July 20, 2012

Photo Essay: Annenberg Community Beach House, Hearst's Lost Gold Coast

[Last updated 8/24/21 1:35 PM PT—video embed player added at bottom]
[Updated 8/17/23 10:33 AM PT—video embed player added at bottom]

In the 1920s, wealthy magnates and movie moguls used to call a stretch of Santa Monica, along the beach by the PCH, home. Others called it the "Gold Coast," a hot piece of real estate to which the Hollywood glitterati flocked.

Along that stretch, publishing baron William Randolph Hearst escaped the toils of his East Coast wife and kids at a mansion he built for his West Coast paramour, former showgirl Marion Davies, and partied with luminaries from the silver screen.

Mind you, this is after he'd already started building his castle in San Simeon, just a couple hours north along the same road.

The mansion he built was sold in the late 1940s to a developer who then unsuccessfully operated it as a luxury hotel. Ten years later, with nothing to protect the failed Georgian-style landmark in an era when everything must be new, it was demolished.

What remains now?

An incredible pool...

...with original mosaic tile work on its floor, and some original marble (though modifications have been necessary to try to bring the historic pool up closer to code).

Around it - as a result of a coordinated effort between Santa Monica city officials, California State Parks, and the private sector donations of the Annenberg Foundation - has risen a beach house and community center which, unlike the original Sand & Sea private club, is very much open to the public - if you can afford the $10 admission and $8 parking fee.

The new beach house was built with the original mansion's floor plan in mind, right down to the number and spacing of the columns.

You can imagine what Marion Davies saw when she looked out her bedroom window over the pool and out onto the ocean...

...the cliffs lined with palm trees looming behind her.

Now, her namesake is the mansion's original guest house (originally designed for the overflow of guests who didn't fit in the mansion's 100 bedrooms)...

...which also remains, and has been restored into a museum and event space.

Its own pool has been removed from the ocean side of the building, but you can still see a section of wall which was used to keep back the tide (the ocean and tide line now having receded, widening the beach to its present day dimensions).

Although only a portion of the wall remains, a white stripe runs throughout the property to indicate where the wall once stood.

The restoration did not return the guest house to its original, new condition, instead leaving traces of the remaining layers of paint and merely adding a new coat on top.

Floors inside appear as though sandy feet have been walking on them, rather than coating them in a shiny new lacquer.

The chandelier in the front foyer has been cleaned and rehung...

...and an original bathroom remains upstairs, with its opulent tile work reflecting the colors of the sand, sky and sea.

The Annenberg Community Beach House and the Marion Davies Guest House, as they are called now, are an absolute delight to visit. 

I could surely stay all day and soak in the glory of the five-acre estate that once was, and the destination it has come to be.

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