We only lived at 904 Benedict Canyon Drive for about a year, moving from Fryman Canyon in Studio City just before I turned three and then into Darren McGavin’s house on Canon Drive around the time I turned four. Though both the Fryman and Canon houses were lovely and spacious, the Benedict Canyon one was surely the grandest house I will ever live in, though I have only a few fleeting memories of it.
Known as El Encanto, the huge estate was built in 1927 and my mother used to say that if you forgot your hankie, you certainly weren’t going back from the driveway to the master bedroom to get it, since it would be such a trek. So it was already large, but according to current real estate listings, it seems to have gained even more square footage since it’s now listed with a whopping 12 bedrooms and 11 baths, which exceeds even what my sister recalls.
She remembers it being called “The Otto Preminger house” though I can’t find any record of him living there or owning it. However it was owned by “El Cid” screenwriter Philip Yordan and department store heir David May II at some point. It was on the market in 2012 for $15 million, after having last been sold in 1975 for a nausea-inducing $414,000.
During the 1970s it is said to have been a swinging party pad, according to photographer Brad Elterman, who snapped some great pics of debauched events there. According to the Then and Now blog, the architect or builder was Theodore J. Scott, who played a large part in giving L.A. its Spanish-Mediterranean look in the 1920s and ’30s. It was also once home at to George Axelrod, screenwriter of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and playwright of “The Seven-Year Itch.”
Just about all I remember is having my third birthday in the dining room, my parents bickering over adjusting our first color TV in the long solarium and being scared the the lions from the L.A. zoo might escape, run down Sunset Blvd. and leap onto the second floor balcony outside my room. The current updates seem to include some ill-advised nouveau Moorish fountains and extra stonework that does the clean vintage Spanish lines no favors.
It’s too bad I was too young to appreciate my only chance at living in a famous Beverly Hills mansion, but it’s fun to see the history behind it.