1830 N. Sierra Bonita – The Raymond Burr Estate
Once every 50 years or so the gates of an old Hollywood Hills Estate open up to the Los Angeles real estate market and the buyers fortunate enough to be in the market at the same time get an opportunity to purchase a landmark. In the Hollywood Foothills above Franklin Avenue we find the Raymond Burr Estate situated on over 4.5 acres sharing property lines with Wattles Park and Runyon Canyon.
At the time this Andalusian-style property went on the market, it was owned by legendary music mogul and artist manager Miles Copeland III. Mister Copeland–the son of two intelligence officers and the brother of both noted music promoter Ian Copeland and The Police’s Stewart Copeland–nursed and promoted the careers of various New Wave and rock bands including The Go-Go’s, Wall of Voodoo, Squeeze, Camper Van Beetoven, Oingo Boingo, Gary Numan, John Cale, The English Beat, Concrete Blonde, General Public and Fine Young Cannibals. Copeland purchased the home in March of 1983 from Emmy-Award winning Actor Raymond Burr who at the time was wheelchair bound.
The house featured six bedrooms and seven bathrooms with 8,697 square feet of interior living space. This expansive Artists compound is nestled in one of the most impressive private park-like settings above Hollywood Boulevard. The property immediately drew a lot of attention from the press when it hit the market especially for its extraordinary public and private spaces that flouted any and all traditional notions and confines of decorative taste.
The top floor of the residence was separated into three main areas; one large living room with multiple sitting areas, a fireplace and a large outdoor seating area.
Many pieces were carefully brought over from Germany, France, Italy and Spain and incorporated into the existing structure. To the left of the fireplace french doors open up to a large sun deck and patio.
This flat area used to be the location of one of the 13 greenhouses Raymond Burr built on the property to cultivate orchids. Mr. Burr introduced 3,000 species of orchids to the World’s catalogue and donated much of his horticulture work to Cal Poly. “Growing things,” Burr said, can be more creatively satisfying than acting, “The more things you pay attention to in your life, the easier it is to draw on those things in your acting.”
The Master Bedroom was a commanding space with soaring ceilings, a fireplace, 2 very large walk-in closets and incredible stain glass that had been removed from a dilapidated Church.
Most of the major entrances to the grounds are protected by sets of sphinx statues. The sphinx is associated with architectural structures such as royal tombs or religious temples having ferocious strengths and thought to be a guardian flanking the entrance to temples. The sphinx has also been adopted into Masonic architecture to guard the mysteries of the temple.
Interestingly, as I blog on about the Raymond Burr Estate and sphinx’s, I discovered that a Sphinx was unearthed from the 1923 Cecil B. DeMille movie set of The Ten Commandments that were left in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes after filming. “If 1,000 years from now, archeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization, far from being confined to the valley of the Nile, extended all the way to the Pacific coast of North America.” – The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille, 1959.
An Egyptian dreamscape was built (out of plaster and concrete) on California’s Central Coast on part of an 18-mile stretch just South of the border between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. Renowned for its enormous cast, monumental sets and groundbreaking special effects, “The Ten Commandments” pairs the Biblical story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land with the modern-day tale of two brothers vying for the same woman.
Twenty-one giant sphinxes lined a path to an 800 foot wide temple. What was then Famous Players-Lasky Corp, now Paramount Pictures, approved a $750,000 production budget and leased the land for the production from the now-defunct Union Sugar Company. In the Spring of 1923, about 1,500 workmen, worked for two months building an ancient Egyptian City of Pharaohs designed by Paul Iribe, one of the founders of the Art Deco movement. Poor weather pushed the production over budget and behind schedule.
Legend has it that after the filming was done, the set was too expensive to move and too valuable to leave for rival filmmakers to poach – so DeMille had it pushed into a trench and buried. The tent city, constructed to house and feed more than 2,000 cast and crew members, was no less impressive. U.S. Army soldiers stationed at the now-closed Presidio of San Francisco handled logistics such as supplies and transportation.
Los Angeles filmmaker Peter Brosnan is credited with unearthing the set. Brosnan first encountered the legend of “The Ten Commandments” in 1982 while living in Los Angeles with a fellow NYU graduate. “One night — I seem to recall there was some beer involved — he told me this crazy story about Cecil B. DeMille burying sphinxes in the middle of California,” Brosnan recalled. “We thought, ‘What a great idea for a documentary film. We’ll find it, dig it up, film it, interview some of the people who worked on it.'” He contacted the owners of Far Western Tavern who arranged for a friend to show him the site in June 1983. “There were acres of faux bas relief Egyptian statuary sticking up out of the sand,” Brosnan said, much of it uncovered by a stormy El Niño winter. “And that was when I realized he buried more than sphinxes, he buried the whole set.”
Each of these flat ‘pads’ is where Raymond Burr, between 1970 and 1974 pulled 5 permits with the City for the construction of wood and glass greenhouses/planting sheds and ten permits for retaining walls.
Emmy-Award winning actor Raymond Burr was recorded as Owner of the property in September 1972, although building permits indicate he had lived on the property since at least 1970. Mr. Burr (1917-1993) was born in British Columbia but grew up in Vallejo, California after his parents divorced. Due to the Depression, he was never able to finish high school, but a number of jobs taught him self-reliance at an early age. He found work in the entertainment business off and on since age twelve, and age nineteen toured with the Toronto summer theater. He made his Broadway debut in 1941 in Crazy with the Heat. He later worked as a student at the Pasadena Playhouse.
