From its completion by Lynn Atkinson in 1938, few mansions have generated such excitement—and envy—from Southern California millionaires as Bel-Air Road.
Everyone who owns a television knows this house.
The mansion, which sat in full view behind impressive gates on Bel-Air Road, was an exquisitely designed 18th-century French neoclassical masterpiece surrounded by formal gardens. The interior was lavish, in many cases extravagant, but usually tasteful.
For a generation, this mansion sat resplendent and serene on its knoll in the best part of Bel-Air. Atkinson chose the exceptional Webber & Spaulding, who designed a magnificent 18th-century French château—the palm trees and other semitropical vegetation, curiously, distracted from that carefully crafted illusion—which, in the French tradition, was clearly visible from the road.
The estate began at a set of stone posts and intricately wrought-bronze gates, which opened to a long, rectangular lawn with square-trimmed carob trees bordering both sides of the driveway. Then came the mansion.
The mansion’s façade was finely cut limestone placed in front of steel-reinforced concrete walls. The copper roof would soon acquire a lovely softgreen patina. The mansion’s handsomely carved front doors opened into a stunning 20- by-38-foot entrance hall with an eighteen-foot-high ceiling, a multicolor marble floor, marble and frescoed walls, and a marble staircase leading to the second floor.
The first-floor drawing room boasted walnut parquet floors, damask covered walls, a marble fireplace, and an organ console. The library had vertically grained oak paneling that opened to reveal the bookshelves. The dining room, which seated twenty-four, had walnut parquet floors, walnut-paneled walls, and two large Baccarat crystal chandeliers. In the middle of the eighteen-foot-high ceiling was a fresco of a Madonna standing on a crescent moon and facing whoever sat at the head of the table. (To everyone else at the table, she seemed to be standing upside down.)
On the second floor were six bedrooms and bathrooms, including separate master’s and mistress’ suites. The mistress’ bedroom had a marble fireplace, paneled and frescoed walls, and a frescoed ceiling. The dressing room was decorated with damask-lined walls, inset floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and indirect lighting. The bathroom was a Moderne showplace, with green Swedish marble floors and walls and an aluminum-leaf ceiling.
Atkinson lavished the same care and expense on the gardens. The stone terrace across the back of the mansion overlooked a long, downward-sloping lawn with square-trimmed pittosporum on either side. A white marble statue of a Greek maiden standing in a decorative pool terminated the vista. A wall of fully grown trees, which had been transplanted to that end of the estate, protected the Atkinsons from the prying eyes of their neighbors.Stone pathways and stairs meandered along rustic landscaped hillsides, through flower gardens, and past hedges and more white marble statues. Down one steep hillside between the main house and the swimming pool, Atkinson created a picturesque palm garden, complete with a waterfall that flowed over artfully arranged boulders at the push of a button in the neoclassical pool house.