The Ghost of Mansions Past – A Prehistory of Aaron & Candy Spelling’s Mammoth “Manor”

The Mistress of Candyland

Over the last few years a virtual river of virtual ink has been spilled over the sale, or lack thereof, of the gargantuan “Manor” of the late Aaron Spelling and his wife Candy in Holmby Hills, which continues to languish on the market at the unrelentingly high price of $150,000,000. While the prices of other similarly extravagant estates continue to crash all around her, the Widow Spelling blithely maintains her steadfast refusal to come down from the stratosphere by even one red cent, a “let them eat cake” attitude that has kept celebrity real estate watchers tongues in a perpetual state of wag.  Controversy, of course, is nothing new to the Spelling Manor. It has swirled around the 123-room mega-mansion like so many birds of prey from its very inception in the excess-filled 1980’s all the way through to today and is likely to continue so long as the Manor maintains its monolithic hold over its 4.5 acre plot at Mapleton and Club View Drives.

Completed at great cost amid much Sturm and Drang among the neighbors over a four-year period between 1986 and 1990, the Manor took its place in the Los Angeles real estate book of records by coming in, at some 52,000 square feet, as the single largest single family residence in the entire Los Angeles area, eclipsing the long-held record of 46,000 feet of E.L. Doheny Jr.’s mammoth Greystone estate of 1928. The besting of Greystone by the Manor held something of an irony in that Greystone had been designed by the noted Gordon B. Kaufmann and the house torn down to make way for the Manor had also been designed by Kaufmann. The loss of this beautifully proportioned and skillfully designed estate for what some consider to be the ultimate “McMansion” was particularly galling to fans of good architecture who believed the original house to be far superior in every way to its hulking successor. The complaints, however justifiable as they may be, are nonetheless moot. The house is gone and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put it back together again. Except in memory.

Malcolm McNaghten

Although commonly remembered as the “Bing Crosby Estate,” after its long-term residence by the “Groaner” between 1943-1964, the original house at 594 South Mapleton Drive had been built for prominent Los Angeles businessman Malcolm McNaghten in 1932 on a sightly hilltop knoll in the ultra-prestigious Holmby Hills. The choice of locations was hardly a coincidence, McNaghten was president of the popular Broadway Department Store, which had been founded by Arthur Letts Sr., who not only once owned the entirety of the Holmby Hills where the estate was built, he was also McNaghten’s father-in-law. Cementing the McNaghten/Holmby Hills relationship was the fact that his wife’s sister was married to Harold Janss, one of the owner/subdividers of the Holmby Hills. As such, there is little doubt that McNaghten must have gotten a very good deal on his prime acreage there.

In 1932, with the world in the throes of the Great Depression, the construction of what was considered a mega-mansion of its day, at 15,000 square-feet, must have raised a few eyebrows, but rather than see it as a monument to excess at a time of great suffering, most cheered the estate’s construction as both a hopeful sign of economic upturn and for the badly needed jobs it provided. McNaghten certainly had his pick of the very best designers, craftspeople and artists and he fully availed himself of this exceptional pool of talent in the construction of his new mansion starting with Gordon B. Kaufmann. The McNaghtens had been fans of the prominent architect for some time and had engaged him on several occasions starting in 1924 when he designed some alterations to their home at 2 Oak Knoll Terrace in Pasadena and later a vacation house for them up in tony Pebble Beach.

In his design of the estate, Kaufmann carefully considered its knolltop setting and arranged the house in such a way so as to capitalize on the exceptional views the site offered while at the same time affording it a maximum amount of privacy through a series of sheltering walled courts and protective landscaping, which was arranged by the noted Edward Huntsman-Trout. It appears that Kaufmann did not wish the McNaghten house to be a textbook example of any particular style and it isn’t easy to pin it down stylistically. From its front facade, the first impression is French Norman, with its handsome conical stair tower and rough stone exterior. But the delicately lacy metalwork of the entrance portico seems more reminiscent of New Orleans and the white clapboard sheathing on part of the second story brings to mind Colonial. The rear facade looks more Mediterranean and the second story balcony opening off one of the home’s four bedrooms is decidedly Monterey. This sort of mishmash of such disparate styles could easily have been a train wreck, but in the hands of a master like Kaufmann, everything flowed together harmoniously and seamlessly. As California Arts & Architecture was to write in 1934, “the architect has achieved a happy result – a large house, but not pretentious, all within good scale,” back in the days when scale and proportion in architecture actually meant something.