After service in World War II that won him a Purple Heart, Mr. Burr worked for ten years in radio and film, often taking “bad guy” roles, as in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window in 1954 as Lars Thorwald.
And then as “Ironside” (1967-1975). He followed these popular shows with made-for-television movies and “Perry Mason” specials in which he appeared for the rest of his life. Two of his three marriages ended tragically and his only son died in childhood.
Mr. Burr also owned a sheep ranch near Healdsburg and a remote Pacific Island with his close and long time friend Robert Benevides. Burr and Benevides had met on the t.v. program “Perry Mason.” In 1976, Benevides, on the advice of his father, purchased an abandoned farm in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Today the Raymond Burr Vineyards continues to produce varieties to this day.
The new Owners of 1830 Sierra Bonita are busy working away on their new and old Los Angeles pad and when they are complete they too will close the gates as a new mystery and adventure begin on these incredible grounds. I hope you drive by the house some day and smile knowing a little bit about this corner of the City.
Early Building Permits at the property:
1906 original construction; the property may not have been within the City limits at that time; Los Angeles County did not issue permits for its unincorporated areas until the 1920s. A permit was issued in December 1914 to repair gas outlets in an “old” building. Construction of a one and one-half story, two-room garage and storehouse, measuring approximately 20 feet square with a 16 foot height, was permitted in January 1921. It would have a concrete foundation, redwood mud-sills, and a shingled roof. The Owner was to serve as his own designer and contractor. The garage was to be dug out of a hill of rock and decomposed granite and would have a floor of the same material. The cost was estimated at $400.
The residence was to be substantially altered, according to a permit issued in November 1922. The front entrance and four windows were to be changed. Two additions, one measuring 8 by 12 feet, and the other 16 by 24 feet, were to be constructed. They contain a breakfast room, sunroom, and a new bathroom. A brick porch and steps were to be added as well as a double fireplace and chimney. The exteriors of the one and a half story, eight room, 30 by 35 foot house was to be plastered.
Original Owner: William A. Rapp, who shared the house with his daughter, Ernestine, a bookkeeper and clerk in the office of a life insurance company. The lot Mr. Rapp purchased was the highest on Sierra Bonita. It measured 330 by 330 feet (2.5 acres). The house he built was over 100 feet from the nearest neighbor. William Arthur Rapp was born in Baden, Germany in February 1847. He emigrated to the United States in 1865 and would become a naturalized citizen in 1876. By 1880 he was working as a carpenter in Spring Valley in Colusa County. Around 1884, he married his wife Sarah, a California native born in 1865, and they settled on a farm in Cahuenga. They would have three children: Ernestine E. (1885 – 1977), William A. (1890 – 1965), and Herbert R. (1894 -1938). Sarah Rapp died sometime before 1905. Her widowed husband never re-married.
The Rapp family are closely associated with the City of Santa Monica where Mr. Rapp built the first brick building in the city in 1887 on 2nd Street between Utah and Oregon streets (now Santa Monica and Broadway). The Rapp Salon, at 1438 Second Street is the oldest surviving building in the City. This one-story structure was designed for William Rapp by a contractor known only as Mr. Freeman. The building was constructed by Spencer & Pugh bricklayers and plasterers. It was the first masonry structure in Santa Monica. An 1877 advertisement in the Santa Monica Outlook called the establishment the “Los Angeles Beer Garden” with “fresh-tapped Los Angeles beer always on hand.”
Over the years the property had a variety of purposes, including a Salvation Army meeting hall, radiator repair shop, art gallery and storage facility for the Vitagraph Film Company. Founded in 1911, Vitagraph Film Co., was one of the first movie studios in the Los Angeles area. The Rapp Salon even served as the Santa Monica’s City Hall for the two years, and was the city’s first landmark.
Other Owners: In 1921, William Rapp sold the Sierra Bonita property to Herbert Chester Cressey, an artist. Mr. Cressey, known as “Bert,” was responsible for the remodeling the house into its current appearance. He served as his own architect and builder. He lived there with his wife Meta who was also an artist. Mr. Cressey was born on a ranch in Compton, California into a family of early California settlers in 1883.
This painting titles “Happy Days, California” was his rendition of Point Fermin in Palos Verdes. He studied painting at U.S.C. under William Lee Judson, at the Art Students League of Los Angeles with Warren Hedges, and at the NAD with Robert Henri. Until 1920, he painted on his Compton Ranch but then purchased the Sierra Bonita property in order to have a home and studio. The Compton ranch was later given to the city and is now known as Gonzales Park. Mr. Cressey went to work for the movie studios in the early 1940’s where he was known as a “prop man.”
The acre of flower gardens she cultivated at the Sierra Bonita property, which often won awards from the Hollywood Flower Garden Club, provided the subject matter for her paintings. After the Cressey’s were forced to sell their Sierra Bonita estate due to financial reversals, it is said that Mr. Cressey died of a work-related accident in 1944 at the age of 61.
In December 1938, Mrs. Marjorie Bell Shepherd became the owner. Title passed to Frederic S. Shepherd in September 1954.
Lawrence E. McCombs and Harold R. Rosenbrugh took possession in October 1965. Both men were in the real estate business.
In August 1968, Carl Hillgren gained title and sold the property to Raymond Burr in 1972.