Inside the Ruins of Liza Minnelli's Mansion
| LAST UPDATE 03/17/2022
Once the childhood home of celebrated actress Liza Minnelli, this sprawling Beverly Hills mansion has certainly seen better days. Keep reading to learn more about this relic of old Hollywood.
Beverly Hills Ruins
This lavish property came to public attention only recently, when a wayward "tipster" contacted LA real estate blog Curbed Los Angeles, back in 2014. The curious civilian noticed the abandoned house on their daily commute. They returned to the site often, telling Curbed, “its Paul Williams-Esque style always caught my eye.”
Though the property was dotted with “recent” trash, having been a favorite with local squatters over the years, it still intrigued the tipster and the Curbed researchers. However, none of them suspected the mansion’s fascinating backstory - that it had been the home to Hollywood stars.
Home To The Stars
After they researched the property's origins, the writers at Curbed Los Angeles unearthed some incredible information. In the mid-1950s, famed film director Vincente Minnelli purchased the home. He was the husband of Hollywood legend Judy Garland and father of Liza Minnelli.
The property was built in 1925, but the original inhabitants were hard to locate. Minnelli, however, bought the Beverly Hills home at the height of his career. He was one of the most adored filmmakers in Hollywood, specializing in technicolor musicals starring the likes of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.
A Star Is Born
Originally a theatre director, Vincente Minnelli moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s. A producer at MGM offered him a job directing for the screen, and it’s no surprise that he jumped at the chance. He led his first film, Cabin In The Sky, in 1943.
After his first film's success, Minnelli went on to direct a string of successful films for MGM studios, including I Dood It and Meet Me In St Louis. It was on the set of the latter film that he fell in love with the film's leading lady - Hollywood darling Judy Garland.
Hollywood Love Story
Minnelli and Garland first met three years earlier, on the set of Strike Up The Band. But it wasn’t until St Louis that the pair hit it off. He began courting Garland soon after, and the couple married in June of 1945. She was his first wife, and he was her second husband.
On March 12, 1946, within a year of their marriage, Judy Garland gave birth to her and Minnelli’s first and only child, Liza. Both parents adored their little daughter and doted on her endlessly. Thus began the Garland Minnelli family, though their happiness was sadly not long-lasting.
The Young Family
As their marriage went on, the couple saw varying success in their separate film careers. Minnelli found acclaim with his directing work, from commercial success Ziegfeld Follies to the highly-regarded classic An American In Paris, the latter of which earned him an Oscar nomination.
Judy Garland, on the other hand, had a much more difficult time in the film studios. She was fired after 15 years of working for MGM, and her mental health subsequently plummeted. She began self-medicating in an attempt to deal with her anxiety and depression.
The End Of The Affair
Garland’s fragile mental and physical health, paired with Minnelli’s obsession with work and distance from his wife, took a terrible toll on their marriage. Garland attempted to take her own life on two separate occasions while her husband was laser-focused on his career.
The stress was too much for the marriage to bear. Garland had an affair with the businessman, and eventual third husband, Sidney Luft. By the time An American In Paris reached the big screen in 1951, the couple had finalized their divorce.
Keeping The Family Together
While their relationship did not end on excellent terms, Judy and Vincente maintained a close bond with their only child, even when they both moved on to new relationships. When asked about her childhood, Liza Minnelli told Vogue, “There were highs and lows for sure, but I can say I was very happy.”
The now separated pair went on to find love and new spouses quickly. The next year, Garland remarried to Luft, who helped manage and promote her touring career. Minnelli married another actress, Georgette Magnani, in February 1954.
One of the reasons Judy and Vincente's marriage failed was reportedly because of Minnelli’s unfailing devotion to his daughter. Since birth, he doted on Liza and spent so much of his free time with her that he had little left for his wife. This commitment never changed, even after the divorce.
Liza was always close to both of her parents but had a special bond with her dad. In an interview with Variety, she remarked, “I used to dance for my father. He loved it when I danced. He’d be sitting on the bed, and Mama loved to say, 'Come dance.'”
Because of both parents' firm devotion to their daughter, one arrangement of the divorce dictated that young Liza split her time between the parents. The 5-year old spent half of each year with her father and a half with her mother. By the mid-50s, Minnelli decided to purchase a family home in which Liza would grow up.
It was for this reason he bought the property on Crescent Drive with his then-wife Magnani. The mansion consisted of nineteen rooms (including six bathrooms and six bedrooms), a garage, and an in-ground pool. A stunning size for a small family, as Minnelli and Magnani only had one child together.
A Look At The Property
Though Minnelli's childhood looked quite different in later years, it was once a lavish estate more than suitable for a famous family. The mansion stood on Crescent Drive, in the heart of Beverly Hills. The property was built in 1925 and spanned a whopping 5,800 square feet.