The interiors were handled in a similar fashion with “no particular period” followed by designer Charles Ray Glass. As California Arts & Architecture further stated, “comfort and homelike surroundings were more the object inasmuch as a great many pieces had been in the family for a number of years.” Yes, homelike for someone with millions of dollars. Yet, in looking at the photographs, the interiors do have a certain warmth not always evident in homes of such grand scale.

The main stair hall featured murals by Alson Clark depicting scenes of the family estates in England and in California including “Holmby House,” the Letts estate in Hollywood.

The Dining Room was paneled in white cedar finished in “a heavily antiqued honey tone.” The burl walnut dining chairs were covered in yellow needlepoint and the curtains antique crimson damask with magenta fringe.

View from entry hall into living room.

The Library was paneled in knotty pine bleached a silvery gray tone set off by a black and gold marble fireplace. Bench is upholstered in antique Gobelin tapestry.

Another view of the library.

Daughter’s room in antique white and ciel blue.

Portion of son’s room showing antique Spanish bed.

The McNaghtens remained at 594 South Mapleton until 1943 when the home was hurriedly taken over by Bing Crosby and his family after they had been burned out of house and home by the family Christmas tree, the story of which can be found in my previous post here. For more than twenty years, the house at Mapleton and Club View remained the Bing Crosby family base, seeing significant moments in both his professional and personal life including an Oscar win and two other nominations, the untimely death of Dixie Lee Crosby at age 40 in 1952 and the first years of his highly satisfying second marriage to Kathryn Grant in 1957 along with the birth of their three children. One amusing sidelight to Crosby’s time on Mapleton was that it was said that he kept a monkey cage on the rear of the property and that if any intruder appeared on the grounds the monkeys would screech so loudly the intruder would undoubtably hightail it back to wherever they came from, a primitive but highly effective form of home security.

The Crosbys celebrate Nathaniel’s birthday. Bing was happy he didn’t have to wear his hated toupee. (UPI)

A sober-looking Patrick J. Frawley Jr.

In 1964, the Crosbys sold their longtime Holmby Hills mansion to Patrick J. Frawley, president of the Schick Safety Razor Company for a reported $350,000. According to Hedda Hopper, when Crosby departed he left behind a keg of red wine in the home’s basement. A few months later, Frawley checked himself into the Schadel Hospital to cure himself of alcoholism. Coincidence? Hmmm. Frawley’s ultimately successful treatment led him to buy Schadel Hospital and open up a series Schick Alcoholic Treatment centers. So shouldn’t Bing be thanked for that?

Like Crosby, Frawley remained in the mansion for about twenty years before selling the property to famed television producer Aaron Spelling and his wife, Candy in 1983 for $10,250,000. And the rest, as the old saying goes, is history. There is one final sidelight to the saga of the old Crosby Mansion though. In 1984, with its demolition imminent, Eugene Kilmer, father of Val, tried to step in and buy the house and move it lock, stock and barrel all the way out to his 500-acre spread in Chatsworth, and make it the centerpiece of a new real estate subdivision called Indian Springs Estates. Unfortunately, the logistics of such a massive move ultimately made it unfeasible, but how incredible would it have been for the classic old estate to have a new life out in the San Fernando Valley? Instead, it unceremoniously fell to the wrecker’s ball, replaced by a behemoth mega-mansion that one disgruntled neighbor declared to be “look-at-me-I’m-rich architecture.” Of course, one never knows. Years from now perhaps, architecture buffs may beoan the demolition of the “historic” Spelling Manor to make way for an even more gargantuan palace. As John Huston as “Noah Cross” in Chinatown said, “Whores, politicians and ugly buildings all get respectable if they hang around long enough.”

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47 Responses to The Ghost of Mansions Past – A Prehistory of Aaron & Candy Spelling’s Mammoth “Manor”

  1. John Nisbet says:

    Another great post. Really enjoying the blog, Steve!

  2. Dee says:

    Does Candy still live there or is the whole “L.A. Kremlin” shuttered?

  3. bob schlafly says:

    i knew mr.frawley personally. brilliant businessman and wonderfull person. he gave millions of dollars to catholic charities. his wife jeri was a lovely and kind lady who was loved and admired by everyone, gorgeos children. it is just sacri religious to knock down such an exquisite house

    • Steve says:

      Thank you, Bob, for sharing your memories of Mr. Frawley! I too am sorry they tore down his beautiful home, but his many accomplishments will always remain. Thanks again!

