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Sands of Time: Touring the Annenberg Beach House

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When the motion picture industry took root in Los Angeles in the 1920s, the rich and famous would escape the heat down at the beach. The oceanfront properties along the Pacific in Santa Monica were known as the "Gold Coast" thanks in part to the luminaries who frolicked on its shore and built enchanting cottages and mansions by the sea to get away from the rigors of movie-making.

Publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst turned to his mistress, the actress Marion Davies, one day in 1926 and asked if she would like a house here at the beach. Of course she did, and so Hearst bought 15 parcels of land--at a time when buying a pair of parcels was considered the height of opulence--from owner Will Rogers, and built the vivacious blond a palatial 118-room home (with 55 bathrooms), a guest house, a spectacular pool, and tennis courts where the couple could entertain in the lavish style they so enjoyed.

A long white line runs through the present-day property, which shows what was once the bulkhead in the days when the surf pounded on the sand as far up as the bike path runs now. The Annenberg Community Beach House sits where the Davies mansion once was, but little remains from the original property, save the pool and the guest house.

Tours of the guest house allow contemporary visitors a chance to take a look at what once was through the knowledge of the volunteer docents, and pictures tell the story of a yesteryear of movie stars at costume balls, rooms filled with European antiques, a thirty-year romance between a starlet and a wealthy older man, and a home that was torn down before anyone thought to keep it intact. The Westland Traveler explains what became of the Julia Morgan-designed home:

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After being sold to a private party in the 1940s, the beach house was then leased to the city of Santa Monica by the State. There was a failed attempt to make it part of the Sand and Sea Hotel chain, and then in the late 1950s everything except the servants' quarters, tennis courts, and the pool were destroyed. For the next few decades nothing was done with the property except the city opened the road to the general public, which allowed everyone to reach Palisades Beach Road.

Where might you have seen this property before it became the Annenberg Beach House in 2009? Well, it played the Beverly Hills Beach Club on the series Beverly Hills, 90210. After the 1994 Northridge quake, though, the property was so severely damaged that there was nothing left to do but shut it down, and tear down the wobbly remains. Last year, the Beach House opened with a splash, once again welcoming people to "party" by the beach. The project was 10 years in the works, and about half-way in Wallis Annenberg came on board and offered generous financial support. Now the Beach House is open to the public, and, to get a great sense of its vibrant past, guests can take a tour of the Marion Davies Guest House and parts of the property for free.

The Marion Davies Guest House is open until- September 6, from 10am - 4pm; Free tours at 11am, Noon, and 2pm. Closed on Wednesdays.

- Starlet's Beachfront Estate Now Open as Community Beach House
- Annenberg Community Beach House Opens With a Big Splash