Villa de Leone - Pacific Palisades

 
Commanding a high eminence above the breakers of the blue Pacific, the Villa de Leon has been a Southern California landmark ever since its completion in 1927, an edifice so stately and dramatic it is frequently confused for the nearby Getty Museum, which lies directly to its north.*  

 

Historical Notes

Named after its original builder, Austrian native Leon Kauffman, the Villa Leon was the result of a longstanding promise Kauffman had made to his wife Clemence that, if he ever had the money, he would build for her a dream castle by the sea. A fortune made in the wool processing business in California during the First World War allowed Kauffman to make good on his promise and, after purchasing an impressive six-lot parcel above the famous Castle and Haystack Rock formations, Kauffman began construction of his $1,000,000 dream house in 1926.^

 

 

 

 
(1930s)* - View showing the coastline and Pacific Coast Highway as seen from the grounds of the Villa de Leon.  

 

Historical Notes

Leon Kauffman selected architect Kenneth MacDonald in 1926 to design this 12,000-square-foot palazzo in the Beaux- Arts European tradition. This imposing structure features 35 rooms, including nine bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a huge grand salon (32’ x 64’), a library, a circular dining room, a butler’s pantry, an elevator and a seven-car garage. The construction price of $1 million (that was a lot of money in the late ‘20s!) included a first-ever central vacuum, several hand-made crystal chandeliers, Italian tiles, imported marbles, hand-carved wooden beams, mahogany paneling from Thailand, magnificent wrought-iron gates, even gold grouting for the Italian tiles. The Villa de Leon took five years to complete.*

 

 

 

 
(1929)^ – Close-up view of the front entrance to the Villa de Leon located at 17948 Porto Marina Way.  At the time it was built (1927), it was one of the largest villas in Southern California.  

 

Historical Notes

The entry way of the Italianate villa has a curved drive framed by nude statues on four tall pillars.

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1930)** – Birdseye view of the Santa Monica shoreline north from Castellammare Drive.  Villa de Leon sits in the upper right on the edge of the cliffs overlooking Castle Rock below.  

 

Historical Notes

Leon Kauffman purchased six elevated lots in the 1920s in the new Castellammare (Castle by the sea) area on the Malibu coast, North of Sunset Boulevard and high above what would soon become Roosevelt Highway, predecessor of the Pacific Coast Highway.*

 

 

 

 
(1929)^ - Villa de Leon (Leon Kauffmann residence) and the coast beyond with early model car parked in the driveway.  

 

Historical Notes

When first built, the Villa de Leon boasted topiary gardens, a pipe organ and beach access via a private funicular railway, very expensive amenities that have not survived the passage of time.

 

 

 

 
(1929)^ - Exterior view of the ocean front terrace and terrace facade of the Villa de Leon, and the stairs leading from the paved terrace to the garden terrace below. The terrace is paced in a checkerboard pattern of dark and light stone. There is a nude statue on a pedestal and the coast is visible beyond the terrace.  

 

Historical Notes

The Kauffmans lived in the house for five years before Leon’s wife (Clemence) died, and Leon lived only another two years. Their grown son chose not to live in the house, which was overseen by caretakers until 1952, when the estate was settled.*

 

 

 

 
(1946)** - Marilyn Monroe, then known as Norma Jean Baker, poses for a bikini pin-up on the terrace of Villa de Leon with the Topanga coastline in the background.  Photo by Joseph Jasgur  

 

Historical Notes

Villa de Leon has been featured in countless productions over the years, most notably photo shoots.

 

 

 

 
(2020)^.^ - Panoramic view showing the Villa de Leon as it appears today.  

 

Historical Notes

The mansion overlooks Pacific Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean and is situated in close proximity to the Getty Villa. It was designed by prominent Los Angeles architect Kenneth A. MacDonald, Jr. in 1926 for Austrian builder and investor in wool Leon Kauffman.

 

 

 

 
(2017)^^ - Close-up view showing stairs leading to the terrace of Villa de Leon.  

 

Historical Notes

The Villa de Leon has been used in many high-profile music videos, commercials, and printed ads such as Beyonce's "Haunted," Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi," Britney Spears's My Prerogative body fragrance commercial, Camila Cabello "Liar", Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey "Don't Call Me Angel", Rod Stewart's Christmas special Rod Stewart: Merry Christmas, Baby, and shoots featuring Heidi Klum, Victoria Beckham, Robert Pattinson, and Reese Witherspoon. Its highly recognizable grand staircase has been a major focal point in several of these videos and photographs, as has its balconies and their balustrades, including their appearance on the cover of English rock band Procol Harum's 1973 album, Grand Hotel.*^

 

 

 

 
(2019)^ – Google street view showing Villa de Leone perched high on a hill with the Getty Villa sign seen at lower-right, corner of Coastline Drive and PCH.  This has made it very confusing for many tourists and also local Angelenos. The Getty Villa or Villa de Leone?.  

 

Historical Notes

Today, many first-time visitors to the adjacent J. Paul Getty Villa mistake the Italianate Revival palazzo, the Villa de Leon, for the Getty Villa museum, not visible from the Pacific Coast Highway.

Even the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have mis-identified Villa de Leon thinking it was the Getty Villa.

 

 

 

 
(2013)* – Pictometry Birds Eye view showing relative locations of Villa de Leon and the Getty Villa. The Villa de Leon is often mistaken for the Getty Villa.  

 

 

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