Green Acres, Pickfair, Chaplin’s Breakaway Home, and Keaton’s Italian Villa

Below, 1937, Harold Lloyd’s Green Acres (red), Doug and Mary’s Pickfair (blue), Charlie Chaplin’s home (yellow), and Buster Keaton’s Italian Villa (orange). Who knew they were all spaced so close together?

Click to enlarge. Harold Lloyd’s Green Acres (red), Buster Keaton’s Italian Villa (orange), Charlie Chaplin’s home (yellow), and Pickfair (blue). Flight c-4686, Frame 8 UCSB Library.

I knew Charlie Chaplin’s home (yellow above and left) stood practically next door to Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford’s Pickfair home (blue above and left), but never realized that Charlie lived nearly as close to Buster Keaton (orange above and left), and that they all lived close to Harold Lloyd’s Green Acres estate as well (red above and left). Above, this 1937 photo taken from 8,400 feet shows just how close the five superstars once lived to one another. Another revelation, look at how Lloyd’s massive estate dwarfs the other impressive estates by comparison, perhaps larger in size than the three others combined. At left (Flight C_113, Frame 75 UCSB Library, click to enlarge), a 1927 photo taken at 18,000 feet, from more than twice the altitude, where you can see undeveloped land being graded for Lloyd’s Green Acres (red box), which began construction that year. For reference, the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset (green box) appears at the bottom of the image.

While many words have been written about these stately homes, my goal here is simply to share the marvel of seeing them all for the first time in close proximity to each other. Below, images of Keaton’s Italian Villa, 1018 Pamela Drive, with its grand stairway leading down to the pool. The 1937 aerial view is rotated looking east, to better match the other photos.

Below, Chaplin’s home at 1085 Summit Drive, featuring a long tapering lawn sloping west (left) towards a swimming pool at the far end of the property, a separate path leading to his famous tennis court, and a prominent forecourt (right) with room to park numerous cars. Rumored to have been hastily constructed by Charlie’s studio carpenters, the home was jokingly called the Breakaway House. Charlie Chaplin Image Bankboth.

Architectural historian David Silverman, of LA House Histories, reports David O. Selznick lived due south of Chaplin (see inset, red outline) while by 1937 Fred Astaire lived immediately next door at 1121 Summit Drive (see inset, maroon outline). Below, the Pickfair estate at 1143 Summit Drive, the 1937 aerial view rotated looking east to aid comparison. Notice the distinctive kidney-shaped pool at the far edge. LAPLboth.

Finally, Harold’s massive estate, 1740 Green Acres Drive, had over 40 rooms, with grounds featuring a dozen fountains, an Olympic size pool, and a nine-hole golf course. Be sure to enlarge the 1937 view to enjoy all of the details. California State Libraryboth.

Below, Green Acres portrays a foreign embassy during a 1975 episode of the classic-era TV detective series Columbo, starring Peter Falk. Read all about it HERE.

If you search on Google maps aerial view, you can see that while Pickfair and Charlie’s homes were extensively remodeled, the Pickfair swimming pool appears in the same spot, as does Charlie’s tennis court, while Buster’s and Harold’s beautiful homes, still relatively intact, today stand watch over many other homes occupying their estates’ subdivided grounds. Be sure to read the comments below, where readers identify other famous homes. Please share with me any that you can identify.

Note: Buster only lived here 10 months or so, but check out Duncan Maginnis’s post about Keaton’s now lost former home at 637 S. Ardmore Place. Duncan is the author of the amazingly rich series of blog posts about classic Los Angeles neighborhoods, including BERKELEY SQUARE; WESTMORELAND PLACE; WILSHIRE BOULEVARD; ADAMS BOULEVARD; WINDSOR SQUARE; ST. JAMES PARK; and FREMONT PLACE.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up.

This entry was posted in Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Doug Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Green Acres, Pickfair, Chaplin’s Breakaway Home, and Keaton’s Italian Villa

  1. Wonderful to see such beautiful estates owned by the reigning comic geniuses of the silent era! I still mourn the loss of Pickfair, destroyed so infamously in the 1980s by someone who decided to permanently erase the greatest icon of Hollywood estates for personal pleasure. But that is indeed the legacy of modern Hollywood, isn’t it? I find it charming that these stars of silent comedy decided to build their homes so near to each other; a true “community of comics” that reflects many personal friendships.

