In 1928 Will Rogers sold a parcel of land on the beach with two large houses on it to newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who then gave it to his mistress, silent film actress Marion Davies (shown at right). Hearst remained legally married to his wife Millicent (who was a 21-year-old show girl at the time of their marriage) until his death, but he lived openly with Davies in California after Millicent established herself in New York in 1919. Hearst commissioned Julia Morgan, the architect of the Hearst Castle, to design and build a three-story, 118-room, 34-bedroom, 55-bath Georgian mansion on the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. Not to mention 37 fireplaces, Tiffany chandeliers, a ballroom, a dining room from a Venetian palazzo, and a room that was coated in gold leaf. It was accompanied by three guesthouses, two swimming pools, tennis courts and dog kennels and was called “Ocean House.” The complex cost over $7 million, a staggering amount at the time.
When Davies moved into the house, she began her role as Hollywood's elite hostess. She held parties constantly, and they were events attended by anyone who was anyone, always populated by Hollywood's biggest stars. Those who knew Davies say she never took herself seriously and was beloved by all who knew her for her gracious spirit and charitable tendencies.
After completing the Santa Monica mansion, Hearst gifted Davies with a castle in Wales, St. Donat’s Castle, which he completely refurbished and restored, at far greater cost than Ocean House. Today the Wales complex serves as the campus for Atlantic College, an international boarding school.
In 1947 Marion Davies sold the ocean-front property to the state of California, which leased it to the City of Santa Monica. The city leased it to Joseph Drown, who ran it as a hotel called Ocean House. After operating it for a period of time, Drown incomprehensibly demolished the 118-room main house. Of the original structures, only one of Davies’ three guest houses and the 110 foot marble swimming pool remain. In the 1980s, a restauranteur planned to develop the property as a new luxury hotel, but locals bristled at the idea and voted to prevent the project from going ahead. Instead, on April 26, 2009, a $29 million Annenberg Community Beach House opened on the site of the original main house, at the bequest of Wallis Annenberg, in partnership with the City of Santa Monica and California State Parks. It is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to sunset.
The original marble pool has been restored, and a line of tall columns in front of the new building marks the location of the wooden originals that delineated the double height ocean facing portico in Davies’ day. The original wooden guest house has likewise been restored and is now used as an event venue (shown below).