When Beverly Hills was still nothing but a bean field, only one farmhouse stood on the horizon. This is the true story of one family who lived in that famous house and the scandals and secrets that it kept locked up and hidden until now.
The Monterey Colonial that I grew up in, arguably the “oldest house in Beverly Hills,” is the spooky setting for my new memoir from The Bastard of Beverly Hills. I can’t reveal too much about its storied history in this article since it plays such a big role in the book’s plot, but below is a trailer with a few glimpses into the home and some interesting facts about its famous previous owners that old Hollywood aficionados will love.
From Farmhouse To Mansion
Although the City of Beverly Hills maintains excellent property records, it’s nearly impossible to find original deeds for every home that existed there at the time of its incorporation in 1914. However, as demonstrated below, it’s likely that the construction of this particular home, possibly once a farmhouse, predates even the first development’s models built in the community around 1907 by perhaps a decade or more.The Monterey Colonial style originates in California as far back as 1835.
Much of the fertile land on which Beverly Hills now sits was farmland. It was purchased at the turn of the century by a savvy group of oil speculators led by Burton E. Green. He then hired landscape artist Wilbur D. Cook to lay out the beautiful curved streets in 1907. In that same year, historians note, less than a dozen homes were built on Crescent and Canon drives. But that doesn’t mean they were the only homes around at that time.
In fact, there are several early references to hunting lodges, Mexican adobes, business buildings, and farmhouses scattered throughout the area, which, until Burton Green arrived was known as Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, or Ranch of the Gathering Waters. The problem with tracking down the provenance of those structures today is that there weren’t great tax or estate records until the city was incorporated, nor was there a lot of aerial photography back then. The earliest two photographs that can be found I’ve included in this article and show rare before and after images of what might be the oldest house still standing in Beverly Hills!
As you can see from the first photograph from 1912 above, there is a two-story building in the foreground of the Beverly Hills Hotel at the time of its construction, with nothing else around. At first, I wasn’t sure this was my house on Beverly Drive because an extra east wing had been added to the hotel since that photograph was shot. Also, the angle of the streets is a bit funny because you can’t see Crescent drive between the home and the hotel. That’s partly the limitations of photography at the time and a visual anomaly. Also, the captions assigned to the photo by the archivist had misrepresented the angle from which it was taken.
To confirm the home is the same one standing today, I referenced a second aerial shot from 1918, which shows the exact same home, with what looks like a unique skillion-type roof facing streetside. I then counted the same number of palm trees from Sunset Boulevard present in the first photo. Finally, I found a third early photo of the house, above, that shows Coldwater Canyon in the background from the perspective of what would become Will Rogers park. If the house wasn’t plotted out, and there are no records to indicate it was, it was likely a farmhouse or a lodge built well before the hotel, and official birthdate of 1912.
And here’s where it gets really interesting…
The Hotel Manager
I was able to check property records on the house going back to the 1950s, but that’s where the trail ran dry. On a lark, I googled the address using a slightly different variation and got a hit on the 1918-1919 Phi Beta Kapa Berkeley fraternity catalog. In it, there’s a young man named Robert Moulthrop Boag, who lists his residence on Beverly Drive. And why is that significant? Because Robert’s aunt, Margaret Jane Boag Anderson, was the owner and proprietor of the Beverly Hills Hotel when it opened!
According to news articles from the time, Margaret was granted a parcel across from Sunset Boulevard as well as an adjacent property as part of the deal when she agreed to develop the hotel. Margaret lived in the house, now on Beverly Drive, likely during the hotel’s construction and for several years afterward.
The story picks up again in 1950, with the property being held by several famous names, which I’ve described below.
Celebrities and Others Who Did The Deed
In 1950, the historic home was briefly owned by H.R. Hamilton, an oil executive. But later that year, it was purchased by Barton Sewell, a millionaire yachtsman and heir to part of the Guggenheim fortune. He died in the house of an accidental sedative overdose in 1953. Sewell was involved many scandals, one including a wife-swapping and another involving Buster Keaton.
After Sewell’s death, the home was purchased by Philip N. Krasne, an attorney and noted film producer, who put in the kidney-shaped pool and the pool house. Sometime in the 1960s, he sold it to producer Aaron Spelling of 90210 fame. He then relinquished it to Carolyn Jones, the actress who played Morticia Addams as part of their divorce settlement. I’ve included artistic photos of the residence at the time Carolyn owned it below. And this story gets even creepier and kookier than that. But you’ll have to read The Bastard of Beverly Hills to find out why!
RAFAEL MOSCATEL is the author of the best-selling business book series Tomorrow’s Jobs Today and director of The Little Girl with the Big Voice, a critically acclaimed documentary. His third book, The Bastard of Beverly Hills, a memoir about hope, forgiveness, and redemption, will be published in 2023.