From Canyon To Cove: A visit to Hangover House

The concrete is crumbling a bit and the rebar is rusting around the edges, but the Hangover House is still sitting pretty in its perch high atop a hill off of Ceanothus Drive, where it has stood since 1937.

The man who built it only enjoyed its spectacular views and ocean breezes for two years before he was lost at sea at age 39 while pursuing his profession and passion as an “adventure journalist.”

Today, after some 70 years in the hands of another family, the house that Richard Halliburton built still has the classic modern lines and feel of “futuristic” 1930s architecture — inside and out.

The 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom home was built from poured concrete that still has the impression of the wooden molds and other original detailing, including the “Hangover House” moniker impressed into the concrete at the entry.

The original bronze front door opens heavily to a living room with huge windows providing unobstructed views of the ocean. From the rear gallery area, the Saddleback Mountains loom to the east, and the Aliso Creek Golf Course lies below.

New Yorker covers

One of the bedroom closets is still papered with New Yorker covers dating from 1929 to 1936. Although rusted, a steel spiral staircase still leads to a sun-drenched rooftop pad, perfect for sunbathing or partying. A dumbwaiter links the lower garage area to the rooftop party pad.

The living room wall of raw concrete still has a faded cartoon that likely shows Halliburton himself scaling the heights to his house — named not only for its cliff-hanging site but for the hard partying that went on there.

Residents in the house, along with the famed travel writer, were his partner, and some say, ghost writer, Paul Mooney, and the architect who designed the home, William Alexander Levy.

Mooney was with Halliburton on the Chinese Junk that was lost near Midway Island in the Pacific during a typhoon in March 1939. Ironically, this was the same area where famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart went missing in 1937, and Earhart was reportedly a friend of Halliburton’s.

Levy, the survivor of the trio, went on to become a successful architect and philanthropist, but by all accounts he never matched the triumph of Hangover House.

Bought for $9,000

Now this fabled house is on the market for the first time since 1942, when the Scott family bought it from Halliburton’s family for the astounding sum of $9,000. The asking price today: $5 million, which includes the original home on its 19,000-square-foot lot and four contiguous lots, for a total of more than an acre of land.

The house is a fitting monument to the high-flying Halliburton, but the fact that it is still intact in its original form is a tribute to the Scott family, and especially the late Zolita Scott, who grew up in the historical home and resisted selling it, despite a number of tantalizing offers, according to real estate agent Paul Benec, who is handling the posthumous sale of a number of Scott’s properties.

Scott, a well-known local real estate agent, never wanted to sell the home where she grew up, according to Benec, and held on to it in hopes of renovating the aging structure. But she died Nov. 17 at the age of 61 with those hopes unrealized.

Benec said that he wants to find a buyer who will maintain the integrity of the site and not chop it up into separate lots for sale — or worse.

One possibility he sees for the next owner is to use one of the contiguous lots for a new home and keep the historic Hangover House as a guest house, which would preserve it.

Benec insists that, despite its age and deterioration, the Hangover House is by no means a teardown.

Urban legends and myths

The house, as one might expect of such an old and notable dwelling, has its mysteries and urban legends.

One such legend surrounds a purported visit that Ayn Rand made to the home before writing her monumental novel about a modernist architect, “The Fountainhead,” where she allegedly interviewed Levy about his theories of architecture.

Levy apparently believed that some of his words and ideas were used in Rand’s book, and that scenes in “The Fountainhead” were set in Hangover House.

But Benec said this is now being debunked by a representative of the Ayn Rand Archives in Irvine who responded to Benec’s original house listing with a letter citing various facts to prove that Rand “did not set foot in California” from 1934 to 1943 and therefore could not have visited the house or used it in her novel.

The archivist also said there is no written evidence, such as notes, in her papers indicating a link between Rand and Levy.

“They said it is not possible,” Benec said. But the story persists.

Another legend has it that Richard Halliburton was part of the Halliburton family whose patriarch, Erle Halliburton, founded Halliburton oil services, which eventually became associated with former Vice President Dick Cheney.

One local historian, Eric Jessen, is not backing down in his assertion that there is a link between the two families, while friends of Zolita Scott adamantly reject this notion.

I ended up in the middle of this dispute when I wrote a recent column about Laguna history, and here is what I found through Internet searches: Richard Halliburton was born in 1900 in a small town in Tennessee; Erle Halliburton was born in 1892 in another small town in Tennessee. They had different parents, but were close enough in age that they could have been first cousins. Or not.

But here is another intriguing fact: Erle Halliburton’s claim to fame and fortune was that he devised a revolutionary way of pouring concrete into oil wells to make them stronger during drilling.

The Hangover House was built out of poured-in-place concrete, a radical residential building material in those times, but one that was embraced by Levy’s architectural mentors.

Could one Halliburton have called upon another Halliburton to get state-of-the-art concrete pouring services in the building of this home on a precipitous lot?

Or is it simply coincidence that concrete figures in both stories?

Only a genealogist could cement that fact.

To contact Benec about the Hangover House, call (949) 734-2617 or visit www.mcmoniglegroup.com.


CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 494-2087 or cindy.frazier@latimes.com.

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