Few architects worked longer—or created more great homes and estates—in Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills, and Bel-Air than Wallace Neff. His career stretched more than five decades, from the late 1910s until 1970.
Few architects had more repeat clients who were updating existing homes or designing new ones. Two of Neff’s most notable loyal clients were the Doheny family and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford.
Few architects were more adaptable to changing architectural styles—and their clients’ changing tastes and needs in their homes. In the 1920s, Neff achieved his initial fame by creating some of Southern California’s greatest Spanish Colonial Revival estates. Later, he mastered the French Norman, English medieval, 18th-century French, Monterey Colonial style, even sophisticated large ranch houses and flat-roofed Modernist residences.
In the late 1960s, Dr. and Mrs. Henry Singleton asked Neff to design the home for a vacant site in Holmby Hills. Neff immediately said yes, because the Singleton commission was an architect’s dream job.
First, the Singletons had plenty of money to create a grand estate. From the 1960s to 1991, Henry Singleton was chairman of Teledyne, a hugely successful conglomerate that included aeronautics, insurance, and specialty metals businesses.
Second, the Singletons appreciated—and understood—good architecture. When the couple approached Neff, they were living with their five children in a home designed by Richard Neutra in 1968, at 15000 Mulholland Drive, overlooking Stone Canyon Reservoir. As president of the Radcliffe Club of Southern California, Caroline Singleton organized annual fund-raising tours of architecturally significant Westside homes. The Singletons needed a larger home, one more convenient to the Westside for frequent entertaining.
Third, the Singletons asked Neff to select the style for their new home. He designed a more contemporary version of his much-admired Joan Bennett residence at 515 South Mapleton Drive in Holmby Hills.
Finally, the Singletons owned an extraordinary estate site. They had purchased three parcels that stretched more than 300 feet along North Faring Road and 250 feet on Delfern Drive. The property extended to the bottom of the ravine that separated the estates on the east side of North Faring and Delfern from the adjacent estates on the west side of Brooklawn and Carolwood Drives.
The parcel presented one major problem: except for the frontage along the streets, the property was steep and considered to be virtually unbuildable. Neff and the Singletons’ engineers decided to fill in most of the steep hillside to create a largely level property. The question was where to find huge quantities of dirt, and relatively close to Holmby Hills.
The development of nearby Century City provided the answer. Millions of cubic yards of earth had to be moved from the site (which originally had been the 20th Century-Fox back lot) for the construction of new office and residential towers.
The Singletons transported thousands of truckloads of Century City dirt to create a mostly level estate. Neff worked on the estate—designing both the two-story mansion and its furniture—for more than two years. Landscape architect Frederick D. Church designed the extensive grounds. The mansion and its grounds were completed by 1971.
The estate gates, which stood on Delfern Drive, opened into a drivewaythat led to a motor court in front of the two-story-tall portico on the hip-roofed mansion’s westerly facing main façade. The front door opened into an oval reception hall. At its far end, the hall led to terraces overlooking the gardens. Adjacent was a large den.
To the left of the reception hall was a huge living room, which faced the gardens and pool; to the right was the family room or library. Beyond were the formal dining room and kitchen, both designed for large-scale entertaining. Upstairs were seven bedrooms, several with balconies.
The 15,000-square-foot mansion, which included another 8,000 square feet of belowground entertainment areas, was not only admired for its size and for Neff’s architectural skills but also for its costly materials and craftsmanship, including the marble floors in the hallways and reception room and the walnut-paneled library.
The estate’s pièce de résistance was its extensive, park-like grassy grounds, with specimen trees strategically placed to create dramatic vistas. A pond stood at the far end of the back lawns. Pathways wound through the grounds to the tennis court, hidden in one corner, and to a hothouse, nestled among trees at the other side of the property.
After the Singletons moved into their estate in 1971, they held large events, particularly for civic or charitable purposes.
Henry Singleton died in 1999. His widow, Caroline, continued her cultural activities and the entertainments at her home, until her death in 2006.
Guests fortunate enough to attend small dinners or larger events at the Singleton residence describe the estate as very impressive, even by Holmby Hills standards. The mansion was large and elegant, yet not ostentatious. The rooms were grand, but beautifully proportioned. The Singleton residence was Wallace Neff’s final major commission before his retirement.
Today, the Singleton estate’s most alluring feature is its spectacular grounds, which make up the second largest estate in Holmby Hills. These largely flat lawns, highlighted by the specimen trees and pond, are idyllic and picturesque.