Celebrated Hollywood Regency architect John Elgin redesigned the property between 1944-1953. He updated the home from the Spanish Colonial Revival style to the French Regency style. In 2017, a tax assessment on the building and land valued the property at $2.7 million.
A Palace For A Princess
The mansion became something of a museum for Minnelli’s movie career, and the ambitious director began to fill unused rooms with his left-over memorabilia. He also had child-sized versions of costumes from his various films made, so that young Liza and her friends could play dress-up.
Actress Candice Bergen recalled this time as she said, “I remember always asking to go to Liza’s to play dress-up.” The adoring father even had a massive playhouse built for her, so she could have her little palace on the estate. They lived a lavish life, but this changed when Minnelli's career success dwindled.
The End of an Era
Though Liza Minnelli spent a “very happy” childhood shuttling between her father's Crescent Drive mansion and her mother's various residences in apartments and hotels, Minnelli’s fame and success waned once his daughter reached early adulthood.
While he saw great success during the 50s and 60s, with critics giving him the description of "an artist who could give substance to the world of dreams," his career soon took a downturn. In 1975 he directed A Matter of Time, his last film and one he publicly disowned, despite casting his beloved Liza in the lead role.
A Family Legacy
By the end of his career, Minnelli dropped out of the Hollywood limelight. He could no longer afford the extravagance of his earlier life, and thus the era of celebrity parties on his estate ended. Friends described the Crescent Drive property as “rather threadbare.”
Thankfully, Liza’s stardom was on the rise as she erupted onto the Hollywood film scene. By the mid-to-late 70s, she starred in a swathe of films and already won an Academy Award for her role in Cabaret. The family was unique in that both parents and their daughter won an Oscar.
Like Father, Like Daughter
By the time he reached old age, Minnelli’s bank account had dried up. But just as he doted upon and took care of Liza during her childhood, she soon returned the favor. Due to her considerable success, she could afford to take care of her old dad as he had once taken care of her.
Rumour has it that toward the end of his life, Liza Minnelli made several mortgage payments on behalf of her father and had a hand in maintaining his estate. She loved her father deeply, and in a televised interview, she said of him, “I always realized he was special [...] he opened up so many possibilities to me in life.”
Tragedy at Crescent Drive
On July 25, 1986, Vincente Minnelli passed away in his Crescent Drive mansion at 83 years old. He died of pneumonia and emphysema after being dogged by illness for the last remaining years of his life. He also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for some time.
Liza visited him periodically because of his ailing health but was touring in Europe at the time of his death. At that point, he lived with his fourth wife, Margaretta Lee Anderson, with whom he had been married for six years.
Reading Of The Will
Vincente Minnelli’s death was followed by the inevitable question of what would happen to the Minnelli estate. His will was read quickly, and within a week of his death, the contents were made public. How the accomplished man chose to divvy up his assets was hardly surprising.
He always adored Liza, so of course, he bequeathed the majority of his belongings to her. Aside from the house, he had a reported estate of $1.1 million, including memorabilia, house furnishings, artwork, and jewelry. But things were about to get complicated.
A Will Contested
His assets were divided between his wife, Lee, and his two daughters, Liza and Nina, who was born from his marriage to Georgette Magnani. Liza received the bulk of the estate, with $100,000 bequeathed to Lee, and only $5,000 inherited by Nina, his second daughter.
Nina Minnelli contested the will. Her father had reportedly stated that he felt Nina was already well taken care of and did not need much in the way of inheritance. However, she claimed that her father always wanted the home shared between his daughters and that Liza may have influenced his change of heart.
The two sisters settled the matter out of court, and initially, Minnelli’s wife Lee also seemed satisfied with her position in the will. Though Liza inherited considerably more of the estate than her stepmother, including ownership of the Crescent Drive mansion, there was one interesting stipulation.
Vincente Minnelli insisted that despite granting Liza ownership of his home, his wife Lee must be allowed to continue living in the house for the remainder of her life. Though the two women agreed at first, this stipulation eventually became the biggest headache for the Minnelli estate.
Widow In Residence
Though Lee was well into old age herself, she outlived her late husband by a long while. The former actress stayed in the Crescent Drive mansion for over a decade, just as her husband wished. She lived alone on the large property and kept everything in order as Vincente would have wanted.
In the late-90s, she was interviewed by reporter Robert Abcarian for the LA Times, who published a profile on Lee’s quiet existence in her old Hollywood Home. Abcarian showed just how immaculately Lee maintained the family home, as she kept many of her husband's rooms and belongings as he left them.
Trouble In Paradise
Though Lee spent thirteen years living comfortably in a house that remained unchanged since her husband's death, her simple life was eventually thrown into confusion. Her stepdaughter, Liza, listed her father's former mansion on the property market in 2000. In 2002, she found a buyer.
The real estate deal initiated a lengthy and publicized legal conflict between the stepmother and stepdaughter. In response to the house’s imminent sale, Lee Anderson took Liza Minnelli to court in April of that year and cited “gross neglect” to the Los Angeles Superior Court.
