The battle to save Marilyn Monroe’s home in Los Angeles
When Marilyn Monroe moved to Brentwood in 1962, the Los Angeles neighborhood offered the perfect seclusion for the world’s most famous woman.
Located on a quiet street, the four-bedroom Spanish Colonial-style house features a kidney-shaped pool and towering palm trees. The house was known as “Cursum Perficio,” which loosely translates in Latin to “I have finished the journey.”
Six months after moving in, Ms. Monroe died of a drug overdose in her bedroom. She was 36 years old.
Although her time was short, the Brentwood home has become a quiet memorial to her great life, with admirers still leaving flowers at the front gate nearly 60 years after her death. If local advocates are successful, it will remain that way.
The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Friday to begin a process that would designate the house as a historic and cultural landmark, saving it from demolition.
The passage immediately triggered a temporary halt to the demolition permit approved by the city’s Building Department just a day earlier. According to city records, the Building Department on Sept. 7 approved the demolition of the single-family home, attached garage, pool house and warehouse. Records also show plans to backfill the existing pool.
The motion to protect the home was introduced by Councilwoman Tracy Park, who represents the city’s 11th District, which includes Brentwood. Ms. Park said she found out about the impending demolition on September 6 after a New York Post article was widely circulated among her constituents.
“A lot of people have their own Marilyn, and I think the reason people identify with her and why this number and this house resonate so deeply here in Los Angeles and beyond is her identity,” Ms. Park said Monday. “I cannot imagine a person or place more deserving of these designations.”
According to real estate records, Glory of Snow LLC sold the property to Glory of Snow Trust in July for $8.35 million. Neither sellers nor buyers responded to requests for comment. The city’s building department also did not respond to a request for comment.
The murky nature of the deal has fueled speculation about the new owner’s plans. When news of the demolition began to spread, “all hell broke loose,” said Carolyn Jordan, president of the Brentwood Community Council, a volunteer group in the neighborhood.
“How could someone demolish one of the most famous homes on the planet right here in Brentwood?” said Ms. Jordan, who said she had received dozens of letters from concerned neighbors. “Part of what’s really sad is that the previous owners really revered the fact that it was Marilyn Monroe’s residence.”
Ms. Jordan said the community group was supposed to receive notice of demolition permits in Brentwood being under review, but that never happened.
“The best I can say is that this surprised everyone,” she said.
The house, located at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive, is not visible from the street. But tourists often stop to pay their respects and hold their phones above their heads in hopes of snapping a photo of history. Ms Jordan said she had never heard of any vandalism or inappropriate activity there.
Built in 1929, this 2,900-square-foot farmhouse was the first and only residence Mrs. Monroe owned alone. She bought the house for $75,000 after her divorce from playwright Arthur Miller.
The city flagged the house in a 2013 assessment as “potentially significant” because of its ownership, but the formal designation process has not moved forward. The historic designation does not prevent the building from being demolished, but it allows the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission to delay it for at least 180 days to allow time to develop a plan to preserve the structure.
Ms. Monroe’s home is located on what is known as the Helenas, a unique collection of cul-de-sacs, 25 in all, largely off Carmelina Avenue between Sunset and San Vincente boulevards, which Ms. Jordan described as “very secluded and rural.”
Ms. Jordan said she hopes the house can be saved somehow, kept perfectly in place, or perhaps even by a studio that lifts the entire house and preserves it on a movie set.
“By today’s standards, Marilyn’s house is modest, but there are many ways to deal with and preserve the essence of the house without just cutting it down,” Ms. Jordan said.
Kim Cooper and Richard Chaffee, who run a tourism company in Los Angeles and also work to preserve Los Angeles landmarks, including the Monroe House, said they had never seen such quick action before when it came to saving the city’s structure. Ms Cooper said they hoped the official historic designation would provide “more respectful and appropriate treatment”.
Shafi, who visited the house as a teenager, remembers being amazed by its grandeur.
“I thought it was Marilyn Monroe’s house!” he said, adding an expletive.
“It’s a Southern California dream,” Ms. Cooper added.
Councilwoman Park said the application will be submitted to the city’s Historic Resources Office, likely in the first week of October. That office will schedule a site visit to evaluate the property, after which the Cultural Heritage Committee will hold a hearing on Nov. 16 to consider the nomination. They will then present their recommendations to the full City Council for a vote. The council will have 90 days to take action.
Susan C. Beachy Contributed to research.