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  2. maestrolm says:

    John – thanks as always for your incredible research and generosity in sharing these fascinating results. FWIW, back in the 1970s I actually crashed Pickfair – I was about 20 years old and thought, “well, they can always just throw me out, right?!” I recall walking up the drive, which eventually led to a porte-cochere; over that porte-cochere were windows and as I slowly approached the opening, I looked up and there was an elderly woman looking down at me, partly obscured through sheers. I stopped, attempted to look both respectful and respectable – and she slowly closed the curtain opening through which she had been peering at me. At that point I realized I probably wasn’t being terribly kind and that trespassing WAS an arrestable crime – and so turned around and walked all the way back down the driveway. But I’ve always wondered – and hoped – that I may have had a brief encounter with Mary herself, who was still alive at that time. Years later I met Buddy Rogers at a fundraiser we were both attending as hosts – a showing of the 1927 silent flick “My Best Girl” starring Rogers and Pickford. But I DIDN’T bring up my youthful indiscretion at Pickfair THAT evening – after all, we were getting along very well; why take a chance on ruining things?!

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    • Maestrolm, how interesting! Taken from an older woman’s perspective, I can understand that a young, uninvited male seen walking up my driveway, staring at me as I looked out a window, and then turning and walking back down the driveway would be unnerving! (Was he scoping the place to break in? Is he going back to get his friends since he thinks I am here alone? Obviously it’s not because he needs help, or he would have rang the doorbell. Should I call someone? This is how older women think.) it was wise not to recall this to Buddy Rogers.
      BUT, from a film fan’s perspective, what a stimulating experience! It’s like for a brief moment you were in a time tunnel in which your modern moment of time briefly intersected with the silent era of Hollywood, and one of its most famous stars! And for we who are silent film buffs, how cool is that?!
      Overall, though, it does strike me as a bit of stalking, since Mary was still alive at that time. No wonder modern Hollywood estates are barricaded!

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  3. Brad Alexander says:

    Hi John,

    I was so happy to read your latest post! I did research on this neighborhood three years ago and had so much fun trying to map it all out. At the time, I remember thinking how cool it was to do so much research on a famous neighborhood from the 1920’s on, but also realizing that I may never have the opportunity to express what I had learned. And then I read your post. Its like a dream come true. Ha ha.

    I drew some borders on your photograph from 1927 showing what I believe were the estates. Working from the top left, the estate to the SW of Greenacres belonged to Jack Warner, whose Colonial-revival house had been a work in progress from 1928 to 1931. Lloyd and Warner both enjoyed golf, and divided a full eighteen-hole golf course between their properties, with each maintaining their own nine holes. Looking at the 1934 picture, it appears that Warner’s course is at the southern tip and seems spartan.

    I had previously believed that the large estate south of Warner’s along Benedict Canyon Road was “Dias Dorados” built by Thomas Ince in 1923 and later purchased by Carl Laemmle after Ince’s “mysterious” death in 1924. For the purposes of my project, I had done a lot of research on Dias Dorados, but I wasn’t sure if it was north or south of the Harold Lloyd estate, with references to both 1051 and 1275 Benedict Canyon Drive. Since it wasn’t demolished until the 1940’s or 60’s, your pictures confirm that it was north, which is a great relief for me after not knowing for so long – so thank you! At 30 acres, Dias Dorados was the largest of the estates, and if you are interested there is an exceptional article about it at halfpuddinghalfsauce.blogspot.com. I tried sending the link but not sure if it will show up on your end. It has great pictures and descriptions of a truly unique site – too bad it doesn’t existed today! To the south of Warner’s estate were slightly smaller estates owned by Constance Bennett, Frederic March, Wallace Berry, Joseph Schenck, Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, and the Carolwood estate owned by Walt Disney.

    Now working from the top right corner down, the estate to the east of Pickfair and on the right edge of the picture was part of the Grayhall Mansion, while directly below it was the first large estate built in Beverly Hills, which I think belonged to Virginia Robinson. The two large undeveloped sections south of Pickfair and east of Chaplin’s estate were later developed into estates owned by King Vidor on top and Victor Fleming below. Directly south of them was the estate belonging to W.C. Fields. The property to the west of Chaplin’s estate originally belonged to Corrine Griffith, but was later purchased by Thomas Ince’s widow Elinor after selling Dias Dorados to Carl Laemmle for $650,000. She also used profits from the sale to construct the Chateau Elysee apartment house in Los Angeles. The property to the southeast of Chaplin’s remained undeveloped until 1933 when David O. Selznick built a mansion and estate, and would later be owned by Katherine Hepburn and Ed MacMahon. Tom Mix lived in the house north of Buster Keaton, while Robert Campbell lived in the house east. The estate below Keaton’s belonged to Marion Davies and W.R. Hearst during the 1920’s-30’s, before they moved into the larger “Beverly House” which was later featured in the Godfather as the producer’s house in the famous horse-head scene. Davies was known to have the wildest parties in town, often to the annoyance of her neighbor to the south, Louis B. Mayer, who was sandwiched between her and the revelry at the Beverly Hills Hotel. To the east of the hotel and north of Sunset Boulevard were estates belonging to Will Rogers, Harry Cohn, Samuel Goldwyn, and the King Gillette mansion owned by Gloria Swanson

