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Pickfair was an 18-acre estate in the city of Beverly Hills, California originally designed by architect Horatio Cogswell for attorney Lee Allen Phillips of Berkeley Square as a country home. Phillips sold the property to actor Douglas Fairbanks in 1918. Coined "Pickfair" by the press, it became one of the most celebrated houses in the world. Life Magazine described Pickfair as "a gathering place only slightly less important than the White House... and much more fun."
Located at 1143 Summit Drive, in San Ysidro Canyon in Beverly Hills, the property was a hunting lodge when purchased by Fairbanks in 1919 for his bride-to-be, Mary Pickford. In the 1920s, the newlyweds extensively renovated the lodge, transforming it into a four-story, 25-room mansion complete with stables, servants quarters, tennis courts, a large guest wing, and garages.
Remodeled by Wallace Neff in a mock Tudor style, it took five years to complete. Ceiling frescos, parquet flooring, wood paneled halls of fine mahogany and bleached pine, gold leaf and mirrored decorative niches, all added to the authentic charm of Pickfair. The property was said to have been the first private home in the Los Angeles area to include an in-ground swimming pool, in which Pickford and Fairbanks were famously photographed paddling a canoe.
Pickfair featured a collection of early 18th century English and French period furniture, decorative arts and antiques. Notable pieces in the collection included furniture from the Barberini Palace and the Baroness Burdett-Coutts estate in London. The highlight of any visit to Pickfair was a large collection of Chinese objets d'art collected by Fairbanks and Pickford on their many visits to the Orient. The Pickfair art collection was wide and varied and included paintings by Philip Mercier, Guillaume Seignac, George Romney, and Paul de Longpré.
The mansion also featured an Old West style saloon complete with an ornate burnished mahogany bar obtained from a saloon in Auburn, California as well as paintings by Frederic Remington. In the 1970 Volume 2, Number 10 issue of Mankind Magazine it states there were twelve Remingtons from 1907 purchased from the Cosmopolitan Publishing Company that "were Mary Pickford's gift to her husband, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers". The interior of Pickfair was decorated and updated throughout the years by Marilyn Johnson Tucker, Elsie De Wolfe, Marjorie Requa, Tony Duquette, and Kathryn Crawford.
During the 1920s the house became a focal point for Hollywood's social activities, and the couple became famous for entertaining there. An invitation to Pickfair was a sign of social acceptance into the closed Hollywood community.
Dinners at Pickfair were legendary; guests included Charlie Chaplin (who also lived next door), the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Mildred Harris, Greta Garbo, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, Elinor Glyn, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Fritz Kreisler, Tony Duquette, Amelia Earhart, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joan Crawford, Noël Coward, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, Pearl S. Buck, Charles Lindbergh, Max Reinhardt, Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Edison, Gloria Swanson, the Duke and Duchess of Alba, the King and Queen of Siam, Austen Chamberlain, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, the spiritual teacher Meher Baba, and Sir Harry Lauder. Lauder's nephew, Matt Lauder Jr., a professional golfer whose family had a property at Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, California, taught Fairbanks to play golf.
Fairbanks and Pickford were divorced in January 1936, and Pickford resided in the mansion with her third husband, actor and musician Charles "Buddy" Rogers, until her death in 1979. Pickford received few visitors in her later years, but continued to open up her grand home for charitable organizations and parties.
In 1976, Pickford received a second Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in Film. The Honorary Oscar was presented to her in the formal Living Room of Pickfair, and televised on the 48th Academy Awards. Introduced and narrated by Gene Kelly, it provided the public a very rare glimpse inside the fabled mansion.
Sale and demolition
Empty for several years after Pickford's death in 1979, Pickfair was eventually sold to Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who continued to care for the home, updating and preserving much of its unique charm. In 1988, it was purchased by actress Pia Zadora and her husband Meshulam Riklis. They announced they were planning renovations to the famous estate, but revealed in 1990 that they had in fact demolished Pickfair and a new larger "Venetian style palazzo" was going to be constructed in its place.
Faced with harsh criticism from a nostalgic public, including Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Zadora defended her family's actions, stating that the house was allegedly in a poor state of repair and was infested by termites. In the L.A. Times, Fairbanks, Jr. was quoted as saying, "I regret it very much. I wonder, if they were going to demolish it, why they bought it in the first place."
In 2012, Pia Zadora claimed on Season 4, Episode 4 of the BIO channel's Celebrity Ghost Stories that the real reason she demolished Pickfair was not due to termite infestation but because it was haunted by the laughing ghost of a woman who allegedly died there while having an affair with Douglas Fairbanks.
In the interview she stated, "Years ago my husband and I tore down one of the most iconic Hollywood mansions because of termites...but that wasn't the real reason. When we moved into the house it was beautiful, everything was perfect, it was a dream...but weird things started to happen...so my husband and I, after trying to figure out what to do, decided we were going to have the house razed."
Defending her actions, she explained, "If I had a choice, I never would have torn down this old home. I loved this home, it had a history, it had a very important sense about it and you can deal with termites, and you can deal with plumbing issues, but you can't deal with the supernatural."
The only remaining artifacts from the original Pickfair are the gates to the estate, the kidney-shaped pool and pool house, remnants of the living room, as well as the two-bedroom guest wing that played host to visiting royalty and notable film celebrities for over half a century. The guest wing was once used as a honeymoon suite for Lord Louis and Lady Mountbatten.
In popular culture
Zadora's purchase and subsequent demolition of Pickfair is referenced in Deborah Harry and Iggy Pop's version of "Well, Did You Evah!". Pop claims he was invited to Pia Zadora's house but didn't go, later saying "I hear they dismantled Pickfair... wasn't elegant enough", to which Harry replies "probably full of termites".
- Casa del Rio, a house in Devon, England inspired by Pickfair.
- Wanamaker, Marc (16 November 2005). Early Beverly Hills. Arcadia Publishing. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-7385-3068-0. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
- Berkeley Square Los Angeles
- Life Visits Pickfair. LIFE. 17 November 1947. p. 158. ISSN 0024-3019. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- Kristan Lawson; Anneli Rufus (11 November 2000). California Babylon. Macmillan. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-312-26385-0. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- Marc Wanamaker (16 November 2005). Early Beverly Hills. Arcadia Publishing. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-7385-3068-0. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- Jeanine Basinger (1 November 2000). Silent Stars. Wesleyan University Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-8195-6451-1. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- Sergei Bertensson; Paul Fryer; Anna Shoulgat (2004). In Hollywood with Nemirovich-Danchenko, 1926-1927: the memoirs of Sergei Bertensson. Scarecrow Press. pp. 47–. ISBN 978-0-8108-4988-4. Retrieved 19 July 2010.
- Kevin Starr (17 October 1991). Material Dreams: Southern California through the 1920s. Oxford University Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-19-507260-0. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- The Mary Pickford Foundation Online Research Center
- Mary Pickford receiving an Honorary Oscar® at Pickfair in 1976
- Photographs of "Pickfair" during its heyday in the 1920s
- Extensive fine craftwork of the final Pickfair remodel was performed by Alister Paterson of Paterson Construction