The fight to save Marilyn Monroe’s Brentwood home is heating up, and the property is now one step closer to landmark designation.
The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously last week to recommend that Monroe’s former home be designated a historic cultural monument. Last year, the owners obtained a permit to demolish the iconic Spanish Colonial residence, causing an uproar among historians, a number of Angelenos and fans of the actor around globe.
Councilmember Traci Park jumped into action after she said her office received hundreds of emails and phone calls, issuing an urgent motion to the Los Angeles City Council to initiate consideration of the home as a city historic cultural monument. The council unanimously voted to kickstart the landmark consideration process, and the Department of Building and Safety revoked the owner’s demolition permits.
In August, the Brentwood home sold for $8.35 million to the Glory of the Snow 1031 Trust, managed by Andrew Schure. According to the Robb Report, the L.A. history tour company Esotouric uncovered the owner’s identity, billionaire heiress Brinah Milstein and her husband, Roy Bank — a former reality television producer and head of development for the company behind CBS’ “Survivor” and NBC’s “The Apprentice.”
Milstein and Bank, along with their legal counsel, addressed the Cultural Heritage Commission on Thursday, suggesting the house be relocated rather than designated a landmark. They argued that the condition of Monroe’s home had been a source of frustration for residents in the neighborhood, that Monroe wasn’t productive in Hollywood during the period she was living at the Brentwood residence, and that the home had been significantly renovated since the star resided there. They further argued that her main residence was a New York apartment she once shared with a former husband, playwright Arthur Miller.
“In the eight years that we have lived next door, we have seen the property change owners two times,” Milstein said.
“We have watched it go unmaintained and unkept. We purchased the property because it is within feet of ours. And it is not a historic cultural monument,” she continued. “It has been over six decades since Miss Monroe’s passing and in those 61 years it has not been designated. The home has undergone extensive remodels and additions several times with the previous owners. … Since the media frenzy surrounding whether or not to now make this a historic monument, our quiet, peaceful neighborhood has seen a significant increase in traffic noise, tour buses, sightseers, disruption and disturbance.”
Bank addressed the commission and said that the family is respectful of Monroe’s contribution to the film industry and to her fans. “But we ask that you oppose designation and instead allow the council to consider other options that will better allow fans to celebrate Marilyn in a more appropriate and commensurate way. We’ve offered to relocate the home and make it accessible to the fans that want to see it, let them visit, celebrate, remember Marilyn and even take pictures of a house that they will otherwise never have access to as long as it’s a private residence.”
Bank said relocating the home would avoid “an exponential increase in tourism, tour buses, people, disturbance that is sure on a calm, quiet, private, narrow residential street in Brentwood.”
Architecture historian Heather Goers spoke passionately at the meeting in support of bestowing landmark status. Goers said Monroe’s Brentwood home was largely unfurnished while the actor lived there because custom couches, tables and lamps she’d ordered had not yet been delivered at the time of her death. Monroe had taken great care in selecting pieces for the first and only home she ever owned, the historian said. She had traveled to Mexico and selected hand-painted tiles for her fireplace, and purchased landscaping books to re-create the Mexican-style gardens she’d loved during her travels. She also registered her dog’s license in the city and, notably, told Life magazine while giving a tour of the property, “Anybody who likes my house, I am sure I will get along with.”
Among Monroe fans who emailed the commission, joined the meeting in person or online via Zoom were actors, art historians, preservationists and a former resident of the neighborhood.
“I’m a Los Angeles resident and I grew up on South Carmelina, just a couple of houses away from this home,” said Isabelle Edwards. “My parents are also longtime residents of the street; they still reside there. I’m very much in support of this property becoming landmark. As long as I can remember, this property has been known as Marilyn Monroe’s home.”
Edwards, who said she’d been inside the home, described it as “very much intact.”
“The authentic character, charm and architecture have not changed… The floor plan is pretty much the same. The character of the house, windows, living room is pretty much identical as in the photos from ,” Edwards maintained. She further noted that she visits her parents’ home in the neighborhood frequently and has not noticed additional traffic.
Parisian art historian Jacques Le Roux emailed the commission calling Monroe a “sacred figure.”
“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 wrote. “It is the only physical reminder that remains of the life and death of an extraordinary human being.
“Destroying the only place she owned while alive, and where her transition into a sacred figure started would be a shame, [an] irreparable error, an ignorant act against culture and history.”
The five members of the Cultural Heritage Commission each shared brief remarks on the home’s cultural and historic significance, many of them having visited the property in recent weeks. They voted unanimously to recommend the 5th Helena Drive home for landmark designation.
The L.A. City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee will consider the matter, likely in coming weeks. According to Park’s office, the time frame for the matter to be resolved “varies because it still needs to be discussed in committee.” Thursday’s vote was a recommendation from the Cultural Heritage Commission, but the motion still needs to be approved by the City Council before the property is considered designated.
“Because PLUM already has a queue of items to be discussed,” the office noted, “it may generally take on the order of several weeks for it to come to a vote before moving to council.”