One of the greatest homes in the history of Hollywood was Pickfair, which was originally the home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.
This article will discuss the history of the property in a similar manner that was used in our article about Roxbury Dr. The difference is that while the Roxbury article covered several homes, this will discuss only one.
There is a ghost in this article, but the title is more figurative than anything.
Pickford and Fairbanks were two of the biggest movie stars of the early 20th Century. The pair along with Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith formed United Artists in 1919. A year later Fairbanks and Pickford would marry (they had to get divorced from each of their current spouses first).
A year earlier in 1918 Fairbanks bought 18 acres in Beverly Hills. This would be the site of Pickfair.
This property located at 1143 Summit Dr. originally had a ranch house on it. It was designed by architect Horatio Cogswell for attorney Lee Allen Phillips of Berkeley Square to be utilized as a hunting lodge on weekends.
Fairbanks and Pickford hired architect Wallace Neff (who also designed 1015 N. Roxbury, former home of Betty Grable). Neff transformed the house into a 4-storey, 25-room mansion, which wasn’t completed until 1924. When the couple married in March 1920 they lived on the property during the construction phase.
This was the first home in Los Angeles to have its own swimming pool. Other amenities included: wood-paneled halls of fine mahogany and bleached pine, gold leaf and mirrored decorative niches, ceiling frescos, parquet flooring, an Old West-style saloon (which would come to house a collection of 1907 Remington rifles that were a gift from Pickford to her husband Buddy Rogers years later), tennis courts, stables, and servants quarters.
It also is said to have contained an underground running track so Fairbanks could jog in the nude.
Another feature of Pickfair in this era was the art collection and the antiques that furnished the home. The furniture was primarily authentic 18th-century French and English period pieces including the personal furniture of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts estate in London, as well as Louis XVI furniture from the Countess Rodezno and Lord Leverhulme collections.
Artists featured in Pickfair’s art collection included Philip Mercier, Guillaume Seignac, George Romney, and Paul de Longpré. But the pièce de résistance at the home was the vast collection of Chinese objets d’art that Pickford and Fairbanks had collected on their many trips to Asia, which they had a great fondness for.
Pickfair was known for its parties of lavish decadence in the 1920s. An invitation to one was the most sought-after in Hollywood. Life Magazine called Pickfair –
“a gathering place only slightly less important than the White House… and much more fun.”
Some of the storied guests included Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, Mildred Harris, George Bernard Shaw, Elinor Glyn, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Fritz Kreisler, Tony Duquette, Amelia Earhart, Noël Coward, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pearl S. Buck, Charles Lindbergh, Max Reinhardt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Edison, Gloria Swanson, the Duke and Duchess of Alba, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the King and Queen of Siam.
In 1928, Will Rogers said,
“My most important duty as mayor of Beverly Hills is directing people to Mary Pickford’s house”.
Fairbanks and Pickford divorced in 1936. Pickford continued to live in the home until her death in 1979, outliving Fairbanks by 40 years. Pickford received few visitors in her later years but continued to open up Pickfair for charity such as the blind veterans from World War I.
In 1980, Pickfair was bought by Los Angeles Lakers owner, Jerry Buss for $5.4 million. He made no alterations to the home for the 8 years he owned it.
In 1988 Pia Zadora and her husband Meshulam Rikli bought Pickfair. They had the mansion razed 2 years later.
After a fierce backlash, Zadora claimed that the house was in disrepair, infested with termites and that it couldn’t be saved. In 2012, Zadora changed her story and said that the house was demolished because it was haunted by a ghost. Years earlier, Pickford had also claimed a ghost resided inside the property.
Both Zadora and Pickford stated the ghost was a woman that lived in the attic.
“Years ago my husband and I tore down one of the most iconic Hollywood mansions because of termites … but that wasn’t the real reason. When we moved into the house it was beautiful, everything was perfect, it was a dream … but weird things started to happen … so my husband and I, after trying to figure out what to do, decided we were going to have the house razed.”
“If I had a choice, I never would have torn down this old home. I loved this home, it had a history, it had a very important sense about it and you can deal with termites, and you can deal with plumbing issues, but you can’t deal with the supernatural.”
The new home Zadora had built is over 25,000 square feet, much larger than the 7,000 square feet that Pickfair was.
All that remains of Pickfair are the gates to the estate, the pool, and the 2-bedroom guest wing that was used by various celebrities and royalty throughout the years.
Unicom International bought the mansion in 2005 for $15 million.
Ending on a Lighter Note
On one particularly hot day, Fairbanks noticed an aristocratic Englishman with a familiar face walking along the road as he was driving home to Pickfair. He stopped the car and offered him a ride, which the stranger accepted. Unable to remember the man’s name, Fairbanks invited him in for a drink, and during the course of the conversation, Fairbanks tried to elicit some clues as to this man’s identity.
The Englishman seemed to know the home intimately. When Fairbanks’ secretary entered the room he whispered to him –
“Who’s this Englishman? I know he’s Lord Somebody, but I just can’t remember his name.”
The secretary replied –
“That is the English butler you fired last month for getting drunk.”
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