skouras home and made over the rooms in her “more is more” fashion. Meisel himself purchased a house up the street — a 1963 Hawaiian modern by George MacLean — and hired the firm Marmol Radziner to renovate it and the designer Brad Dunning to reinterpret the interiors in period Trousdale style (mica and onyx walls; furniture by Billy Haines and Tommi Parzinger).
“I was very familiar with California modernism, but I had never seen it twisted and glammed up like that,” says Dunning, who has since worked on several other houses in the neighborhood. Around the same time, style-savvy young Hollywood began to circle. Matthew Perry moved into a woodsy-modern cliff-hugger reminiscent of John Lautner, and half of the “Friends” cast followed him — Courteney Cox acquiring an aerie by A. Quincy Jones with a circular pool overlooking the city, Jennifer Aniston spending years renovating a Hal Levitt design. Other pedigreed homes in the area drew notables from the art world (Ed Ruscha, Eugenio López) and fashion world (Hedi Slimane, Sally Hershberger).
In the food chain that is Southern California real estate, developers were bound to swoop in and take the biggest bite. Jeff Hyland, a Beverly Hills real estate agent who averages two house sales a month in Trousdale, estimates that half of the current buyers are speculators, many of whom began snapping up houses during the recession. And they are inevitably changing the character of the area. “The houses are being bought by people who aren’t going to live there, and that impacts the neighborhood in a big way,” Steven Price says. “There’s a retail aspect to the architecture now. That’s why you’re seeing so many white, white fronts, stainless fascias and glass garage doors.”
It’s not just flippers who have no use for the old houses: the DreamWorks Animation C.E.O., Jeffrey Katzenberg, replaced the midcentury house he acquired in 2009 for $35 million with a rustic rambler. And Jim Jannard, the Oakley eyewear and apparel founder, is erecting a concrete behemoth where a crab-shaped Levitt once stood. (Under the aegis of a preservation ordinance enacted by the city of Beverly Hills last year, Price has been compiling a list of Trousdale properties to nominate for landmark status.)
“Do you know how many times people ring my door?” asks Carole Katleman, an interior designer who has lived in a pristine pavilion by Buff, Straub & Hensman since 1996, when she paid just under $1 million for the house. “I had somebody the other day who had the nerve to drive up my white concrete driveway and say, ‘I wanna buy your house.’ I said, ‘It’s not for sale.’ He said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. I’m gonna give you $12 million.’ ” Like many of her neighbors, the designer cannot conceive of living anywhere else. “Every morning I come out here with my instant oatmeal and I say a little prayer,” she says, stepping out to her pool terrace, her black jeans, black turtleneck and tight black chignon smartly foiling its white terrazzo tiles. “I thank God for another day here.”