In some fortuitous instances, an estate becomes legendary not only for its fine architecture and handsome grounds, but also because it reflects a major turning point in a community’s history, in larger architectural or landscape trends, or in the owners’ goals for these showplace properties.
La Collina, which was located in the gently rolling hills above Doheny Road and immediately east of the Doheny Ranch, is one of those skillfully designed estates that represented those turning points.
The national architectural press and Los Angeles media applauded La Collina upon its 1924 completion. Flattering articles praised its owner, banker Benjamin R. Meyer, young architect Gordon B. Kaufmann, and landscape architect Paul G. Thiene for their vision.
In 1923, 1924, and 1925, La Collina was one of the first major Beverly Hills estates to be designed by a highly skilled architect, not just an architect with the right connections. Virginia Robinson’s father, Nathaniel Dryden, had designed their Elden Way estate. Max Parker, the art director for many Douglas Fairbanks Sr. films, was architect for Pickfair.
Many of the early, grand estates had relied upon the design services of the capable but often-uninspired Beverly Hills Nursery to lie out their grounds, as well as provide trees and shrubs. La Collina was one of the first Beverly Hills estates to have a professional landscape architect, who maximized the opportunities presented by the site, and who worked in tandem with the architect to make the property enhance the mansion, and vice versa.
Finally, and of critical importance, La Collina was meant to be a very California residence in its location’s climate, terrain, and character. It was not a mock Tudor mansion surrounded by palm trees, nor was it a red-brick Colonial Revival residence that really belonged back East. It was instead, on a sunny hillside overlooking the distant Pacific. The style was Italian, which fit the Mediterranean climate and topography of Southern California.
Of course, praiseworthy articles about La Collina were very flattering for architect Kaufmann and landscape architect Thiene. But the real test of La Collina’s impact on Los Angeles estates was the reaction of the city’s millionaires, who would build legendary residences in the booming 1920s, and who would determine if La Collina’s trend-setting styles and principles were widespread practices, or simply an interesting one-time experiment.
Among this moneyed crowd, which often placed status ahead of aesthetics, La Collina received a resounding yes. Meyer’s banker colleagues hired the Kaufmann and Thiene team. Even greater approval—from the very peak of the Los Angeles financial pyramid—was soon forthcoming.
When Edward Laurence (“Ned”) Doheny Jr. and his wife, Lucy, decided to build their Greystone Mansion at the Doheny Ranch, they quickly selected Kaufmann as their architect. Why? “Because he did the Ben Meyer house, and I liked it,” said Lucy Doheny years later. (The Dohenys, of course, asked Kaufmann to design their Greystone Mansion in the very different Tudor style.)