Harry Lombard and the magnificent Grayhall Estate

During the early years in Beverly Hills, most of the new homebuilders chose to stay centrally located around the Beverly Hills Hotel, keeping within just a few blocks of the iconic landmark. Few dared to branch out into the more “rustic” areas where the land was still used for ranching and growing citrus trees. Things changed in 1916, when an adventurous banker from Boston left his home in Massachusetts to begin a new venture as a real estate investor in Los Angeles. He began his life in Los Angeles by turning part of this unpopulated pastoral land into a magnificent 15-acre estate. The man was Harry D. Lombard, and the estate was beautifully named “The Grayhall Estate.”

The focal point of the Grayhall Estate was the superbly designed two-story mansion that was Lombard’s home. He chose two ambitious designers, Sumner P. Hunt and Silas Burns, to produce a home that was both elegant and comfortable. Grayhall got its name from the exquisite gray stone façade that blended with the soil so well that it looked like the home had grown from the earth itself. Lombard loved the view that he could get from his property of the ocean, mountains and the city of Beverly Hills, so he chose large plate-glass windows so he could look out over these areas in different parts of the home. Adding on a spoon-shaped swimming pool and tennis courts to the already beautiful gardens completed the Grayhall Estate.

In 1918, Grayhall became the home of its most famous tenant, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. The movie star leased the Grayhall Estate so he would have a secret place to meet his lover, Mary Pickford, who was still married at the time. Although he spent most of his time on movie sets or sneaking around with Mary, Douglas also showed his support to the American efforts in World War I. He turned the land surrounding Grayhall into a carnival where attendees showed their support of America by purchasing $50 Liberty Bonds. This was not your ordinary carnival. Fairbanks enlisted the help of many of his famous friends that gave performances in areas such as wrestling, aeronautical tricks and bull riding done by Douglas himself. Guests could mingle with upcoming stars and starlets, stuntmen and star athletes.

Fairbanks had only leased the Grayhall Estate for one year, and during that time he fell in love with the beautiful piece of property across the road. This 14-acre piece of property and hunting lodge was owned by Lee A. Phillips who sold out to Fairbanks in 1919. After the departure of Fairbanks, Grayhall was sold to Silsby and Carolyn Spalding. Carolyn was the daughter of one of Beverly Hills’ founders, Charles Confield. Her husband, Silsby, became mayor of Beverly Hills in 1922 and held that office until 1929. The couple wanted to expand their home so they brought in the original designers used by Lombard to add on 22,000 square feet of living space including 9 bedrooms, 20 bathrooms and hidden passageways throughout the home.

The Spaldings also wanted more land, so they purchased an additional 37 acres to increase the estate to 52 acres. Grayhall was the largest estate in the area until the creation of the Greystone Estate on Doheny Road. After Silsby died in 1949, Carolyn sold all they had amassed except two acres of the land and the house. Land developers turned their estate into the Beverly Hills Park Estates and began building new houses all around Grayhall. The home still remains today and is seen as a historical landmark of the old Hollywood era.

David Kramer