There is so much urban myth surrounding mansions and estates in Hollywood and Beverly Hills that it’s often hard to seperate truth from fiction. That’s one of the things we try to do with The Movieland Directory book and site. Over the years, fictional stories about houses get told so often that they become “fact.”
It began with the early 1920′s Star Maps, which were actually first used to help sell the properties in the neighborhoods below Sunset in “the Flats” near the Beverly Hills Hotel. Those maps were notoriously innacurate and continue to be mostly fiction, with the exception of older addresses (Lucille Ball’s house is correct but almost all of the newer addresses are not correct).
The second reason bad information arises and lives is the dishonesty of many Hollywood tour guide types. Some of these guys are very good and honest; the best is Scott Michaels and his Dearly Departed Tour, which is the result of over 20 years of research into Hollywood death and history. But people like Scott are few and far between. Most guides are notorious for simply making things up. I take the bus tours frequently just to see how much bullshit they throw around. I had drinks once with a driver who told me he did entire tours and made up the entire text just for something to do…
Lastly, the L.A. realtors add immensely to the problem. They’re notorious for “spicing up” the history of a house they’re selling by mentioned actors or industry types who lived there… allegedly. Those stories too pick up steam though are often not verified.
One of the most famous of this types of urban myth is the ongoing tale that Bela Lugosi lived in a large castle estate the sits above Sunset Boulevard. The original entrance gates were at 8311 Sunset but today the entrance gates are at 1486 North Sweetzer (the original servants’ and service entrance). The mansion is 90 feet above Sunset, almost totally hidden in the trees. For the better part of the 20th century, though, it was clearly visible above the Boulevard. It is indeed castle-like and it’s easy to imagine 1930′s- or 1940′s-era Hollywood tour guides telling their passengers that Bela Lugosi lived in the castle. Fiction, though still mentioned as fact.
It is incontrovertible fact that Lugosi never lived there, though the story of the estate is an interesting one. The mansion was built by George Campbell Carson, an itinerant miner who in 1906 invented the side-charge hopper (whatever that is) that revolutionized ore processing. When the big mining companies tried to screw him he spent 19 years in court fighting them, all the time living in a San Francisco flophouse. But his 1925 victory came with $1,000,000 (probably $50,000,000 today) and in 1927 he married school-teacher and probable gold-digger Hersee Moody. Helen immediately began construction on an estate they called Mt. Kalmia on a four-acre eucalyptus grove sitting about ninety feet above 8311 Sunset Boulevard (the original entrance was on Sunset). Why she chose that name is not known; kalmia is a type of mountain laurel.
Mt. Kalmia was an extravagant castle, complete with battlements and rounded turrets and towers, seven bedrooms and nine bathrooms, two sun decks, etc. The inside was designed to mimic the terraced grounds so there were a dozen levels. There was a music room, solarium, library, morning reading-room, coffee-room, nursery, a billiard-room, refectory, butler’s pantry, grocery and laundry rooms, and elaborate quarters for the maids and chauffeurs. Wide three-story tall winding staircases were lit by stained glass among more than 125 grilled windows. The wood moldings throughout were hand-carved and wallpaper painted by hand. The dining hall was all original Hepplewhite. The drawing room original Louis XVI.
Mt. Kalmia in the 1930′s
Mt. Kalmia in 1947
The mansion cost $500,000 and took six years to complete. It was finished in late 1933 but George died less than a year later in 1934. Carson’s family tried to get his money but Helen won in court and kept the mansion. For a time in the late 1930’s she stayed in the house and gave several well-publicized parties for children but by 1941 it was being rented by ex-Ziegfeld Follies dancer “Queen” Patricia Noblesse Hogan and used as a combination guest-house/rooming house. In 1947 it was sold in a tax sale to dentist Manuel Haig for $83,000 and Hogan and 38 of her pals evicted.
Over the years the house has had a number of interesting tenants after it was cleaned up by the good dentist. Howard Hughes’ mysterious right-hand-man Noah Dietrich lived there in the 1950’s and Motown legend Barry Gordy in the 1960’s and 1970′s. Gordy hosted parties for 300 to 400 people. Super-agent Marvin Mitchelson lived there in the 1980s and Johnny Depp bought the castle in 1995. In 2007 he was reportedly renting the house to Orlando Bloom.
Because of its resemblance to a Bavarian castle, 1930′s Hollywood tour guides told people Bela Lugosi lived there (they’ve been lying to people for almost 90 years; most of the tour guide info given today is pure fiction). But he never did. In the early 1930’s Lugosi lived in several Hollywood and Beachwood Canyon houses. From the late 1920’s into the early 1930’s he lived at 1146 North Hudson. In 1934 he moved to 1728 North Hudson where he stayed for several years. From there he moved to 1534 North McCadden Place and then on to houses on Creston Drive and Outpost Drive. But he never lived at the Carson’s Mt. Kalmia house.
I would love to lay this famous Hollywood myth to rest, but it will likely live long past me…