Lost Hollywood – A John De Lario in the Hills of Beverly

Today we remember architect John De Lario for the fine work he did throughout the picturesque Hollywoodland development in the 1920’s. He did so many notable homes there it is easy to forget that De Lario also designed homes and businesses in other parts of the area as well (Not enough, in my opinion). In fact, one of his grandest commissions was a magnificent Italian villa designed for pioneer oilman Ralph B. Lloyd, not in Hollywoodland, but in Beverly Hills, completed in 1930.

Dubbed the “Father” of the famous Ventura Avenue Oil Field, Ralph B. Lloyd was an influential figure in the Southern California petroleum industry for a number of decades. Lloyd made millions in oil, but also made his mark in other fields as well including banking, real estate development and lumber up in Oregon.

Ralph B. Lloyd thought big and had the money to back it up. Part of his empire included extensive holdings in the Portland area. A victim of the Depression, this monolithic Deco skyscraper hotel would have been a dramatic addition to the Portland skyline and would have rivaled the Waldorf-Astoria in Deco granduer.

Although it was Ralph who exploited it, it appears it was his father Lewis who first discovered there was gas on their Ventura ranch and in the most dramatic way possible. A former captain in the Confederate Army, Lewis M. Lloyd had abandoned his beloved South for California during the great “Boom of the Eighties,” purchasing thousands of acres of land just outside of the historic town of Ventura. Organizing the Ventura Land and Water Company in 1887, the elder Lloyd dove earnestly into the cattle business, but it proved to be tough sledding. One day, while out on his land, Lloyd espied a brush fire. As he approached, he noticed a torch of fire billowing out of a fissure in the ground. While marveling at this strange sight the wind suddenly shifted and the flames from the surrounding grass roared menacingly at him at him at a speed neither he nor his horse could outrun. His horse was killed instantly with Lloyd barely escaping a similar fate by quickly leaping down a precipice into an adjoining canyon. It was as clear an indication as any that oil lay under the ground of the Lloyd ranch.

As surprising as it may seem today, Lewis Lloyd’s unwitting discovery of gas was not the welcome news it would be today and the elder Lloyd continued with his cattle operation. Hard as he try, however, the operation could just not turn a profit and by 1912 the venture was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was at that time that his son Ralph took over management of the ranch holdings, quickly bringing a new energy to the operation, literally as well as spiritually. The UC Berkeley-educated Ralph saw the vast potential in petroleum development and he undertook to shift the focus of the Ventura Land and Water Co. from cattle to oil leases. For a number of years he found little interest in getting major oil companies to explore his lands. When he finally succeeded the oil companies liked what they saw and he made a series of shrewd deals to drill on the family lands, which by then had grown to 8,000 acres. The result was the development of what was to become known as the Ventura Avenue Oil Field. Initial development began in 1919 and by the 1950’s, it was the 12th most productive field in the United States. Still operating today, it is estimated that a billion gallons of oil have been drawn from what was the lands of the Lloyd ranch.

Ventura Oil Field Today (wikipedia)

This, as you might expect, made Lloyd, his family and fellow investors fabulously wealthy. Desiring a home for himself and his family befitting a man of his position, Lloyd engaged John De Lario to draw up plans for a grand estate to be built on a beautiful multi-acre view parcel he had purchased in Beverly Hills in the Ledgemont Park tract, part of the former 26-acre estate of “Borax King,” Thomas Thorkildsen, a spectacular baronial English Tudor mansion designed by Thomas Franklin Power and completed in 1913. The Thorkildsen mansion, which still contained considerable acreage, was now owned by fellow oil man Kirk B. Johnson and it is likely the two were friends.

A postcard view of the Thorkildsen/Johnson estate made from the approximate location of the future Lloyd villa.

Another view of the Thorkildsen/Johnson estate and its spectacular setting prior to construction of the Lloyd villa, which would be built in part of the orchard area in the lower left portion of the picture. Note the “Beverly Crest” sign on the hill.

In his design of the Lloyd mansion, De Lario pulled out all the stops creating a stunningly beautiful villa of great charm and distinction. Completed in 1930, the Lloyd mansion at 962 North Alpine Drive was a wonder to behold. Stretched out over seven levels over its lushly landscaped grounds, the home was considered one of the finest examples of this type of architecture found in all of Southern California.