A Family In Conflict
While the court case threatened to paint Minnelli as a cold, uncaring stepdaughter who shirked her obligations to her father’s will, she defended herself fiercely against these accusations. In the same month of the court case, she spoke to Daily Variety.
She said that her father, Vincente, told her she could sell the house, so long as she provided appropriate accommodation for Lee. “I finally got a nice offer to sell it and offered her a $450,000 condo, tax-free. She won't move. I did exactly what my father asked me to do[...] I am willing to give her a happy life," Liza explained.
Their Day In Court
Despite the back and forth, Lee went ahead with the lawsuit, at least for a while. Her attorney claimed that Liza shut off the power and let go of the staff that took care of the property and grounds. The lawsuit accused Liza of “breach of contract, elder abuse, and infliction of emotional distress.”
The elderly woman reportedly lived in destitute conditions and in fear of using even small amounts of electricity. They further claimed she had been“reduced to an anxious and fearful beggar.” Strangely enough, Lee withdrew the lawsuit before any decision was made. What changed her mind?
The Pair Are Reconciled
After a simple dinner between the two, Lee decided against the court case. She later told the judge, "I can't sue Liza. She's my daughter." The two came to a somewhat complicated agreement. Liza would go ahead with the sale of the property, while Lee would continue living in the house. But how?
As it turned out, this was not the end of Liza’s real estate troubles. Later on that year, she was sued by Mehrdad Saghian and Stephanie Jarin, the couple who purchased the property. Though they paid a hefty deposit, Liza didn't open escrow and tried to void the sale against her lawyer's advice.
A Comfortable Retirement
In the end, there was only one solution to keep all parties happy. Liza sold the house but continued to pay rent on it to the new owners, as well as taking care of any and all of Lee’s expenses. The new owners could move in upon Lee’s death, and thus the second lawsuit was dropped.
Though it wasn't an easy set-up at first, things worked out well for the last resident of the Minnelli household. Margaretta Lee Anderson lived comfortably and in peace at Crescent Drive until she died in 2009, at the ripe old age of 100.
What Becomes Of The House?
After Lee passed away, the new owners were finally given full access to the property. So what did they decide to do with this formerly glorious Hollywood mansion? Well, it’s hard to say exactly. According to the LA Times interview with Lee, the owners wanted to do some remodeling and refurbishing.
They may have even discussed razing the property, though both of these ideas were discarded for a long time. For the next eight years, there was little to no apparent work done on the property, and instead, the once-glamorous home became a haven for squatters and urban explorers.
Free For All
It soon became clear that not only were the owners doing no renovations, but there was very little by way of security for the property. Anywhere between dozens to hundreds of people went on the premises. They found their way through the rusted gates, broken locks, and smashed windows around the estate.
The house itself was littered with debris, broken furniture, squatters' trash, ripped wallpaper, moldy walls and floors, and much more. The Minnelli’s formerly beautiful mansion was only a shadow of what it once had been. You could almost forget that it had once been lived in by a Hollywood family.
A Dream For Urban Explorers
But people did not forget. Squatters were certainly not the only ones who sought out this building. Over the years, the abandoned house attracted many different people who knew of the Minnelli and Garland legacy and wanted to see the remains of their family home in person.
People took unauthorized tours through the building and even found reminders of the past six decades of life inside the home. Though the majority of family belongings were emoved when Liza Minnelli cleared the house, there were still vestiges of the past, including vintage records and magazines dating back to the 80s.
Youtube Detective Work
Even famous Youtubers jumped on board, with well-known Youtuber Adamthewoo filming his own exploration of the abandoned property. He and his friend gave viewers a glimpse into the derelict building, where crumbling bits of plaster ceiling and broken furniture were strewn everywhere.
He even found an old spice rack that was labeled “Minnelli,” along with stacks of VHS tapes that likely belonged to the family. The standing theory was that everything that remained in the house probably belonged to the family but was left behind by Liza and never claimed by the new owners. How fascinating!
Where Were The Owners?
Despite all of the drama and tragedy that occurred within the story of this property, one question still remained. Why did the owners who took over the estate abandon the estate in such a way, leaving it for anyone who might want to break in and take a look?
It’s was a fascinating question, but one we were unlikely to know the answers to anytime soon. Some speculated that the old property might have been too expensive for them to restore the house fully, and it is possible the city council wouldn’t allow them to demolish it.
Where The House Is Now
Though Curbed Los Angeles did report that a row of trees was planted in front of the property in 2013, a real renovation wasn't done to the Crescent Drive property up until recently. As of 2018, renovations were finally underway, with an entirely new structure placed on the back of the property.
Google Earth image searches have gone some way in showing us that work is being done on Crescent Drive, though it’s hard to make out any details. Rumour has it that renovations are complete, but we cannot say for sure without further info. We can only hope that the work being done will breathe new life into the once-beautiful estate.