Few Los Angeles residences were home to more Hollywood celebrities, one after another, than a large mansion that once stood on this one acre property. The house itself was rather unprepossessing: a 1930 neo-Colonial frame home with a wooden clapboard façade.
Nevertheless, the estate had what many in Hollywood craved: an impressively large—10,000-square-foot—mansion and a coveted Old Bel-Air address.
A parade of Hollywood owners started when famed director Frank Capra purchased the estate in 1934 to celebrate a very good year in his career, and ended in 1949 when Louis B. Mayer, a founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the premier studio during Hollywood’s golden age, acquired the property.
Mayer made a few improvements to the St. Cloud Road mansion. Like so many Hollywood luminaries, he hired Wallace Neff as his architect. Neff liked working for Mayer. “He was an easy client,” he recalled years later. “He was so busy he didn’t even look. He delegated—and that was that.”
After Mayer’s death in 1957, the St. Cloud Road estate was sold and re-sold several times. Despite its many famous owners, the mansion became increasingly dated and rundown and, in the late 1980s, it was finally demolished. New owners started building a 35,000-square-foot mansion, but they sold the property before it was finished.
The new owner completed the mansion to the highest standards. The estate—named “La Belle Vie”—became a much-admired addition to Old Bel-Air, because it was not only large and impressive but also tasteful and refined.
The neoclassical limestone façade was modeled after an 18th-century mansion, the Hôtel Biron (now the Musée Rodin), where famed sculptor Auguste Rodin lived in the early 20th century.
The mansion’s interior was a showstopper, even by Bel-Air standards. The front door opened into a thirty-foot-tall oval entrance hall that rose to a columned second-floor gallery, and ended at a richly decorated dome encircled by ten skylights. A curving white marble staircase with an intricately designed wrought-iron banister stretched from the entrance hall to the second (topmost) floor.
The ballroom-sized two-story living room, dining room, and formal family room had marble floors, highly decorative ceiling plasterwork, and the finest 18th-century French furniture. Impressionist and post-impressionist paintings hung on the walls. Not surprisingly, Rodin sculptures were exhibited throughout the house, both in the rooms and at the end of corridors for the greatest visual impact.
At the back of the mansion, the main rooms opened onto a French stone terrace. Grand staircases led down a perfectly manicured lawn and formal gardens. From the gardens, more staircases led to the swimming pool, the neoclassical pool house, and down to the tennis court. Rodin sculptures were carefully placed throughout the grounds.By any measure—its location, size, stunning interior, exquisitely landscaped grounds, or impeccable materials and craftsmanship—the owner had decisively proved that great estates were not a thing of the past.