  4. Pingback: White Hot Christmas – The Bing Crosby Estate Fire | Paradise Leased

  5. John MacDonald says:

    I recall going to Gary Crosby’s birthday party there. I was 5. Malcolm McNaghten Jr. was a friend of my Father. I recall the size of it all

  6. Steven says:

    This was just a horrible story! I hope Candy Spelling is stuck with that eyesore for the rest of her life. That house should never have been destroyed esp. for that mess. It’s just awful that some people have no sense of history or even care. Money can’t buy good taste. As a friend says….”I hope Aaron Spelling comes back as a carpenter ant!”

  7. cherwhit says:

    What a disgrace to destroy such a beautiful home. The wood alone in the old house was worth a fortune.
    So many old star’s homes are being destroyed to build these eyesores.
    A shame a historical preservation group could not have been formed in the past to prevent this.
    I saw photos of the destruction of Jayne Mansfield’s home and heart shaped pool.
    Once gone, always gone.

    • Lorinda says:

      I really agree with that. I too, cannot believe that Jayne’s house was destroyed. She was so unique to Hollywood, there was no one just like her. You’d think no one would want to tear it down. Englebert Humperdink, the singer, bought the house. I believe he was the one responsible for selling it to developers. I think he’s a jerk. If he didn’t want the house anymore, why didn’t he give it t Jayne’s family {her children} as a gift ? They had lost their mother and their home. Imagine that for trauma. But no, Humperdink sold it so it could then be torn down. I hope it bothers him to think about it.

  8. Lorinda says:

    I hate people who destroy old homes, I literally hate them. You cannot EVER get history back again. The past is precious, it’s a treasure. It is a crying shame that so many people with money have so little taste, so little imagination, such crass preferences. It’s just sickening. If you want a new, giant ugly house, go build it on an EMPTY LOT.

  9. Louise Legge says:

    Sometimes you must let go of the past and embrace the future. People can make decisions to keep the old or build something new. Either way, it is what makes the individual happy. God bless.

  10. mighty says:

    I like the house. I like the way she decorated it.

    • Amanda says:

      What a beautiful home it was–and a nice office building it is now. I’d like a comparison of the craftsmanship, but clearly there is none.

  11. John MacDonald says:

    I attended Gary Crosby’s birthday party here.I was 5 and at 70 I still remember how far the pool was from the house. The McNaughtens also good friends of the MacDonalds. Crosbie is my oldest sons middle name and My grandmothers maiden name.

  12. OMG! that was done a very long time ago get over it! From what I understand the old house had fallen into disrepair a bit. Sad to lose beautiful old home but it happens all the time.

  13. Marvin Stone says:

    Shame on the City of Los Angeles for issuing permits for the demolition of the elegantly beautiful Crosby home in Holmby Hills, designed by Gordon Kaufman, enabling the construction of the hotel-looking Spelling ego trip. I know it’s happened all over the westside, but this one is especially egregious in my mind.

    Thanks for this wonderful piece, Steve . . . it’s a great piece on vintage architecture and Hollywood history. I wonder if similar history is available about the elegant Irene Dunne residence on North Faring in Holmby Hills, which was demolished after her death for the construction of the Henry Singleton estate on that site . . . not quite the monstrosity of the Spelling “hotel,” but a real shame nonetheless.

    I really appreciate your work, Steve.

    • Steve says:

      Thank you Marvin, as always, for the kind words and perceptive comments. And, yes, another irreplacable loss with the Dunne house. There are so many similar stories as you know. Every time a historic property is demolished the city loses a little bit more of its soul.

  14. Rich Girl says:

    Amazing and very informative article! Great insight into Hollywood history and breathtaking property!

  15. Peter Letts McNaghten (Hoover my adopted name) says:

    Being the youngest McNaghten left all I can say is, ” What a jerk for tearing down a home that was built too last 4 life times.” I have been part of one building world record (that still stand today) and been a builder like my older brother Malcom the III who Pass in 2008 for over 41 years. It is just sad!

  16. sean bagley says:

    This is a fabulously interesting blog that takes the reader back through pop culture history. It boggles the mind that someone would buy a beautiful home of such noteworthy provinence, only to tear it down. But the blame and the shame lies in the municipality that allows a giant checkbook to run roughshod over real estate that should be protected from the ghastly taste of new money’s lotto-esque bawdiness.

  17. cody says:

    WOW, an Actor is just a person like you and me. What about them makes all these Haters treat, talk like they Did more on this Planet then entertain? Cure People? Spent their Life Helping others? Lived poorer so they could give their money to the needy?
    Put down Aaron Spelling, who Hired the Actors and gave you free TV shows. He knew how to make money and new what you viewers wanted to see on tv and he did it better then any other.
    You put down what Spelling did with his home which is Material things but yet you put him down for removing a Material object to build his. The Houses, in Fact pretty much most structures in the US aren’t that old or have a History of Standing for 100’s of years as does the Countries we orign from. These Actors Houses weren’t built to last 100’s of years and it had a multi million dollar price tag because of the Movie Industry and then the Movie Star who lived there. Not Valued for what True History reasons should/would have been….

