Saturday, March 12, 2011

Photo Essay: Inside Greystone Mansion

I love my hometown.

Yes, sure, I've already established that I love LA. But I don't actually live in LA.

No, my hometown is Beverly Hills.

And it has a lot more to offer than Rodeo Drive.

Last weekend I had the rare opportunity to tour not only the interior of Greystone Mansion (whose exterior gardens I'd already visited once), but also the recreation wing and other super-secret nooks and crannies not usually visited by civilians.

Sometimes it's nice to have the freedom of a self-guided tour, but when a park ranger takes you around, you really get all the dirt, even about parts of the property I'd already seen.

The brick patio immediately outside the mansion, for instance, is actually a filled-in, bricked-over 14-foot-deep swimming pool that had become a safety hazard before the restoration of the mansion, when young ne'er do wells would sneak in and take a dip (e.g. Lisa Marie Presley, reportedly.)

There remains a small reflecting pool that houses dozens of turtles - not indigenous to Greystone Park, but apparently dumped off there by would-be pet owners who become disenchanted with their cold-blooded companions. The ranger invited us to take a turtle home with us, and we thought he was kidding until a father and son arrived with a big blue plastic bucket.

The mansion was built in 1928 (a year before my building) by Edward Doheny, the oil tycoon upon whom the film There Will Be Blood is loosely based, and is still in incredible condition, both inside and out. Most of the gardens are original to the mansion (save for some recently-implemented waterfall features down the hill), and there is only one evidence of damage to the outside.

Even by the outside, you can tell that the mansion was fitting at the time for a successful oil man - a man, in fact, credited for the oil frenzy in the West that eventually eclipsed the Gold Rush. There are courtyards with fountains decorated with antique water spitters...

...and chauffeur holding areas...

Inside, there are gorgeous art deco floors...

...huge windows everywhere...

...and the most impressive bathrooms I have ever seen...

...with scales built into the wall and floor...

...and tiling, shower stalls, sinks, mirrors and furniture that put my Art Deco bathroom to shame!

The linen pantry is bigger than most of the bedrooms I've slept in.

The mansion is so tremendous that it has served as a shooting location for a myriad of films and television shows.

The kitchen has been depicted as a kitchen, hospital, doctor's office, and even morgue.

Despite all of the opulence, there is a creepy feeling inside the mansion, and not just because it once fell into severe disrepair after years of disuse. (There are still some rooms that remain unrestored.)

In the years that the Doheny family occupied it, the mansion saw its share of tragedy. A little girl who was a visiting friend of daughter Lucy Doheny fell to her death out of this window...

Servants committed suicide, and son Ned was reportedly murdered by his (male) personal assistant, who allegedly committed suicide afterwards. Most people have their own theories as to what exactly happened.

But no one disagrees about the feeling of unrest in the house. Rangers report numerous disturbances inside the mansion, especially during their overnight shifts: lights turned on or off, sound of footsteps, doors slamming, etc. Some rangers refuse to conduct their nightwatch from the house, maintaining their post at the bottom of the driveway, far away from the house, instead. Some rangers have experienced something so disturbing that they've quit on the spot, never to return.

Even during the day, there's plenty to spook you out, if you know where to look.

Inside the movie theater in the recreation wing, sconces hang upside down from their electrical wires...

...the unrestored seats look as though someone still sits in them...

and the screen looms dark and silent.

The bowling alley benefitted from a recent restoration, thanks to the crew of There Will Be Blood, which actually shot its bowling alley scene there.

Behind it, stands a dimly-lit billiard room with a speakeasy-style secret bar behind a secret wood panel.

With enough cash, anyone can book a private tour of Greystone Mansion at any time of the year, but they have to work around the weddings, banquets, and film shoots that dominate the property's schedule throughout the spring and summer. For those who can only afford $15, park rangers will be conducting their last public winter tour on April 2, advance reservations necessary.

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