Some distinguished estates are known not for their original owners, who had the vision and wealth to create grand residences, but for a later owner, whose still greater accomplishments, or perhaps long residency, are better remembered. One such property is this Benedict Canyon Drive estate.
Originally constructed in the roaring twenties as a winter home by Ohio glass manufacturer Charles Boldt, this Benedict Canyon residence instead became intimately familiar to three generations of Los Angeles society as the Harvey Mudd Estate, home of wealthy Harvey and Mildred Mudd who hosted dozens of philanthropic events for worthy Southern California causes.
In March 1922, when Boldt paid $20,000 for twelve acres on the east side of Benedict Canyon, north of Tower Road, the surroundings were largely ranch land and citrus groves. Benedict Canyon Drive was just a dirt road used more by equestrians venturing out from The Beverly Hills Hotel than by fancy motorcars. Charles Boldt was one of the first to recognize that Benedict Canyon had real potential as an epicenter of great estates for film-industry celebrities and millionaires such as himself. Only a few months earlier, prominent movie producer Thomas H. Ince had bought thirty-four acres across from the Boldt property for what became his impressive Dias Dorados Estate.
Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford, the King and Queen of Hollywood, were already living at Pickfair on a hillside on nearby Summit Drive. For his winter home, Boldt hired prominent architect Elmer Grey to design what would be both a gardener’s cottage and a gatehouse off Benedict Canyon Drive, as well as garages with chauffeur’s quarters further up the driveway, and a main house on a knoll overlooking the canyon.
Few Los Angeles architects had the architectural skills—or were better prepared to give Boldt and his social-climbing wife, Hilda—an impressive, fashionable, and tasteful home than Elmer Grey. Grey and his equally talented partner, architect Myron Hunt, had already designed several dozen mansions throughout Southern California, most notably in Pasadena and San Marino, including Henry E. Huntington’s immense home. Hunt and Grey had also designed The Beverly Hills Hotel where the Boldts (like so many Eastern and Midwestern millionaires) stayed as they shopped for property.
By September 1922, just six months after Boldt purchased his twelve-acre property, Hunt and Grey had finished their plans and construction had begun. “The buildings are designed in an adaptation of the English Elizabeth style of architecture,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “Both the house and the garage have the first story of brick construction, the outer surfaces of the walls being cement plastered. The second story and attic gables are half-timbered. The roofs are of flat shingle tile, with the exception of that of the gardener’s cottage which will be an adaptation of English thatch.”
The 6,000-square-foot, twenty-room Boldt mansion was surrounded by terraces that provided panoramic vistas of Benedict Canyon. The front door opened into a two-story-tall entrance hall that rose dramatically up to oak trusses supporting the roof. The living room, library, and dining room were paneled in oak and mahogany. English décor filled the rooms.
Hunt and Grey’s very traditional English mansion, of course, boasted every modern convenience of the time. “The house,” noted the Los Angeles Times, included “a modern refrigerating plant, steam heat, built-in incinerator, sanitary sewage disposal system, and vacuum cleaning plant.”
The grounds included tennis courts, one of Beverly Hills’ first swimming pools or “plunges,” and formal landscaping by the Beverly Hills Nursery. Charles Boldt, who was worth more than $10 million, and his wife could have hardly wished for more of their new home. Yet, just two years after they moved into the Benedict Canyon estate, they sold the property to Harvey and Mildred Mudd for $225,000.
Hilda Boldt craved social acceptance, but the doyennes of Los Angeles high society weren’t about to give it to this former nurse, no matter how rich her husband. So, the Boldts purchased a large estate in Santa Barbara and began their climb up that more lenient social ladder. After Charles Boldt’s death in 1929, Hilda remarried and in the 1930s built what would become known as the Conrad Hilton Estate on Bellagio Road in Bel-Air.
Harvey Seeley Mudd, the new owner of 1240 Benedict Canyon Drive, was the son of Colonel Seeley Mudd, a mining engineer who opened the famous Ray Cooper Mine in Arizona. Harvey was born in 1888 in the famed mining town of Leadville, Colorado. His family moved to Los Angeles in the first decade of the 20th century. Harvey attended Los Angeles High School and later Stanford University.
Becoming a mining engineer himself and joining his father in business, Harvey Mudd made his own fortune with his development of copper mines on the Greek island of Cyprus, mines that had been worked sporadically since ancient times. Harvey and Mildred Mudd made virtually no changes to their new home. But they did hire the noted landscape architect Edward Huntsman-Trout to revamp the original grounds and give them extensive, formal gardens. The results were spectacular.
“A canyon location, such as this one possesses, permits of such features as terraces, winding walks and flights of steps that lead from one bit of beauty to another,” noted the Los Angeles Times. “From the floor of the canyon you gaze up and catch the sweep of blue and gold and white beneath the trees . . . From above, you look down through drifts of almond, cherry and peach blossoms to daffodils, narcissi and irises and find them even more beautiful.”
Fifteen of the estate’s twenty acres were dedicated to the gardens, which were tended by a full-time staff of eight. The son of the chief gardener, who grew up on the grounds, recalled that, while Mudd never worked in the gardens himself, he spent every Sunday making the rounds with his staff and planning new projects.
In these days, “It was not unusual . . . for Mudd to spend up to $3,000 for spring tulips, hyacinth or daffodil bulbs from Holland.” Harvey Mudd’s efforts were rewarded when, in 1934, the estate won the coveted western regional sweepstakes award of the Garden Clubs of America.
In the late 1940s, the Mudds constructed a small, modern, single-story house on the estate, which was designed by architect Gordon B. Kaufmann and landscaped by Huntsman-Trout to blend into the surrounding grounds. The new residence served as a guesthouse, particularly for visits from children and grandchildren (it had a sandbox).
Harvey Mudd died in April 1955. In addition to family bequests, he left $10 million to a number of charities and universities. His widow, Mildred, helped fund construction of Harvey Mudd College, the science and engineering campus of the Claremont Colleges. Mildred Mudd died in 1958 after a “lifetime of civic and cultural activities.”
Her good works included everything from the Girl Scouts—she had been national president—to the Republican Party and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. As her husband had done, she left a large portion of her estate to various charities and schools.
In the early 1960s, the Mudd Estate—and the gardens the Mudds had tended and loved for over three decades—was subdivided into building lots for smaller homes. The mansion survived, however, though on much smaller grounds. It was sold to a new owner in 1963 for $149,000. Today, the mansion has been restored, and it remains one of the few memorials to Benedict Canyon’s largely vanished grand estates.