Louis B. Mayer’s Former House – The Birthplace of the Academy AwardsFeb 26th, 2013 | By Lindsay | Category: Celebrity Homes
Last week, the Grim Cheaper emailed me a fabulous Vanity Fair article about the genesis of the most iconic night in Hollywood – the Academy Awards. According to the blurb, in January 1927, legendary producer Louis B. Mayer was enjoying some idle conversation with friends Conrad Nagel and Fred Niblo at his beachfront home when the idea to form an elite club of fellow movie-industry moguls struck him. The article states, “Their flight of fancy—and what some might call anti-union maneuvering—swiftly took wing. The following week three dozen studio stalwarts attended a brainstorming dinner at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel. By May, Mayer, Douglas Fairbanks, and eight others were addressing several hundred in black-tie and ball gowns at Hollywood’s Biltmore Hotel. Fairbanks presented the big picture, Mayer hit them up for $100 a head, and, lo and behold, they had forged an academy (Nagel’s term) of cinema’s elite. Little did L. B. Mayer suspect that two years later his simple notion would spawn a splendid offshoot: the first Academy Awards dinner dance, held on May 16, 1929, in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel.” Well, as you can imagine, once I read those words, I was immediately itching to track down the house where it all began. As it turns out, the property is one I know quite well and had read about in countless books over the years – the infamous Peter Lawford beach house in Santa Monica where my girl Marilyn Monroe is rumored to have trysted with both John F. Kennedy and his brother, Bobby, back in the 1960s. So I dragged the GC right on out to stalk the place this past weekend while in L.A.
Because there are numerous conflicting reports about the residence’s history online, I contacted my buddy E.J., from the Movieland Directory website, to give me the lowdown. According to him, the 6,416-square-foot abode was commissioned in 1926 by Mayer, who had purchased an empty ocean-side tract of land known as Rancho San Vicente the year prior. He employed MGM art director Cedric Gibbons to design the Mediterranean-style dwelling and utilized studio electricians, artisans and carpenters to construct it. The home was completed in an astonishing six weeks time, by April 18, 1926, with builders literally working around the clock to finish. Floodlights were brought in so that the laborers could continue to ply away through the night and, according to E.J., Mayer’s children would often head down to the beach to watch the spectacle.
The property, which cost $26,000 to construct, featured a gatekeeper’s apartment, 13 onyx bathrooms, wood-beamed ceilings, wrought-iron balconies, foot-thick exterior walls to keep the interior cool during the summer, a pool, and a projection room with a movie screen that rose from the floor. Legend has it that the first screening of Gone with the Wind took place in that projection room.
Oh, and did I mention the views?
Louis B. Mayer moved out of the home upon separating from his wife, Margaret, in 1944. She later took over ownership of the property, the front of which is pictured below, through the divorce settlement. In 1956, the residence was purchased by British-born actor Peter Lawford and his wife, Patricia Kennedy, for $95,000. JFK would often visit his sister and brother-in-law at the beach house, which became a sort of den of ill repute with Lawford throwing parties and lining up call-girls, starlets and models for the then Senator and later President to rendezvous with. One of those starlets was, of course, Marilyn Monroe. Jack stayed on the premises, which at the time was located on a private, gated road, so often during his presidency that the place became known as the Western White House. And it was there that Marilyn was set to have dinner on the final night of her life, August 4th, 1962, but she wound up declining the invite at the last minute. Much speculation has surrounded the happenings at the house on that particular evening, the most truthful of which, in my opinion, is chronicled in the fabulous book The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe.
In 1974, while working on the Pussy Cats album, John Lennon, Ringo Star and Paul McCartney all lived at the beach house. In fact, the last known photograph of John and Paul was taken on the premises. According to E.J., Warren Beatty also owned the property at one point in time and it was once rented by Led Zeppelin, as well. The historic home was last sold in October 1978 for $862,000.
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: Louis B. Mayer’s former home, aka the birthplace of the Academy Awards, is located at 625 Palisades Beach Road (or Pacific Coast Highway) in Santa Monica. The beach side of the house can easily be viewed by parking in the lot located near 480 Pacific Coast Highway and walking just a few hundred feet south.