While I love to visit museums and cultural sites, I find visiting restored, historic homes a wonderful glimpse into the past. Visitors are able to see artwork and other decorative objects, in a real setting, sometimes as they were originally designed. You get the benefits of visiting a museum, with the bonus of seeing many of the artwork and objects in the setting in which they were originally meant to be seen.
I had the opportunity to visit two historic mansions in Los Angeles, both related to the Dohenys, once one of the city’s wealthiest and most prominent families. The Doheny Mansion was the residence of Edward and Estelle Doheny and is located in downtown Los Angeles. Greystone is the mansion the family built for their son, Ned Doheny. The mansions represent the city of Los Angeles before Hollywood and the entertainment business and both make a great destination for visitors to the city or local residents as well.
The Doheny Mansion is near USC, close to downtown Los Angeles with easy access from the 10 freeway. The downtown L.A. area is rapidly developing with new shops and restaurants and a visit to the mansion is a great detour during a trip to the area. Greystone sits in Beverly Hills, a block or two from Sunset Blvd. and is a relaxing stop from sightseeing in the Beverly Hills or Hollywood area.
Both are open to the public and the grounds of both can be visited anytime, but the Doheny Mansion offers tours of the spectacular interior, while Greystone can only be seen from the outside. However, Greystone’s expansive gardens and patios are open to the public, and make a great way to spend an afternoon. The Doheny Mansion sits on a college campus and the grounds can be visited anytime during school hours, with scheduled public tours also available.
Edward Doheny was businessman and political deal-maker in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His vast oil holdings made him rich beyond belief as the automobile and other needs for petroleum and related products developed. In a time before income taxes, he amassed a fortune and began to surround himself with beautiful art and objects.
The Doheny Mansion
Acquired in 1901 by the Dohenys, the mansion is a statement of American wealth. The mansion was actually part of what we know now as a gated community. Judge Charles Silent, a wealthy developer and businessman, who was also the city’s first parks commissioner, developed a private neighborhood of fine mansions on Chester Place, just south of downtown Los Angeles. In 1895, he built a neighborhood of Victorian-Revival mansions, most of which still stand today.
The mansion was renovated under the direction of Mrs. Doheny in 1933 in a neo-classical style, and having visited many homes from this period, it’s instantly recognizable. The rooms are grand with beautiful paintings and artwork. The furniture is mostly intact from the collection owned by the Dohenys and is just amazing to view up close.
Mrs. Doheny continued to live at the mansion until her passing in 1958 and the mansion remains suspended in time from that point. She donated their vast art collection to the Edward L. Doheny Memorial Library in Camarillo, California, about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles. She donated the house to Mount St. Mary’s College, where it sits today and is used by the school for offices and as a residence for Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
We were lucky enough to receive a personal guided tour by the Curator of the Doheny Mansion, Mary Ann Bonino, who truly transported us back in time as if we were visiting Mrs. Doheny’s home. She took time to explain each piece of furniture and object, but relating everything to the house and the life of the family. It really is like a living museum, offering a view not only of the priceless art and furniture, but also the lifestyle of rich Americans in the early 1900s. Mary Ann Bonino’s book about the mansion, “The Doheny Mansion, A Biography of a Home” is a great read about not only the mansion, but early Los Angeles history as well.
The public is invited to tour the mansion on scheduled dates throughout the year, with the latest dates posted on the Doheny Mansion website. Tours are $25 per person. Another way to see the mansion from the inside is to attend a chamber music concert in the spectacular Pompeian Room, presented by the Da Camera Society. Concerts are presented in the domed room, featuring a sensational stained glass domed ceiling attributed to Tiffany.
Doheny Mansion at Mount St. Mary’s College
To me, this mansion exudes over-the-top, early 20th century American wealth. It’s a grand home, built in 1928 for Ned Doheny, the son of Edward. Doheny paid a little over $3,000,000. to build the house, an enormous sum in those days. The mansion has always carried an ominous reputation as young Ned Doheny and his family only enjoyed the home for four months, as Ned was murdered by his chauffeur, who then shot himself.
The mansion originally sat on almost 13 acres of grounds, but most was sold off to build luxury homes. The Greystone mansion was donated to the city and remains property of the city of Beverly Hills. The house itself is used mainly for filming movies and television shows and the grounds have been restored to their original splendor. We’ve all seen the mansion in movies like “Ghostbusters”, “Spiderman”, “Charlie’s Angels” and as Bruce Wayne’s house in the George Clooney “Batman and Robin” movie.
While the mansion itself it not open to the public, the park-like grounds and formal gardens are open every day and make a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
905 Loma Vista Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Freddy Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog travel4people.com. You can follow him on twitter, @thefredsherman
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