The Lloyd villa was approached by way of a long winding drive through elegantly landscaped grounds. Having originally been a part of the extensive Thomas Thorkildsen estate, the grounds already featured many beautiful and mature plantings that were further enhanced by landscape architects McKown & Kuehl, later designers of the Malibu Encinal development. McKown & Kuehl were so proud of their work on the Lloyd estate they later had a scale model made of it – carved out of soap!

As one swings around the circular entryway, the villa shows its Palladian side, looking almost Roman. Handsome entryway leads up steps to the terrace.

Estates like this do not have driveways. They have “Arrival courts!”

Garden detail.

The magnificent Lloyd villa shows what a master John De Lario was as a designer. De Lario designed the house to flow naturally over its sloping site creating a home that made seven changes of level. Here are three of them showing the main floor public rooms, the bedroom level above and the top floor a gentleman’s retreat of a billiard room and covered observation deck.

A view of the terrace opening off the living room. Note the beautiful fireplace as well as the doorway opening to a set of steps that leads directly to the “Arrival court.” This was a very clever addition by De Lario so that guests, arriving for a garden party, would not have to traipse through the house to get there.

A genuinely million dollar view.

The Lloyd villa was decorated by young society interior designer Genevieve Butler. Here we see the entry hall, which was finished in white travertine. You are looking towards the dining room. Note the doorway halfway up the staircase. This led to an expansive guest suite, another fine De Lario idea which provided privacy for both the Lloyds and their overnight guests. Continuing up the stairs leads to the four master suites and sitting room. Not seen in this view is a set of steps leading down to Mr. Lloyd’s private study.

The Living Room featured some of the Lloyd antique collection and a spectacular wooden ceiling. Note the interesting green marble fan-light above the door.

Ms. Butler decorated the elegant dining room with Zuber wallpaper and fine antique pieces.

A bedroom view possibly part of the guest suite.

I found it amusing that out of the many grand rooms she decorated for the Lloyd villa the room Genevieve Butler chose to showcase her design work was the powder room! Granted, it’s a lovely powder room.

Ralph B. Lloyd would live in his beautiful home for the remainder of his long life, sharing the house with his wife Lulu, his four daughters, and no doubt many, many servants. On June 16, 1948, Lulu Hull Lloyd passed away in the 44th year of their marriage. Eight months later, the 74 year-old Lloyd may have surprised some (or all) by taking a second trip down the aisle, marrying 51 year-old Edith Louise Nattkemper, a former school teacher who had been friends with Lloyd for some 30 years. When Lloyd died on September 9, 1953 at the age of 78, Edith came into a considerable fortune, splitting the bulk of the multi-million dollar estate with the Lloyd daughters. When Lloyd’s will was submitted to Probate on September 29, 1953, it was learned that Edith would also, in addition to the mammoth inheritance, also get $7,500 a month “family allowance.” Edith Nattkemper Lloyd was a very wealthy woman and, at 55, still young enough to enjoy it. Edith, however, had been suffering from a heart condition and less than 24 hours later she died at the Lloyd home, surviving her husband by just 21 days.

With both Ralph and Edith gone and the Lloyd children all with fine homes of their own, there was no one left in the big mansion on Alpine and it was sold. In 1958 the estate was broken up for inevitable subdivision and the beautiful Lloyd villa was taken down and replaced by a set of new homes.

His beautiful home may be gone, but Ralph B. Lloyd’s legacy has lived on in the form of considerable charitable giving, first through the Ralph B. Lloyd Foundation and then its successor of the Elizabeth Lloyd-Davis Foundation, among others. Over the decades, the Lloyd foundations have given millions to a variety of worthy causes and like the oil wells up in Ventura they are still giving and giving.

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13 Responses to Lost Hollywood – A John De Lario in the Hills of Beverly

  1. Steven Price says:

    So THAT’S where those gates came from, at the very end of Alpine (with no place to turn around, mind you)! This is FANTASTIC digging, once again. PS: The 1972 split-stone modern residence outside the gates at 972 might remind some of the Jennifer Aniston House in Trousdale Estates — and for good reason: It was designed by Hal Levitt, along with three others on that fabulous block of Alpine. There’s a great Burton Schutt, at 919 (one of the last standing, relatively intact) and even one from Miami’s famous Arquitectonica at 935. Plus all the usual suspects, Neff, Williams, etc.

  2. Jim lewis says:

    A wonderful house. I recall driving up Alpine Drive around 1962 attempting to locate the house, only to find out that it had been torn down. I caught the runner up prize with the English estate across the street, when it still had its front lawn that went all the way to Sunset Blvd.
    Kirk Johnson built a fabulous estate in Montecito c.1930.

