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Falcon Lair – The Former Estate of Rudolph Valentino

Jul 12th, 2011 | By | Category: Celebrity Homes

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Way back in December of 2009, I got an email from a fellow stalker named Todd who wanted to know if I had any information on Falcon Lair, the former Rudolph Valentino estate which he had heard was in the process of being torn down.  Amazingly enough, before receiving Todd’s email I had never before heard of Falcon Lair, nor did I know much about its legendary owner.  Rudolph Valentino, as it turns out, was the Brad Pitt/Johnny Depp – or, if you ask me, the Matt Lanter Winking smile – of his day.  The 1920’s Italian-born silent film star, who was dubbed the “Latin Lover” by the press, was so beloved by fans that on the day of his funeral in 1926 over 100,000 mourners lined the streets of New York near Saint Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church to pay their respects to the fallen icon.  So after reading Todd’s email, I immediately dragged the Grim Cheaper right on out to stalk the place to see if it was still standing.  Sadly though, it was pouring rain on that particular day and I was only able to jump out of the car for a brief moment to snap the above photograph and could not poke around the property to see if the estate had been razed.  And even though the mansion had remained at the very top of my “To Stalk” list ever since, the GC and I did not make it back out there until two weekends ago.

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Falcon Lair was originally built by Beverly-Hills-real-estate-developer George Read in 1923 and was purchased by Rudolph Valentino two years later for $175,000.  Valentino dubbed the property “Falcon Lair” in honor of The Hooded Falcon, a never-completed movie the film star tried to produce with his wife Natacha Rambova in 1924.  The isolated Benedict Canyon manse, which Valentino decorated with lavish antiques, fine art, and imported European furnishings, was to be the couple’s dream house, but sadly Natacha divorced him shortly after they moved in.  Sadder still, Valentino died from peritonitis less than a year later, on August 23, 1926, at the tender age of 31.  The estate was then sold and much of the land parceled off.  After a succession of different owners, Falcon Lair was purchased by heiress Doris Duke in 1953.  The reclusive Duke, who at birth had been dubbed “The Million Dollar Baby” thanks to her father’s extensive tobacco fortune, sadly passed away at the Lair on October 28th, 1993 at the age of 80.  Her death became a scandal when it was uncovered that Duke had not only made her butler, Bernard Lafferty, co-executor of her will, a job for which he was paid $500,000 a year, but that she had also bequested him a whopping $5 million from her estate.  Lafferty was eventually accused of playing a role in the heiress’ death, but those accusations were later proven unfounded.  In 1998, the Doris Duke Estate sold Falcon Lair for $2,294,000 and in 2003 the new owners began an extensive restoration and renovation project to bring the mansion back to its original grandeur. Sadly though, and apparently due to bureaucratic red tape, the construction was halted and the house put on the market shortly thereafter.  It was purchased yet again in 2006, at which point it was razed completely.  And with that another important piece of Los Angeles history was wiped away.

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During the time that Valentino lived there,  the 4700-square foot, two-level Falcon Lair boasted over 8 acres of land, 16 rooms, three master bedrooms, three baths, several fireplaces, a library, a detached four-car garage complete with a 120-gallon gasoline pump and upstairs four-bedroom servants’ quarters, a horse stable where Valentino kept his four Arabian horses, and extensive gardens filled with imported Italian trees.  Upon moving in, the star also had to construct a 9-foot cement wall surrounding the perimeter of the estate in order to keep out his more aggressive fans, who would often try to sneak onto the property.

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Sadly, all that remains of the original Falcon Lair today are the front gates . . .

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. . . and the former garage/servants’ quarters.

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If you head away from the property by driving west on Bella Drive and then east on Cielo Drive, you can see the retaining wall that Valentino had built to keep out his trespassing fans.

Falcon Lair aerial view

And if you position Bing’s aerial map of the property facing south, you can catch a glimpse of the mansion before it was torn down, albeit not a very good one.

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You can also see an aerial view of the backside of the mansion on fave website Virtual Globetrotting.

Falcon Lair stables

According to fave book Hollywood: The Movie Lover’s Guide, at some point in time the Falcon Lair stable was sold off and transformed into a private residence.  I was unaware of that fact at the time I stalked the place, though, so I unfortunately did not get any photographs of it.  An aerial view of the former stable/now house is pictured above.  You can read a more extensive history of Falcon Lair, as well as see some interior photographs of the estate, on the Rudolph Valentino Homepage website here.

