Pickford’s Beach House Gets Face Lift

Times Staff Writer

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks slept here as well as in their famous Pickfair in Beverly Hills: Here is a Santa Monica house, where a $500,000 interior design job was being finished last week.

“It was their beach house, and they lived here in the summers,” interior designer Bobi Leonard said of the Hollywood couple who entertained royalty and other distinguished guests while they were married from 1920 to 1936. The Santa Monica house was built in the ‘20s, after Pickfair, but along with 25 or 30 other large homes along a stretch of beach known as Santa Monica’s Gold Coast.

“The houses are all $1 million and up, most with swimming pools (facing) on the beach. We built a paddle tennis court outside,” Leonard said. The house already had elaborate gardens created by Emmet Wemple with lap pool, spa and fountain. Wemple also designed the magnificent gardens at the Getty Museum in Malibu.

Leonard likes the Gold Coast so much that she once owned a house there, she says, that William Randolph Hearst built for actress Marion Davies.


Next door to the house she just redesigned is a home she described as “the old Revlon house, also once owned by the Kennedy family.” Screenwriter Ivan Goff, a longtime resident of the Gold Coast before moving to Malibu Colony, said, “It must have been bought by Joseph Kennedy when he was out here in the ‘20s.” Kennedy was chairman of the Keith Albee Orpheum Theatres Corp. in 1928 and 1929.

Actor Peter Lawford also had a house on Santa Monica’s Gold Coast that John F. Kennedy visited when Kennedy was President. “I had to give up my house to the Secret Service to keep an eye on the Lawford house when Kennedy was in town,” Goff said.

Movie stars Jeff Hunter, Mae West and Cary Grant, hotel magnate Conrad Hilton and movie producer Darryl F. Zanuck also lived in the area when Goff lived there.

The house that Pickford and Fairbanks owned is now owned by a single businessman with two children, who bought it about three months ago for about $1.5 million from a married couple, Leonard said, adding, “The former owners used it as a beach house, but he’ll live there full time.”


Guess he wants to enjoy his new furnishings, lighting and 15-to-20-foot-tall palm trees, which Leonard put inside, near the master suite, which already had a sauna and spa. The house has three bedrooms, maid’s quarters, 3 1/2 baths and a four-car garage--all on property 60 by 190 feet, which is a pretty good size for Southern California beach-front lots.

“The Malibu Gold Coast” is how talent agent Charles Stern (who represents James Garner, Telly Savalas and Dennis Weaver on currently running TV commercials), describes the beach-front strip that runs for a mile between his property (long known for its celebrity watering hole, the Holiday House resort-hotel) and Paradise Cove to the north.

Part of his property is on private Escondido Beach Road, which leads to the Malibu Gold Coast and the homes of agent/producer/impresario Jerry Weintraub, TV personality Dick Clark and actress/singer Julie Andrews and her husband, producer/director Blake Edwards.

Clark has a 10,000-square-foot house there, Stern said. Stern plans to start building a more modest (3,500-square-foot, three-story) home for himself there in June.


Stern was mentioned in “Hot Property” last September when he subdivided his 1.7-acre Malibu property, which includes the site of Geoffrey’s, a cliff-side restaurant. Geoffrey’s is in a building that opened in 1949 as part of the Holiday House resort-hotel, which attracted such stars as Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Cornel Wilde, David Niven and Lana Turner, he said.

Now Stern is looking to sell the lot that has 170 feet of highway frontage and the building housing Geoffrey’s (which has a long-term lease) for $3 million, and two lots on Escondido Beach Road, with architectural plans--one for $750,000, the other for $800,000--as the “first lots available on the road for 20 years.”

The first week of June, he plans to make way for his new home and the lots by demolishing the 11-unit Holiday House apartments--once home to several celebrities, including actor Rip Torn, actress Carol Lynley and producers James Komack and Paul Mazursky. “It was a true entertainment commune,” Stern said.

That building was constructed by Dudley Murphy, an aviator-turned-movie director-turned-resort operator, as extra motel units in 1959. Murphy’s first 10 units, designed by architect Richard Neutra in 1939, were turned into condos, which Stern sold in 1979. Stern and some partners bought the property, which then consisted of 2.79 acres, from the Murphy estate in 1974.