Pacific Palisades: History of a Legendary Estate

This article is part of a series by David Silverman about the historic homes I’ve had the honor of being involved with throughout my career—from famous estates like Pickfair and Greenacres to older homes that aren’t as well known but have fascinating stories to tell. David’s first article is about this Palisades home, built for the daughter of a Gilded Age industrialist, used as a convalescent home for World War II sailors, then cut into three sections.

David and his company, LA House Histories, create privately commissioned coffee-table books about the history of homes and are a great resource for historic photos and other materials for owners, buyers, architects, interior designers, and more. His work has been profiled in the New York Times, LA Times, the Hollywood Reporter, and Architectural Digest—get more information at the end of the article!

Quelindo around 1934

Many of LA’s great estates of the 1920s were subdivided decades later when their owners found that nobody wanted to buy enormous homes on acres of land. But only a handful of the homes themselves were actually sliced in two, or even three, like Shirley Temple’s Brentwood home and the Huntington Palisades estate known as Quelindo. When I wrote a book about Shirley’s house several years ago, I was captivated to learn that an owner in the 1950s had cut out a section of the center of the house to create two adjacent houses. Quelindo (Spanish for how beautiful), on 11 acres of the Palisades bluffs, was also subdivided into multiple lots, but the house itself was so large that in 1947 the owner cut out sections of it to create three adjacent homes. Joyce’s clients bought the central portion, and hired me to write a book about the house’s incredible history.

The story starts with Cyrus McCormick, who made a fortune in the 19th century when he perfected the mechanical grain reaper. One of his daughters, Mary Virginia, who was declared legally insane when she was 19, spent the rest of her life under the care of nurses, first at mental hospitals and then at a succession of her own lavish homes around the country. Over the last several years of her life, her winter home was a Pasadena mansion on 26 acres, and her family built Quelindo in 1929, when she was 70 years old, as her summer home.

Quelindo in 1932. Source: UCLA Department of Geography, Benjamin and Gladys Thomas Air Photo Archives, Fairchild Aerial Surveys Collection

The McCormick family purchased 11 acres along the Huntington Palisades bluffs for $600,000. Today, there are 20 lots on the former Quelindo property. In this 1932 aerial photo, Quelindo stretches out along the edge of the bluff. The main house is in the center (it was about two-thirds the length of a football field, with 14 bedrooms); in front is a covered croquet court (there was no pool at the house). To the right are the gatehouse and the guesthouse. To the left are the staff quarters and garages, and out of view, a three-hole golf course that included a 90-yard hole.

1927, one year before the McCormick family purchased the land for Quelindo.

The developers of the Huntington Palisades dreamed of building a bridge across Santa Monica Canyon, linking the Santa Monica bluffs along Adelaide Drive with the Pacific Palisades mesa along Chautauqua. They dropped that plan during the Great Depression. In this 1927 aerial photo, Santa Monica is at the bottom, then Santa Monica Canyon and Pacific Palisades. Many homes have been built in the Alphabet Streets (in the middle of the photo), but the Huntington Palisades below it has yet to be developed.

Quelindo around 1934. Source: UCLA Library, Dept. of Special Collections.

Mary Virginia McCormick died in 1941 at age 80, leaving an estate worth around $315 million in today’s dollars. Quelindo lay vacant for three years until the U.S. government took it over by eminent domain to use as a convalescent home for World War II Merchant Mariners, who sailed ships delivering troops and cargo. German U-Boats in “wolf packs” hunted the Merchant Marine convoys, and mariners jittery from “war nerves” would stay in one of seven rest centers around the country for several months to recuperate before they returned to sea. When the Quelindo rest center closed after 17 months, the estate sat vacant once again until it was subdivided and sold in 1947. A real estate investor bought the main house, cut it into thirds, then immediately sold the three resulting lots.

Deborah Kerr in the back garden of the former Quelindo guest house, around 1950. Source: Architectural Digest.

Actress Deborah Kerr bought the Quelindo guesthouse in 1947, when she moved to Hollywood from her native Scotland. She lived there with her family while filming From Here to Eternity (1953) with Burt Lancaster. In the 1960s, game show host Jack Barry (The Joker’s Wild) owned the former guesthouse.

Jeffrey Hunter. Teenage girls adored him early in his career. Marilyn Monroe told a fan magazine in 1953 when asked, “Who are the sexiest guys in town?”: “To me, Jeff is the acme of young American manhood. Why, he looks like he just stepped off a college campus.”

Deborah Kerr’s neighbor, who lived in the middle portion of the former Quelindo main house, was actor Jeffrey Hunter and his family—he is best known for his roles in the 1950s and ’60s, most famously in John Ford’s classic Western The Searchers, co-starring John Wayne and Natalie Wood. Quelindo’s guesthouse was demolished after a 1995 landslide, but the main house still stands today, albeit in three sections, nearly 100 years after it was built for one woman.

Author and architectural historian David Silverman of LA House Histories creates privately commissioned coffee-table books about the history of homes. He has written about many of LA’s greatest historic estates (including a 250-page book about Quelindo) and has been profiled in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Hollywood Reporter, and Architectural Digest. In addition to his books, David provides services to homeowners and homebuyers, as well as real estate brokers, architects, and interior designers. David grew up in Los Angeles, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in rhetoric from U.C. Berkeley in 1990. Before founding LA House Histories in 2018, he practiced entertainment law in Los Angeles for 19 years.

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