By any measure – size, cost, or boldness of vision – Greystone was the grandest estate ever completed in Southern California. The fifty-five room, 46,000 square-foot mansion sat on a lofty knoll at 501 Doheny Road, high above the estates of the mere millionaires on Sunset Boulevard and Lexington Road. It had cost an astounding $4 million upon its 1929 completion, which would have purchased dozens of large homes in the Beverly Hills flats below Sunset Boulevard.
The Tudor-style mansion was the centerpiece of the 429-acre Doheny Ranch, which stretched from Doheny Road far up into the hills. Greystone and its immediate grounds could be seen from miles away.
The impressive – indeed, forbidding – Greystone was more than an unmistakable emblem of the Doheny family’s unrivalled wealth and authority, which was anchored in Southern California and extended to the national level. The estate’s sheer size and its cost also symbolized the rough-and-tumble world of the early 20th century oil industry in which the Doheny family had made its vast fortune. Then, in 1929, the estate became a crime scene in one of Los Angeles’ most talked about, and most misunderstood, murders. To this day, the estate is wrapped in layers of mystery. It is even said to be haunted by the ghosts left behind in an era of misdeeds.
By the early 1920s, Doheny Senior had decided that Ned should build a mansion on the family ranch. He set aside twenty-two acres at the southern end of the property for the residence and grounds.
While Greystone’s exterior was grand, the interior was given a pleasing sense of proportion combined with careful craftsmanship, a sense of stateliness, and wealth. The front entrance – a set of plate-glass doors decorated with elaborate hand-wrought iron grillwork – opened onto a marble stair landing. At the right were marble stairs to the second floor. Ahead was a grand marble staircase that led down to the first-floor hallway, which ran perpendicular to the main stairway for the length of the building. At the bottom of the grand staircase was a set of carved and polished oak archways that led into a marble-floor reception room with a fountain. Beyond, through arched French doors, was a terrace with sweeping views of the immense, steeply sloped lawn and the entire Los Angeles basin.
But this psychic phenomenon does not seem to be the ghost of either Ned Doheny or Hugh Plunkett who both died so mysteriously in the mansion. Rather, the strange sound that has been heard seems to be that of a woman, weeping inconsolably. Perhaps it is the spirit of a young Lucy Doheny mourning her dead husband, or her family, which rose so high in the world only to be brought down by bold over-reaching and by scandal.