If anyone could rightfully claim to be the father of Beverly Hills, it was Burton E. Green, the oil millionaire who drilled his first productive well near the Los Angeles Civic Center in 1901, and who soon owned hugely profitable oil fields throughout Los Angeles and Kern Counties.
As president of the Rodeo Land & Water Company, he supervised the grand opening of Beverly Hills on October 22, 1906, and overcame slow lot sales following the Panic of 1907 recession. Of critical importance, Green listened to skilled Realtor Percy Clark’s inspired advice to transform the Hammel & Denker Ranch (where Green and his partners had failed to find oil) from acres of dusty bean fields into a fashionable community of large homes on gently curving, tree-lined streets. (See introduction to Beverly Hills; page 9.) Green also hired, at Clark’s suggestion, landscape architect Wilbur D. Cook and architect Myron Hunt to prepare the master plan and other design guidelines for the new community.
In the early years of Beverly Hills, Green, in essence, guaranteed the promise of the company’s early advertisements: “As a living place, Beverly Hills is incomparable—nothing in or near Los Angeles resembles it—here is something in a class alone.”
Shortly after the Beverly Hills Hotel opened in 1912—and it had been built with a loan from the Rodeo Land & Water Company—Green made an unmistakable show of confidence in Beverly Hills’s future: He started construction on his own showplace estate several blocks north of the hotel. Furthermore, he encouraged his well-to-do business associates and friends to build estates nearby.
In the summer of 1914, Green moved into his newly completed Beverly Hills home with his wife, Lilian, and their three daughters: Dorothy, who was known as Dolly; Liliore, whose name was a variation of her mother’s; and Burton, who was named after her father. Green purchased an eleven-acre parcel on the north side of Lexington Road that stretched a full block, from Hartford Way and Cove Way on the west and north, to North Crescent Drive on the east. Situated on a small knoll, and with the land to the south still empty and treeless, Green’s property commanded a panoramic view from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica Bay. The only immediate neighbors were Henry and Virginia Robinson, whose estate stood on Elden Way, north of Lexington Road (see page 58).
The Green mansion was vaguely Tudor—or what one observer described as “a broad treatment of the English domestic style”—and it would have fit in perfectly with the other in-town mansions along then-fashionable West Adams Boulevard—but it did not reflect the era’s finest architectural aspirations.
The architect was J. Martyn Haenke, who designed homes that were comfortable and imposing but hardly trend-setting, for Los Angeles’s newly rich oil, land, and retail barons. Haenke, for example, designed three ca. 1915 mansions in the Mid-Wilshire district’s exclusive Fremont Place for the Janss family, the
developers later responsible for Holmby Hills and Westwood. Haenke even designed the imposing gates at Fremont Place’s entrances. Whatever the Green mansion lacked in architectural sophistication, it compensated for with large rooms and myriad comforts. The front door opened into a 25-by-30-foot reception hall, which led into the 20-by-30-foot staircase.
The first floor boasted a 24-by-45-foot living room, a 20-by-24-foot library, a 24-by-35-foot dining room, an adjacent breakfast room, a butler’s pantry, and kitchen. The living room, dining room, and library, as well as the entrance hall and staircase hall, were richly paneled in mahogany, walnut, and oak. Every main room had a marble fireplace. The east and south-facing rooms opened onto 24-footwide terraces overlooking the estate grounds.
On the second floor, the five bedrooms were finished in white enameled woodwork, and each bedroom had its own dressing room and full bath. The second floor also included a nursery and sleeping porch. Servants’ quarters were located under the steeply sloped slate-paved roof.
The grounds, of course, were another testament to Green’s success, and they were the features that distinguished a true estate from merely a large home.
The gates at the northwest corner of Lexington Road and North Crescent Drive opened into a long driveway that wound up the gentle hillside past full-grown oaks, cocoa palms, flowering trees and shrubs, and native plants. The oaks, one observer noted, had been “transplanted bodily and at considerable expense from the canyons in the mountains back of Beverly Hills.”
The recreational features included the required tennis court, a playground for his children, a small lake, and various garden pavilions. There was no swimming pool or “plunge”: that feature did not become a “must have” until the 1920s. From this grand estate, Green guided the development of Beverly Hills, particularly after some of his Rodeo Land & Water Company partners, such as Charles A. Canfield and Max Whittier, focused on other investments, or had passed away. Yet Green never launched another great real estate development. He was, first and foremost, an oil man, and he devoted most of his time to those lucrative ventures.
He and his wife, Lilian, were active in Los Angeles social circles, but never
in the realm of those known disparagingly as “movie people.” He was a founding member of the very proper California Club and the Los Angeles Country Club locally, in addition to the Pacific Union Club and the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, and the Metropolitan Club in New York.
What did Green think of the influx of Hollywood movie stars, producers, and directors into Beverly Hills in the 1920s and 1930s? After all, these self-made, self-created men and women—and particularly rough-and-tumble producers such as Jack Warner and Joseph M. Schenck—were never welcomed into Green’s social clubs. Did he view the newcomers with disdain? Or, just perhaps, with a guilty pleasure, knowing that their presence increased the value of Beverly Hills real estate? We will never know.
In 1965, Green died at his Lexington Road estate at age ninety-six. He had outlived all of his contemporaries. He had seen hundreds of houses constructed in Beverly Hills. And he lived long enough to have witnessed some of the great estates along Lexington Road and in Benedict Canyon fall to the subdividers and their bulldozers. He had known for decades that his vision, and that of his Rodeo Land & Water Company partners, of Beverly Hills as one of California’s greatest and best-known communities had come true.
By the time of Green’s death, the style and grace of his vaguely Tudor mansion was definitely old-fashioned. The estate’s value was in its land and its location. In 1968, businessman and sports enthusiast Eugene Klein purchased the
Green estate. He remodeled the house. Completely. Klein changed the façade from vaguely Tudor to vaguely Georgian. He ripped out one second-story bedroom, so that the living room ceiling could be raised to a height of twenty-two feet. He removed the staircase hallway paneling, but he re-used some of the wood for the bar in his barroom.
It has been completely renovated once again, and the residence now achieves the dignity and quality of a famed Beverly Hills estate.