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Directly across the street from Falcon Lair is the absolutely AMAZING John Lautner-designed Schwimmer Residence, where the Carter family (Backstreet Boy Nick and his siblings B.J., Aaron, Leslie, and Angel) lived during the filming of their short-lived 2006 reality series House of Carters.  (I apologize for the crap-tastic screen captures, by the way.  Unfortunately, I had to get them off of YouTube, which is why they are so fuzzy.)

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Sadly though, none of the Schwimmer Residence, which was built in 1982 and boasts 5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, and almost 6,000 square feet of living space, is visible from the street.  Oh, what I wouldn’t give to see that house!  You can check out some great photos of the residence on fave website Zillow here and on the Plan It Locations website here.

Big THANK YOU to fellow stalker Todd for asking me to stalk this location!  Smile

Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: Falcon Lair, the former Rudolph Valentino estate, was located at 1436 Bella Drive in the Benedict Canyon area of Beverly Hills.  Directly across the street, at 1435 Bella Drive, is the Schwimmer Residence where the House of Carters reality series was filmed.  Rudolph Valentino’s former horse stables can be found at 10051 Cielo Drive, just down the road from Falcon Lair.  And just up the street from the stables, at 10066 Cielo Drive (formerly 10050 Cielo Drive), is Villa Bella, the mansion that was built on the site of the home where Sharon Tate was murdered.

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9 comments

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  1. Vanessa Shannon says:

    I love this site and findadeath.com. I can’t wait to visit LA. I’ve loved old Hollywood since I was a kid. I’m glad I found other enthusiasts. If anyone wants to connect and discuss I have twitter @vanessashannon.

  2. Jane says:

    Great infor & I too love old Hollywood stories we have such a beautiful history here …
    Ironically, I met Bernard the butler (worked on th estate case) for Doris Duke and the entire story was like a Hollywood story. I’ve always wanted to see the home, I heard from friends who actually went into the home when Doris was alive and living that she restored the house and that the enterior was a absolutely beautiful and amazing. I will go there to check out the site.

    • DW Duke says:

      It is amazing that a building with such historical significance sold so cheaply and was ultimately razed. In a fashion much like a Hitchock murder mystery, Bernard Lafferty the butler, planned and executed the murder of Doris Duke.

  3. Erin says:

    I love this location. Its one of my favorite places in Hollywood. So much history.

  4. John (Bay Area) says:

    I enjoyed this post! BTW… On Google Maps, if you pan north from Falcon Lair, there is a HUGE mansion on Davies Drive. Who lives there? I tried to look it up but all I found was that the Mansion on Davies Drive was featured in an episode of The Hills. Detail photos are here:
    http://sunsetlocations.com/location/6832/page/1/passcode=

    • Lindsay says:

      Oh my gosh, I also noticed that house on Davies Drive while looking at aerial views and did the exact same thing you did! I couldn’t find any information outside of The Hills filming, either, but I actually think that Hills info is wrong. I am going to have to go back and watch the episode, but I don’t remember a mansion like that appearing in it. I am thinking that maybe a wrap party or after-party for the show was held there and not an actual filming.

  5. Wow. What a stalk! Love the info.

  6. Lavonna says:

    LOVE OLD HOLLYWOOD!

    • HollywoodNostagiaseeker says:

      HUGE STALK ALERT***. Immediately below Falcon Lair, between the house and the stables on Cielo Dr. Is the home where the Manson family committed the murders of the 8 months pregnant Sharon Tate, her ex-lover, her screenwriter friend (her husband Roman Polanski was in Paris at the time of the murders), and her freinds lover, heiress to the Folger Cofee fortune, Abagail Folger at 10050 Cielo Dr. Sharon Tate and Doris Duke were even very good friends. Many also believe Doris Duke to have been murdered by her butler, as well, He inherited $5 mil upon her death, as well as the title to Falcon Lair itself. This is a particularly sinister corner of Beverly Hills when you consider the most famous mass murder of the twentieth century, Doris’s demise and Valentino’s death barely a year after buying what was to be his and his now ex-wife’s dream home. Super Spooky Stalk.


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