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The Battle of the Blondes: second of three votes needed to save Marilyn Monroe's house


Gentle reader,

Much of our historic preservation advocacy has focused on the misfit toys of the built environment: giant tamales and chili bowls, rotating gas station signs, funiculars and folk art and streetlight serenades.

So it’s been kind of a kick to be two of the voices in the conversation about what will happen to the pretty Spanish Colonial Revival home where Marilyn Monroe lived at the time of her death, and to take calls from reporters here at home, in New York and overseas.

When the fate of a celebrity’s property is in the news, it’s an opportunity to educate a much larger audience about how old buildings can be protected and repurposed when redevelopment, neglect or avarice come calling.

How cool then to learn from the fascinating supplementary nomination materials submitted by the Monroe Preservation Group (MPG) that Marilyn was starting the process of restoring her 1920s-era home when she died!

MPG’s research further suggests that the property is significant not just as the home of our most iconic 20th century motion picture star, but due to its architectural distinction and association with early Hollywoodland developer/architect Harbin Hunter and his family.

They propose that the landmark be called the Hunter-Monroe Residence, and remind us that the Latin inscription in the doorstep tile, Cursum Perficio, is not just the name of the home, but the Hunter family motto!

Marilyn was ahead of her time in so many ways. She died on Saturday, August 4, 1962. The next business day, August 6, in Los Angeles City Hall, the first Historic Cultural Monuments were codified into law: Leonis Adobe, Bolton Hall, Plaza Church, Angel's Flight and The Salt Box on Bunker Hill.

Had she lived, perhaps Marilyn would have become a spokeswoman for the preservation of places that matter—but with an unpretentious, West Coast focus as befits an L.A. kid who made good.

It’s sweet to speculate.

Could she have made the difference in how much of old Bunker Hill got saved? Or stood against the Kennedy family and LAUSD board president Jose Huizar and asked what kind of crazy people would demolish a perfectly good Ambassador Hotel?

It’s not farfetched to think the demolition of the Ambassador might have roused her to action: this is where she was discovered by Emmeline Snively’s Blue Book Modeling Company in 1946 and where she accepted her Golden Globe for Some Like It Hot in the legendary Coconut Grove ballroom.

If you are roused to action at the thought of her pretty home suffering further neglect or demolition, then please join us tomorrow, Tuesday March 5, 2024 around 2pm at City Hall for the Planning and Land Use Management Committee hearing and tell City Council what you think. The matter is #4 on the agenda, and all information for attending or listening remotely is here.

Citizens who wish to make spoken public comment must be physically present in City Hall’s John Ferraro Council Chamber Room 340, but written comments can be submitted to the case file by clicking NEW at this link. Better get those in early on Tuesday if you want them to be seen before PLUM votes.

Esotouric’s Substack is a reader supported publication. If you’d like to support our preservation work as a paying subscriber, you can do that below. You can also tip us on Venmo (Esotouric) or here. Your support helps us look out for Los Angeles and we thank you!

The Brentwood HOAs have just submitted their opposition to designation, with the spurious argument that a landmark exists to be seen and experienced by the general public, so this house behind a tall hedge ought not to be recognized. This is simply not true.

Skip to page 4 here and an interesting new voice joins the chorus: corporate branding entity Authentic, which controls the Marilyn Monroe Estate and is co-owner of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, is working with the property owners to try to move the house, restore it, and reopen it by Marilyn Monroe’s centennial in 2026 as a tourist attraction!

That is something of a miracle.

When this preservation battle began, it was apparently because some unknown person in City Hall saw that this property that’s of interest to people all over the world was hours from getting a demolition permit and had the courage to tip off the press. Had the New York Post not run that story on September 5, the bulldozers would have come and made quick work of 12305 Fifth Helena Drive, no matter that the permit was unlawful because no public notice had been posted a month earlier.

Months later, the property owners are eager to move the house and let commercial interests turn it into a public venue.

We are not, generally, opposed to moving a building when it’s the only or best way to save it. But this one is tied to its place. Marilyn sought out a home on a set of shady lanes known among the studio set for the discrete cottages where executives kept their mistresses. Marilyn was nobody’s kept girl, and she bought her own house and lived alone.

And it is a fine house that could, that should be a home again.

Brinah Milstein and Roy Bank already have a nice, big house, next door. They claim they bought this one off market in order to demolish it, because it had been flipped a couple times and not maintained. If it was landmarked and returned to the market, they could have neighbors who care for the house and contribute to the community. There are so many people who would love the opportunity to live in this house and look after it, just as Marilyn did so many years ago. We think one of those who loves it ought to have that chance.

We hope to see you tomorrow afternoon in City Hall, where we expect fireworks and passion on both sides of the aisle, in the Battle of the Blondes, 2024.

Yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard


Psst… If you’d like to support our efforts to be the voice of places worth preserving, we have a tip jar and a subscriber edition of this newsletter, vintage Los Angeles webinars available to stream, in-person tours and a souvenir shop you can browse in. We’ve also got recommended reading bookshelves on Amazon and the Bookshop indie bookstore site. And did you know we offer private versions of our walking and bus tours for groups big or small? Or just share this link with other people who care.

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• SOLD OUT Know Your Downtown L.A.: Tunnels To Towers To The Dutch Chocolate Shop (Sat. 3/16) • The Run: Gay Downtown History (Sat. 3/23) • Franklin Village Old Hollywood (Sat. 3/30) • John Fante’s Downtown Los Angeles Birthday (Sat. 4/6) • Raymond Chandler’s Noir Downtown (Sat. 4/13) • Human Sacrifice: The Black Dahlia, Elisa Lam, Heidi Planck & Skid Row Slasher Cases (Sat. 4/20) • Downtown Los Angeles is for Book Lovers (Sat. 4/27) • Alvarado Terrace & South Bonnie Brae Tract (Sat. 5/4) • Charles Bukowski’s Westlake (Sat. 5/11) • Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice (Sat. 5/18) • Evergreen Cemetery, 1877 (Sat. 5/25) • POP – Preserving Our Past (Sat. 6/1) • Westlake Park (Sat. 6/8) • Highland Park Arroyo (Sat. 6/15) • Film Noir / Real Noir (Sat. 6/29) • Angelino Heights & Carroll Avenue (Sat. 7/13) • Know Your Downtown L.A.: Tunnels To Towers To The Dutch Chocolate Shop (7/27)