Number one in every race, contest or comparison is usually well known, but what about number two? In the early 1900s, Hearst Castle in San Simeon was recognized as the largest home built in California. Question: What was the second largest? Answer: Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. I had to see it.
Edward Lawrence Doheny and his friend Charles A. Canfield made the first successful oil strike in Los Angeles in 1892. This discovery, plus a strong business acumen, eventually made Doheny one of the richest men in the world. His success afforded him a 415-acre parcel of land, in what is now Beverly Hills, as a ranch, retreat and wilderness getaway.
In 1925, Doheny gave 12.58 acres of his property to his only son, Edward Lawrence Doheny Jr., as a suitable place for Ned, as he was called, to raise his five children. Construction of the Greystone Mansion began in early 1927. The cost to build the estate, including the gatehouse, pavilion, swimming pool, tennis courts, kennels, stables, fire station and greenhouse, was more than $3 million. The mansion alone cost $1.2 million — a staggering sum in the 1920s.
Ned and his family moved into the grand 46,000-square-foot, 55-room mansion in 1928.
As I wandered around the property, I was struck by how familiar everything looked. I soon learned the reason. The home and grounds have been used as movie sets for dozens of movies. This made the site even more interesting.
A Beverly Hills park ranger led me on a tour of the grounds. He pointed out a few of the neighboring estates. On the hill behind Greystone is the home once owned by the famous burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee.
Another neighbor is billionaire Eric Smidt, CEO of Harbor Freight Tools. His gigantic home is notable because it was originally built by Ned Doheny’s widow when she decided to “down-size” into something a little smaller than Greystone.
The city of Beverly Hills acquired the Greystone Estate in 1965 and dedicated it as Greystone Mansion & Gardens in 1971.
Grounds are open to the public daily without charge, except when being used for filming or special events. Specially arranged tours of the home are limited.
During my visit, the entire property was busy with gardeners, Beverly Hills park rangers and other staff. Every corner of the exterior property was pristine. The mansion has an excellent view of the city below and, on clear days, they say you can see the ocean.
I was fortunate to be able to tour the interior of the home too, but before entering, the ranger pointed out some unique characteristics of the Tudor-style architecture, such as the seven individually designed chimneys.
The craftsmanship was exquisite, as you would expect, but there was no furniture in any of the rooms. Instead, there were photo-reproductions from old magazines posted throughout to give a sense of how the rooms were used.
In addition to lots of bedrooms, there is a recreation wing that includes a movie theater, a bowling alley and a billiard room, complete with a hidden bar. (Remember that the mansion was built during Prohibition.)
In one room Ned Doheny and his childhood friend, and secretary, Hugh Plunkett were found shot dead in February 1929 — a few months after Ned and his family moved in. The two men had delivered the $100,000 bribe that blew the lid off government corruption in the infamous Teapot Dome scandal.
Double murder? Murder and suicide? Nobody knows for sure, but the mansion is forever tainted by this unwelcome legacy.