  3. srk1941 says:

    Wow! What a terrific post! I’ve been doing research on the landscape architects, McKown and Kuehl, as part of my Fred Barlow, Jr. project. All three – McKown, Kuehl and Barlow – met while employed by landscape architect Paul Thiene. Kuehl was the principal designer of the Doheny, Jr. mansion, the Greystone Estate. As that project was winding down, McKown and Kuehl decided to break out on their own, creating the McKown and Kuehl firm in late 1928 or early 1929, and got several large estates in these last years of the Golden Age of estate planning. 1929 was a BAD year to start a new business, naturally… so by the early 30s, with work pretty much gone, they both became landscape architects for the National Park Service, working on projects for the Civilian Conservation Corps. They both remained with the NPS for the rest of their careers.

    I didn’t know about this project, this is great…

  4. 3500GT says:

    It also might interest the writer to note that John De Lario was reportedly the designer of the Lloyd residence at 694 S. Hobart Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90005. This 5,590 square foot single family residence with 7 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms was built in 1923, and was home to the Lloyd family prior to the Alpine home. (Sadly, this one was torn down sometime in 2011.)

    One could assume that Ralph B. Lloyd appreciated De Larios work, having already lived and raised his family in one of his finely designed homes.

    • Steve says:

      That’s great info. Thanks, Bob! I had tried to find the home the Lloyds lived in prior to Alpine, but to no avail. so this is double good to get the address and to learn it was a De Lario too. I can’t believe it made it all the way to 2011 and then was torn down. We have no sense of history in L.A.

      Thanks again so much and you are a Lloyd family member are you not? How great to hear from you!

      • There are photos of the elegant 2-story Hobart residence in real estate file #32 in the Lloyd Corporation Archive at the Huntington Library. Lloyd bought a portion of lot 194 (Pellissier Square), tract 2189 (at the northeast corner of Hobart and Seventh) on 1 May 1922 for $9,300. He put $1,500 down and paid the balance in three annual installments at 7%. Per the statement of S. M. Cooper, the contractor, the house cost $35,144 to build. Lloyd, of course, incurred this cost. In addition, he paid Cooper 10% of this total as the latter’s fee. (No record of what Lloyd may have paid the architect). Lloyd sold the house on 9 March 1931.

  5. Randall Lloyd says:

    The connection between Ralph Bramel Lloyd and John De Lario went deeper than architecture. De Lario and Lloyd were cousins (once removed). Charles W. Bramel of Laramie, Wyoming was De Lario’s grandfather and Lloyd’s uncle.

  6. Joe DiToma says:

    I would be interested in learning more about the Lloyd family sponsorship of Manly P. Hall

    • Abby Dees says:

      I’m not sure about whether the Ralph B. Lloyd had anything to do with Manly Hall, but I rather doubt it. He was my great grandfather and from what I know about him, probably not very inclined to any matters metaphysical. However, it does appear that it was his sister-in-law Carolyn did indeed underwrite a lot of Hall’s travel and research. This makes sense as Warren Lloyd, Ralph’s brother, was very much involved with the metaphysical exploration that was big in Southern California during that time, as well as cultural activities. He also provided employment and sponsorship for Raymond Chandler early in his writing career.

  7. larry romer says:

    Beautiful ! .. I would like to see more. Is a photo of the street side available anywhere? The tower looks very much like the image on an old postcard of Norma Shearer’s residence I have seen.

  8. Former BH Rat. says:

    If you go to the records you will find a home built by Mr. LLoyd and started in Aug. 1952 and the final COO was July of 1953 . The Address was 952 N Alpine (next home down from his estate) and was the last home on the even side of Alpine . The history will show that all around the 952 home was forest and natural landscape that ran up to the entry gate of Lloyd home which was now gone and another home was there. Who purchase (952) the home before month 7 of 1963; not sure. A building permit shows about another BH family as owner 6/1963 The property tax records are not avail and there is nothing noted about building permits during this time. Old BH has amazing history and the people have come and gone. Just a former BH rat.

  9. Gary Regan says:

    what site can i find the floor plans 1st &2nd for the ralph b. lloyd mansion 962 n alpine dr ?

  10. Ford Curran says:

    John Joyce of C&J and Gillette fame lived in the estate after Thorkildsen and died there in January of 1917. Kirk Johnson had married into the Joyce Family and inherited the estate via his wife, Genevieve Joyce.

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