In the 1920s and 30s Mediterranean Revival-style architecture became the rage in the United States, and Paul R. Williams designed homes in this faux historic style for many of his wealthy California clients. One of those clients was the Olympic swimming hero and movie character Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller (image 2). Williams’ design for the 8,700 square-foot pink, Italian inspired palace at 414 Saint Pierre Road included spectacular grounds with a 300-foot serpentine swimming pool that curled around the house. Water for the pool was supplied by an ingenious electric waterfall. Later owners would add other water features including bridges and a lagoon large enough for boats. (Los Angeles Times. August 12, 1941)
During the late 1930s the home and surrounding grounds were famous for extensive landscaping and displays of rare domestic and imported shrubs, trees and flowers. (The Los Angeles Times often referred to it in news items as the International Garden.) The estate became a popular destination on fund-raising tours for many of the city's nonprofit organizations. In 1936 when the estate was owned by Mr. and Mrs. John A. Zublin, a successful petroleum engineer and inventor, Mrs. Donald Winston of the YWCA described the gardens as a "California garden achievement ... (with) the completion of a Venetian canal ... an artificial waterfall located in a rustic corner overhung with California live oaks appears to flow from natural springs." (Los Angeles Times. November 1, 1936) Today little remains of these gardens.
Though Williams was quickly becoming known as an architect who could temper the taste of the most exuberant of clients, the interior for the home on St. Pierre illustrates how difficult that could be for the diplomatic Williams. (Los Angeles Times. October 11, 1970) The fictional Tarzan lived a "simple" natural life in the African jungle but the movie star Weissmuller's "wish list" for his new mansion was far from simple. Contemporary photographs show a formal ballroom, public rooms with heavy coffered ceilings reaching 20 feet, moldings with hand-painted fleur-de-lis details, large carved stone mantels, oriental rugs and furnishings covered with the most expensive fabrics. Though filled with all the latest mechanical gadgets Williams' clients demanded, this 1930s movie star home was old world, not modern California. (Phillips. High On Arrival. 2009)
After Weissmuller a series of famous residents lived in the house including William Randolph Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies (image 3) and film producer Harry M. Goetz in the 1940s, the 60s singing group The Mamas and the Papas, and musician Mick Jagger in the 1970s. The house and grounds, now designated the Nicolosi Estate, was named for one of the residence’s less notorious owners — the mid-20th century sculptor, Joseph Nicolosi. Working on numerous commissions on both the east and west coasts, Nicolosi split his time between Los Angeles and New York City. While living at the Williams’ designed estate, Nicolosi worked on a series of bronze bas relief portraits for the peristyle Memorial Court of Honor at the Los Angeles Coliseum. He died suddenly at his home on Saint Pierre in July 1961 after completing his tenth piece for the Coliseum project. (Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1961)
In spite of being declared a Historic Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles in 1990, the Weismuller/Nicolosi residence has been abandoned for 20+ years. In disrepair and possibly damaged by fire the building is surrounded by chain link fence, windows and doors are boarded up, the gardens wild and unattended and the famous serpentine pool dry. The residence has become a Los Angeles mystery often the subject of speculation on internet blogs and newspaper articles during Halloween.
Current property records in the County Assessor's Office in 2016 still list a member of the Nicolosi family as the owner.