It was a foreclosure on Entrada Drive that initially peaked my interest in Santa Monica Canyon, where I currently reside. While there were a considerable number of foreclosed properties on the market during the last real estate bust –which included the fall of 1993 when I was house hunting–none of them seemed as special or affordable as this one. From the research I had done (this being my second foreclosure) I discovered the house on Entrada indeed had a history, a pedigree and it was half a block from the beach, which I knew would add considerably to its value. Never mind that the property was completely derelict, on a busy street and abutted the canyon’s commercial area. No, I did not bid for the property at a public auction held on the courthouse steps, which is one-way foreclosures, are sold. In fact, the purchase was done, well, the usual way. A Westside real estate agent who knew I was looking for another investment property listed the house, which had been repossessed by the bank when the owner failed to make the monthly payments. The agent pointed out that the Bank of Chicago, which now owned the house, had listed it well below market value mainly because it was not familiar with real estate values in L.A.–even declining ones–and just wanted to recoup what it could as quickly as possible. The only condition of the sale was that the property had to be bought ‘as is’ and there would be no opportunity to inspect the house prior to the close of escrow. With limited funds at the time, I wondered how else I could possibly own such a trophy property except through a market opportunity such as this. So on the advice of the agent, I made a nearly full price offer–and to my surprise, it was accepted. However, it would be almost three months before I could take possession. During that time I visited the site almost daily. I could see that the grand two-story mansion, which was barely visible from the street because of the overgrown foliage, was really big–so big, in fact, that it spread out over two lots that straddled the corner, a sharp contrast to the four, single-story beach bungalows down the block. While some of the windows were bordered up, I knew the house was occupied, with people coming and going at all hours of the day and night. The parking area was always crammed with dated vehicles and old motorcycles. As I walked up and down the street, I fantasized about what I would do with the storied mansion, which apparently had nine bedrooms, each with its own bath. I was told by neighbors that the house, which had once been part of the Marion Davies estate half a mile away on PCH, was moved to its current location in 1959 when the estate was torn down to make way for a beach parking lot. Rumor has it that the house was moved in three separate parts and reassembled on the Entrada site. However, the house had to be turned around so that the picture windows in the living room would face the garden instead of the neighboring parking lot. The house was once one of four guesthouses on the former Davies estate, which included a 110-room main house where newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and Davies were known to entertain a great deal–mostly big Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin and Katherine Hepburn. Architect Julia Morgan, who designed Hearst Castle in San Simeon, also designed this distinctive Country English-style house. What was left of her design inside, I wondered? I would soon find out. At the time the property was foreclosed on it had become a derelict rooming house. On the December morning escrow closed, the county sheriff was there to escort the remaining tenants out. The locks were changed and I was handed the keys. What I remember most on that first visit was the orange carpet on the staircase. While the mantel around the fireplace in the living room was gone, there were still embers burning and beds all over the room. Half of the toilets didn’t work. Neither did the two furnaces or the dishwasher. It took a month just to get rid of the debris–from the foil wallpaper in the bathrooms (so popular in the 1950s) to the ceilings that suffered from water damage (mostly from leaky pipes), to the rusty motorcycle parts buried in the yard (remnants of a once thriving business?). In this house even the two maids’ rooms each had their own bathroom, and while the kitchen was exceptionally small I could see there was a way to double the size–by integrating the butler’s pantry, putting a six-foot commercial stove where the washer and dryer used to be, and punching out the wall to the hall which instantly gave us much more space. While many of the architectural features had obviously been pillaged over the years, on almost all of the interior doors I found the reminders of Morgan’s legacy that I was looking for–crystal doorknobs that sparkled in the light. Also intact were some of the original crown moldings, the mirrored staircase that cried out for a skylight, and the cast-iron railings. Looking closely, I could see the daisies Morgan designed on each bar. Enamored with my finds, I embarked on a renovation that was complete in 100 days. My goal was simple: to bring the house (4,500-sq.-ft. on a 7,500-sq.-ft. lot) back to its original beauty and sell it for a profit. It would be marketed as having four private suites plus a large master suite with his-and-her baths (unusual at the time), an upstairs family room and deck with ocean view, a doggy run, an outdoor shower, two gardens and parking for six cars–a big plus in the canyon where it is hard to find a parking spot in front of your own home, especially on weekends because of the beach traffic. However, just before putting the house on the market I decided to spend July 4th weekend there, just to see what it was like. Fourteen years later I am still here. Wonder what happened to the previous owner who lost the house in foreclosure? I think he spent too much time at the racetrack. One day when the workers opened the ceiling in one of the bedrooms upstairs it started to ‘rain.’ Hundreds and hundreds of stubs poured through the rafters from the attic up above–stubs from Hollywood Park. Unfortunately, his wagers on the horses didn’t pay off for him.
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