    Hopefully you get more leads to fill in the blanks and we can all enjoy a follow-up post. Also, how did your bus tour last week go? Hope it was great.

    Best Regards, Brad

    ________________________________

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    • Hi Brad – thank you for all of this wonderful information. I was able to add the URL link to the Dias Dorados site. I hope your Chaplin-Einstein book is going well. Thanks again – John

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  4. Thomas Kaufmann says:

    John, another great article. I love seeing these houses that the older Hollywood folks lived in. I am in such awe however of Greenacres. The fact that Harold Lloyd spent a few million dollars to build it and live there until his passing plus the enormity of the grounds, the fountains, swimming pool, secret tunnels and landscaping is mind boggling. I understand later on that Harold Lloyd was getting taxed to death on the size of the property and with income from movies and such drying up it was a struggle to pay those yearly property taxes. However Harold managed somehow. Thanks again. Thomas Kaufmann

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  5. James Bankston says:

    Tom Mix’s house was just north of Buster Keaton’s in the first aerial photo. The top orange horizontal bar slices right through it.

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    • Thanks James – if I recall Mix’s house was built before Buster’s. Fred Astaire’s house was just north of Chaplin’s. (Off topic – my unusual Swedish name confuses people, so I’ve been addressed many times as Bankston. My name means “son of Bengt” – yes, there are men in Sweden named Bengt, and even women named Bengta!)

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  6. Cynthia Williams says:

    Thanks, maestrolm, for your story about crashing Pickfair!  I particularly enjoyed it because … well … believe it or not, I had my own similar escapade at the Chaplin house next door. 
         I was 10 years old in 1972 when Chaplin returned to the U.S to receive his Oscar, and that was the summer Chaplinmania swept Los Angeles.  His feature films were in theaters again;    orchestras were cutting albums  of his movie scores;  and my mom, a suburban housewife and big Chaplin fan, was immersed in all of it it.  She took me with her (instead of leaving me with a babysitter) to countless 35mm movie screenings, record stores, and used bookstores in her quest for More Chaplin.
         One day, with me in tow, Mom embarked on an “adventure” to Beverly Hills to “see the Summit Drive house up close.”
        (What was she thinking??  She must’ve imagined Summit Dr. as a typical suburban street where one could quietly park a few doors away and conduct a brief, harmless, innocent stakeout unnoticed and undisturbed.)
         We parked on the street below and tromped together up the long steep driveway, which was flanked by very high walls.  We rounded the curve at the top, where the walls abruptly stopped, and stepped out into the courtyard expecting a breathtaking glimpse of the house — but instead found ourselves face-to-face with the current homeowners, who were seated there on the patio chatting and sipping beverages.  Before either of us could register our mutual surprise, Mom and I were distracted by a deep growl  — and we simultaneously spotted a German Shepherd that had also been relaxing nearby.  It leapt to its feet and lunged in our direction.
         The two of us promptly turned in panic and RAN all the way back down the steep driveway to the street below  We scrambled into the car, hearts hammering, and fled the area without looking back.
         Can you imagine how many similar incidents the weary folks in this neighborhood have probably put up with over the years?
         Thank you so much, Mr. Bengtson, for sharing these aerial view photos — and especially for confirming that the Chaplin house has undergone extensive remodeling over the past few decades.  For 40 years I’ve been nagged by doubt and confusion because the structure I saw that day bore almost no resemblance to photos of the pre-1950 Chaplin home.  These photos provided an invaluable lay of the land and have finally helped me put the matter to rest.  Peace at last!

    It’s a little sad comparing the old Chaplin property with the current Google satellite view of the lot.  The street-level address pillar, the driveway, the circular parking area at the top of the driveway, and the tennis court seem to be the only things that survived into the 21st century unchanged.  (sigh)

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