Saving Marilyn Monroe’s House

Will the Los Angeles City Council Make It a Historic Site?

The City Council has until June 16 to approve making the home a historic cultural monument status. Owners of Marilyn Monroe’s Brentwood home seek a court order blocking the monument designation and allowing them to demolish the house to expand their current home.

Ashley Chase

Historians and preservationists have stepped up their efforts to make Marilyn Monroe’s former Brentwood home a historic cultural monument and prevent its demolition by its current owners.
Real estate heiress Brinah Milstein and her husband, producer Roy Bank will
ask a judge next month to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the city from continuing with plans to demolish the Monroe structure so that they can expand their current home, which is adjacent to the property.
The Los Angeles City Council has until June 16 to approve making the home a historic cultural monument status.
A hearing on the motion is scheduled June 4.
Attorneys for Milstein and Bank alleged in court papers filed last week with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant that the city is violating the law by trying to give the home historical recognition. The pair have owned the structure since last July and have obtained a demolition permit from the city.
Among those weighing in favoring granting historical cultural monument status to the home has been French art historian Jacques Le Roux who has urged the city to formally act and declare the home a landmark. 
“It is the only place in the world that grounds Marilyn’s myth into history, and the U.S. and world’s history,” Le Roux said to city officials in an email. “It is the only physical reminder that remains of the life and death of an extraordinary human being. Marilyn has become part of our — the U.S. and the world’s — collective unconscious.
“Destroying the only place she owned while alive, and where her transition into a sacred figure started would be a shame, and an irreparable error and ignorant act against culture and history.”
Monroe’s Spanish Colonial Revival home, hidden in a cul-de-sac at 12305 W. 5th Helena Drive, was the only home the Hollywood icon ever purchased herself. It’s also the home where she tragically died at the age of 36 in 1962, just six months after moving in.
Marilyn bought the house on the suggestion of her psychiatrist, who said the actress should “put down some roots.”
But in the short time she lived there, the house became an extension of herself. 
“Anybody who likes my house, I am sure I will get along with,” she said in her final interview with LIFE Magazine of her distinctive one-story house with architectural charm featuring a red-tile roof and adobe walls.
As if to emphasize how she felt about her house, a tile next to the front door displayed the Latin phrase, “Cursum Perficio” — “Here ends my journey.”
Thick gates blocked the house off from the street. A curved driveway led to the front door, which opened into a wide living room with terracotta floors. Beams of wood lined the ceiling, and a blue-tiled fireplace anchored the room.
But the house’s future isn’t entirely secured. Monroe purchased the 2,624 sq. ft. hacienda for $77,500 in February 1962.
The city’s designation as a Historic-Cultural Monument “does not guarantee that the property cannot be demolished,” but it does allow the Commission to delay demolition for 180 days while other opportunities for preservation are determined. 
The designation of the home as a historic site also does not preclude the idea that the home could at some point be relocated to a more central location — one more easily viewable by the public than the current neighborhood in which it sits.
Relocation would be a lengthy and costly process, however, and it remains unclear if the home would be able to be relocated.
The property was facing the possibility of destruction after the Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit to its current owners on Sept. 5.
But days after it was issued, the L.A. City Council meeting unanimously voted to temporarily suspend said permit amid public outcries. 
L.A.’s Office of Historic Resources performed various assessments in the weeks following the issuance of the permit to recommend that Monroe’s Spanish-style abode be permanently protected and designated a historic site.
Scott Fortner, a historian, collector, and host of the “All Things Marilyn” podcast, has been credited was playing a major role in saving the house as part of the Monroe Preservation Group, which he said has “worked tirelessly for months researching and documenting the history of Marilyn Monroe’s former and final home.”
“Our efforts and research… concluded that famed historic Los Angeles architect Harbin Hunter not only lived at the home, but he also very likely designed it,” said Fortner. “The evidence lies in the famous tiles at the front door of the house, which read, ‘Cursum Perficio,’ the Hunter family motto.
“Our group, which consists of authors April VeVea, Gary Vitacco-Robles and Elisa Jordan, film producer and director Remi Gangarossa, and historians Kelly Lacroix and I, are thrilled to have participated in the process to have Marilyn’s home be recommended for a Historic Cultural Monument designation by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission today.”
The stucco home was built in 1929 and features four bedrooms, three baths, beamed ceilings, a grassy courtyard, gardens, a swimming pool, and more.
In her short time living there, Monroe spent roughly $51,000 refurbishing and renovating the home. When adjusted for inflation, that comes out to more than $500,000.
Last fall, the five-member Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously to prevent demolition efforts of the iconic movie star’s final home.
Owners of the home argued that they have been “mired in the heavy burden of owning, perpetually, a tourist magnet creating a circus atmosphere harmful to us and our neighbors” and that this was a “house where Marilyn Monroe occasionally lived for a mere six months before she tragically committed suicide 61 years ago.”
But Heather Goers, the preparer representing the city of Los Angeles in its efforts to protect the home, said this was not actually correct because Marilyn Monroe had been waiting for custom furnishing for her home when she died, and even registered her dog’s license in the city.
Kevin Deevey, who described himself as a Hollywood preservationist for many years, has also called for the home’s protection, arguing that the house is part of an identity that is “being lost in Los Angeles,” and focusing on the home’s architectural design.
“The property is zoned as a single-residential and has been there for nearly 95 years, having been originally built in 1929,” Deevey said to city officials. “It is a beautiful example of the Spanish Mission style homes which were so common in Los Angeles at the time it was built.”
In response to the commission’s vote, Councilwoman Traci Park, who represents the 11th District, encompassing the coastal and West Los Angeles neighborhoods, including the location of Monroe’s home, said she was pleased with the outcome.
“This significant step brings us closer to safeguarding this historic landmark from demolition,” Park said. “Since initiating this process in September, our office has been steadfast in our commitment to historic preservation and remains dedicated to addressing community needs.”

Includes reporting from LA Independent News Services and Genevieve Carlton for