    • DIAMINA says:

      Perhaps one of us missed the point…I understand what you are saying in regards to the age of any structure in the US…possibly from the early 1600’s would be the oldest we have, but 400 years is a long time!
      It’s the grandure and elegance of these quality homes built by craftsmen of the past. As a realtor, I see some of these new “McMansions” and am aghast by the shoddy workmanship, tacky interiors and extreme pricetags! Builders demolish lovely homes, built sturdy with character for these cookie cutter style homes that most cannot afford anymore! (I’m sure there are no financial issues with the Spelling home.)
      There’s absolutley no reason for a home of that size for a family of 3 unless, as a client of mine states, my financial status dictates where I must live. Sadly, he, as well as others, feel the need to “show off”, in the most garish of ways, their financial status but it still doesn’t change who they are!
      ANY home is built to last 110’s of years! In my area, you can find homes that with proper maintenance, upkeep, renovations and TLC are either lived in by private citizens or historical homes that are open to the general public. I infact just recently sold a home built in the 1830’s…what a spectacular home, almost 200 years old!
      For some it may be because of the person who lived there, they are simply people, just like you and I. For me, it’s the workmanship, elegance and craftmanship (lacking in new homes today) that I mourn the loss of.

    • Steve says:

      Hi Cody:

      First, thanks for taking the time to write. As a die hard fan of DYNASTY and other Spelling productions I want you to know that I have nothing against Aaron Spelling or the work he did and I don’t begrudge him the right to do as he pleased. however, I think you are missing the point of what all the fuss is about. Although Mr. Spelling was within his legal rights to do so, many of us wish he hadn’t torn down the original house for his “mega mansion.” It isn’t even because it was Bing Crosby’s, although that’s nice. It was because the original house was beautiful. It was so wonderfully designed by a very talented architect named Gordon Kaufmann. He understood something called “scale and proportion,” something I’m sorry to say many of today’s architects/builders don’t especially with the Spelling Medgamansion. Think of a nicely designed house as a painting. Yes, I suppose if you owned a pretty painting you could paint over it. It’s your right. You own it so you can do anything you want, but why? Why not buy a blank canvas if you want a new painting? Don’t paint over an old master. When it’s gone it’s gone and we all lose something as a result. The Spelling mansion is too large for its lot. It doesn’t fit. You mention that in Europe they have older houses. Well, that’s because they don’t tear all their old houses down. Cody, take a look at the old pictures of the original house and compare them with the current Spelling Manor. Do you really think the new house is nicer? It’s your call, but there are many of us out here who like the old house. Vive la differance!

  18. Peter McNaghten. says:

    Good afternoon. I saw this old post on FB and looked at the pictures again.. I seek this old home never to see again. Yes is it family , Yes! People speak of this place like it is a broken toy and when it was broken( FTR it was not broken) throw it away and buy a new one. My youngest memories were seeing this huge paintings in the other home my grandmother 1944 till early 1960’s lived in up the street. That painting of the lady in the living room is Arthur Letts wife my grandmother mother who built this home with her husband Mr. McNaghten ( my grandfather and I am the last McNaghten.). … The painting of the boy in the library is my dad and that bed was my dad’s. My dad left for Europe in 1941 WWII and upon his return the house had been sold (1943) and he never saw his personal life of that home again. This hood ( as us ski bum call home) was a personal home for 5 people and help who lived there. One or two were married there and memories of two ladies ( my aunts ) and their little brother . ( My dad ) . My dad broke his arm at that home in 1934 .. Yes it is a memories but I live by a odd thing, remember the past, live in the present and dream of the future. Aloha, Peter Letts McNaghten ( Hoover Adopted name)

    • Steve says:

      Peter: Thank you so much for commenting here. It was such a pleasure for us to hear from you and your great thoughts/memories and it really helps put it into context for people who think we are only talking about bricks and mortar. We are talking about a family home filled with memories, irreplaceable ones. Thanks again for sharing.

      • Peter mcnaghten. says:

        Mahalo. Dad passed around march 30,1985 and he never forgot the place. Again thanks. P that is all ; out.

