History of the Santa Monica Annenberg Community Beach House
Built by William Randolph Hearst for his mistress Marion Davies
So what's so special about the beach house at 415 Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica? History. Specifically, Hollywood history.
William Randolph Hearst was a famous man in the early part of the 20th Century. He owned dozens of major newspapers, movie companies, magazines, and even radio stations. Think an earlier version of Ted Turner or Donald Trump. Hearst was incredibly rich and powerful, and he wanted to build a beach house in the famed area of Santa Monica. This part of Santa Monica was called the Gold Coast by many because of the amount of wealth and fame that the people who lived there had. The men who had essentially created Hollywood, Irving Thalberg, Harold Lloyd, J. Paul Getty, and Douglas Fairbanks all had homes along this stretch of land, Palisades Beach Road.
Hearst decided to keep the Hollywood connection and had a beach house built for his mistress, the famous silent film star Marion Davies. This wasn't just any beach house, however; this was to be the grandest property out of all the other homes on the Gold Coast. To accomplish this, Hearst commissioned the architect who designed the Hearst Castle, Julia Morgan, to create an estate that would have no rival.
Morgan had already established herself as a premier architect and she is considered to be the most important female architect of the first half of the 20th Century. Despite all the obstacles that faced her due to her gender at that time, Morgan graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in engineering and then earned a diploma from the famed École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. After proving herself in university institutions, Morgan proved herself in her industry by working constantly for the next forty-five years and earning world-wide recognition for the buildings she designed.
With the beach house in Santa Monica, Morgan added another success to her resume. A Georgian mansion with thirty-four bedrooms, three stories, three guest houses, and two swimming pools was the end result. The official tab was unknown but the rumor that went around put the price tag at seven million dollars. This estate eclipsed the other properties nearby and earned the simple but definite titles, "The Beach House," and the "Ocean House."
Davies moved into the house and began her role as Hollywood's elite hostess. She held parties all the time and they were events that anyone who was anyone would attend. Leaders in different industries would attend these parties at the beach house and Hollywood's biggest stars always came too.
After being sold to a private party in the 1940s, the beach house was then leased to the city of Santa Monica by the State. There was a failed attempt to make it part of the Sand and Sea Hotel chain, and then in the late 1950s everything except the servants' quarters, tennis courts, and the pool were destroyed. For the next few decades nothing was done with the property except the city opened the road to the general public, which allowed everyone to reach Palisades Beach Road.
In the 1990s, the property move back into the Hollywood sphere of things as the popular TV show Beverly Hills 90210 used what was left of the building as part of its main backdrop. Then in 1994 the Northridge earthquake occurred and the property was hit so hard that only the beach café was deemed safe to occupy.
No further progress with the property was really made for another decade. The price of restoring the estate was estimated at eighteen million dollars, which the city was unable to justify paying. A solution presented itself with the search for private funding. Wallis Annenberg, the advisor to the Annenberg Foundation heard about the property and pledged to provide a grant to the city of Santa Monica in order to restore and reopen the famed beach house on the Gold Coast. This joint project between the California Department of State Parks and the city of Santa Monica, with the financial support of the Annenberg Foundation, has restored the guest house and the pool. In addition to the restoration of the only original structures left, new buildings were designed and created to serve as a public beach house.
The resulting work is the Annenberg Community Beach House, which is fast becoming the most popular summer spot in Santa Monica. Open to the general public, the beach house provides everyone with the chance to relax and vacation on the beach that used to be only for the very rich. It also keeps the history of old Hollywood and Marion Davies alive for future generations, and reminds us of the value that a well-designed property can posses.