May 04, 2021

From Sunset Boulevard to Deepwell Estates: William Holden's Modernist Palm Springs Home

In the song "Tom's Diner," Suzanne Vega sings of reading a newspaper in which "There's a story/Of an actor/Who had died/While he was drinking/He was no one/I had heard of." 

Vega confirmed later she'd written those lines about actor William Holden—the Oscar-winning star of Sunset BoulevardStalag 17Network—who died in 1981 from bleeding to death after falling while drunk. 

He was living in Santa Monica then—but before that, he was a denizen of Palm Springs. 

And last month, Modernism Week opened up the former "William Holden Estate" for tours.*

*no photos were permitted inside   

Holden moved into the Deepwell Estates home in 1966, at age 48, and stayed there through 1977—when he moved to the Southridge neighborhood of Palm Springs into a home custom-built for him. He'd just separated from his wife Ardis Ankerson (stage name Brenda Marshall), whom he divorced in 1971.

It's also been attributed to Holden's former lover Audrey Hepburn—and perhaps she stayed with him there at one point—but in 1972, he started a nine-year relationship with actress Stefanie Powers. For much of that time, Powers shared this home—one of the largest and most recognized in Deepwell, filled with Bill's collection of African masks and other priceless items from his travels. 

According to the Historic Site Preservation Board of Palm Springs, the William Holden Estate has been misattributed to architect John Porter Clark. It's possible that there was no official architect to speak of, as future owner Marcia Barrett, wife of former Illinois Attorney General George Barrett, worked closely with master builder Joseph Pawling leading up to the home's 1955 completion. 

The Barretts were art and object collectors, too—but mostly of items from the Far East. They called their home, which they'd built primarily to house their collection, "Apricot Hall" after some text from a Chinese scroll that hung in the entryway. 

It's been slightly expanded over the years to reach a sprawling 4,449-square-feet on nearly an acre of land, comprised of four city lots. 

At some point, smooth, white stucco was layered on top of beige slumpstone block on the exterior. In 2012, then-owner Rodrigo Vargas and his partner, Universal Studios exec Erik Storey, switched out the sliding glass doors for ones that pivot. 

Official documents show other previous owners as Nicholas N. Shammas of Shammas Enterprises, owner of Felix Chevrolet in Los Angeles, from 1977 to 1990 and actress Tippi Hedren with her then-husband, steel manufacturer Luis Barrenechea, from 1990 to 1996 (though they divorced in '92).

But despite changing hands a few times, the estate mostly retains its original post and beam forms—and definitely those panoramic mountain views. 

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