      • Peter mcnaghten. says:

        Mahalo. Dad passed around march 30,1985 and he never forgot the place. Again thanks. P that is all ; out. lift8@aol.com.

    • John MacDonald says:

      My father won a dance contest with Your Mom . If you can contact me

  19. Nothing will be able to save the souls of those who rape and destroy Hollywood history. Candy Spelling and Pia Zadora (to name just a few) are a blight on the landscape of Hollywood.

  20. Steve Vanston hoerner says:

    What you all fail to realize is that the spelling manor will be torn down 50 years from now and you all will be crying…how could you! What a grand design and part of Hollywood history!! Calm down!

    • Steve Vanston hoerner says:

      The “manor” will be replaced with yet a larger, more elegant mega home in due time and everyone of you crying now will say… “How could they!!” Its all relative!

      • Steve Vanston hoerner says:

        The “manor” will be replaced with yet a larger, more elegant mega home in due time and everyone of you crying now will say… “How could they!!” Its all relative!

  21. Steve Vanston hoerner says:

    For what it is worth…I’ve been to the address many times and it is spectacularly beautiful!!

  22. Steve Vanston hoerner says:

    In closing… I have been to 594 many times. Each time it leaves more of an impression on me and I am truly blown away by its beauty!beanery

    • Larz Larzen says:

      Homes aren’t for the dead, they are for the living, so, if you buy a property, you should have the right to do whatever you like with it. I see nothing wrong with supplanting the old dark house with something more modern, for modern tastes. Who would like to live in an old dank manor from 1932? It’s not like it was Hearst’s estate up in San Simeon. It would have been a nice curiosity because it was owned by some prominent men, but there are undoubtedly more impressive things to see. Perhaps the old plans still exist and you can make a model, if you like?

  23. K Hollywood says:

    Schick Schadel was the name of the rehabs I remember now. it’s was early about in the early 80s that I even heard that name wow. I forgot about it but, they had a lot of commercials on TV all day … EXTREMELY corny ones at that I was a kid I’m 40 now but that name lol

  24. K Hollywood says:

    I LOVE YOUR PAGE BTW THANK YOU!! BTW The house on Bronson and Hollywood I wondered it for years about I never found anything I grew up I blocks from there. Recently I accidentally stumbled upon your blog and I was just amazed by the story thank you so much!

  25. Gary says:

    Speaking of teardowns – I still can’t believe that Barbra’s house at 301 N. Carolwood was torn
    down just to make a larger back yard for the owner of the former Gary Cooper house on Faring. Besides it being the home or our greatest star, it was a sprawling old Mediterranean beauty, the likes of which can not be produced today. Now some contemporary monstrosity is being built there. I wish Barbra had kept it. She sold it for under $5 Million in 1998; last year just the lot sold for over $13 Million! Wonder if she wishes she kept it too, if not for the monetary reasons, but for the esthetics that were destroyed.

  26. Gary says:

    Speaking of upsetting tear downs, I still can’t believe that the Carolwood house that Barbra lived in for almost 30 years was torn down. Besides the fact that it was a sprawling 20’s Mediterranean, the likes of which we never see again, it was occupied by our greatest star and the owner of the old
    Gary Cooper estate tore it down just to enlarge his back yard. Wonder if Barbra regrets selling that house. When she sold it in 1998, it went for under $5 Million and this year just the lot alone sold for over $13 Million.

  27. Lori Dunn-Franco says:

    As a child I knew the Frawley family and spent time in the mansion. My father worked for Pat as Director of Schick hospital in Fort Worth (in fact he helped to supervise the building of that hospital too) . I remember the beautiful home and was impressed even as a young girl! We swam in the pool frequently and watched movies in the “theater.” My father played a doctor in the movie that Frawley was working on called “Instinct for Survival.” Unfortunately I didn’t appreciate that movie at the time and found myself falling asleep in the big armchairs. His son , Michael was injured during the making of that movie( by a wolf I believe) and was on crutches and stayed at our home in Texas for awhile when he was recuperating I know they had some exotic animal cages in the back of the house.. I met some famous people in that home including Loretta Young and she also introduced me to John Wayne (sadly this took place following the funeral of his daughter that was killed in a plane crash). Pat and Geri were by my side when I was baptized at age 11 and I still have a necklace they gave me at that baptism. Pat was an avid supporter of Catholicism and our family was featured on the front page of the Catholic Circle newspaper too. (I have a copy of it to this day) I will never forget Pat’s booming laugh and his colorful personality when he was at his home. I think that was where he was truly happiest! I was sad to hear the house had been torn down…so many memories were torn down with it, but they will never be forgotten!

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