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Wattles Mansion: Hollywood’s Last Remaining Estate

The gardens of Wattles Mansion was a dreamscape of roses, chrysanthemums, orange blossoms, tulips, dahlias, palms, and citrus trees right in the middle of Hollywood.


Wattles Mansion garden postcard
Wattles Mansion, "Jualita," in full bloom (California State Library)

In 1905, Omaha banker Gurdon Wallace Wattles purchased 90 acres north of Hollywood Boulevard (“back into a spur of the Sierra Madre Mountains”) between Vista and Curson and commissioned architects Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey to build his winter residence, a seven-bedroom Mission Revival mansion he named “Jualita.”


On the north elevation, concrete terraces and brick pathways created a formal garden backing upward into the canyon.


Wattles Mansion
Wattles Mansion (rear view)

Several years after the mansion’s construction, Grey returned to design the Italian Garden, a 165-foot extension featuring rose bushes, Cypress trees, pergolas, a reflecting pond, and flights of balustraded steps connecting down to the original garden, renamed the Spanish Garden.


Italian Garden Hollywood Wattles
Italian Garden

The extensive terraced gardens transformed the Wattles estate into “one of the showplaces of California,” Grey boasted in a July 1912 article he wrote for Scribner’s. “Originally the property was bare save a covering of sagebrush; now it is an ensemble of luxuriant semi-tropical foliage and flowers, half-hidden architectural features, mirrored water effects and beautiful foothill background.”


Wattles garden Hollywood foothills
Wattles garden, extending to the foothills


In the east canyon, Wattles built a Japanese Garden, inspired by a trip he took to the far east in 1908 while his mansion was under construction.


To accurately recreate his vision, Wattles hired Fugio, one of the most able landscape architects in Japan. For two years, Fugio and a team of eighteen California-born Japanese gardeners carefully arranged imported vegetation around waterfalls and ponds, mini pagodas, bridges, bamboo fencing, and lanterns. Wattles also shipped over a “love temple” that crowned the garden and was guarded by a pair of stone lion-dog statues.



Between the Italian and Japanese gardens, Wattles added a series of connecting gardens often referred to as either the American or California Garden. This area was defined by long promenades and wood arbors with flowering vines. Eventually, a retaining wall was constructed along the east hillside, with recessed benches built into the concrete. Natural touches of green came from planted shrubs and ferns.


Gurdon Wattles garden
Gurdon Wattles sitting on built-in bench
Wattles American Garden
wood arbor in connecting garden

On the south elevation, ten acres separated the residence from Prospect Avenue (now, Hollywood Boulevard). The lower portion was landscaped with trees, flowers, flowering vines, and an orange orchard. Closer to the mansion, the property opened up into a front lawn of slightly-sloping terraces.



With the Wattles family back in Nebraska the majority of the year, the Hollywood gardens were opened to the public on Tuesday afternoons. Alexander Urquhart, a prize-winning horticulturist from Scotland, maintained the grounds along with his wife, who sold souvenir postcards to tourists for two cents each. The couple lived in a home built by Wattles at 1859 Curson, originally part of the estate.


Gurdon and Julia Wattles
Gurdon and Julia Wattles in 1918

The Omaha native made the Hollywood estate his main residence following the death of his wife and subsequent remarriage to Julia Vance, director of the household economics department at the University of Nebraska. In 1918, Julia saw the famous showplace for the first time when the newlyweds honeymooned at Jualita. “I shall never forget our first walk through the gardens and her expression of appreciation of their beauty,” Wattles recalled in his autobiography.


In 1920, Julia gave birth to their first child, Gurdon Jr., who could name all the flowers in his father’s garden by the age of 3. It was Gurdon Sr.’s dream to pass down Jualita to his son, “someone who would feel the moral uplift of the flowers, the mountains, the song birds, and the loveliness of nature.”


However, it was his young wife who truly felt connected to the property. “I find that [a] day in which I have not spent some hours in this garden [is] a day of regret and loss,” Mrs. Wattles told the Los Angeles Evening News in 1923. “I come here when I am restless, when I am tired, when I am annoyed, when I have all the black moods to which humanity is prone and I find that after a few moments, like the ‘black butterflies of the French,’ they have flown away.” 


Wattles Italian Garden
women exploring the Italian Garden

“Every tree on this place has become a part of my family,” she continued, “and sometimes when from sickness or old age, these trees die and others must be put in their places, it is like losing an old friend.”


Julia became a widow in 1932, when Gurdon suffered a heart attack at home and died. The businessman had lost a good chunk of money when the stock market crashed, leaving his wife and young son overwhelmed with the financial upkeep of the estate. By then, Urquhart had retired, so Julia’s brother-in-law helped with the gardening.


Gurdon Wattles
a man resembling Gurdon Wattles in the Italian Garden

City officials were eager to acquire the 48-acre property for a public park, but Julia refused to sell. Ultimately in 1965, she and Gurdon Jr. (who had earned a degree from Harvard Law School) mutually agreed to bow to the City and accepted a $1.9 million deal that allowed the 80-year-old woman to remain in her home --- with at least twenty feet of space around it --- until she died. “When the estate goes to the city, I’m not staying here a minute longer than I can help,” Julia told the LA Citizen News. “I’m going as far away from Hollywood as I can go. All of my pleasant memories of the past fifty years are centered here. I don’t want to stay and see what the city does to the estate.”


Julia did end up remaining in her home until 1977, when she died at the age of 94. By then, the City had carried out a slew of developments, however, opening the park to the public welcomed transients, vandalism, prostitution, graffiti, and fires. An authentic teahouse gifted to Los Angeles by Nagoya, Japan was taken over by drug dealers. In 1980, a mudslide destroyed what was left of the Japanese Garden, filling the ponds with four feet of sediment.


Wattles Parks Commission
The Parks Commission was clearly thrilled to get their hands on the Wattles Estate

With little funds to invest in parks, in 1983 the City leased Wattles to Hollywood Heritage, which proposed to halt deterioration to the house and gardens and create a research center for local history. Over the next few decades, the preservation group repaired the roof, re-painted the exterior, restored the interior, and upgrade the electrical/plumbing. After twenty-five years, the City evicted Hollywood Heritage in 2008 for “allegedly ignoring City rules and renting out the mansion for disruptive parties,” according to the LA Times. “The group has also been accused of failing to turn over financial records related to weddings, film shoots and other special events at the mansion.


Wattles, which became a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument in 1993, was rented out for several films and TV shows, including Troop Beverly Hills --- which used the Italian Garden for the Wilderness Girls khaki fashion show. In 1992, Nirvana shot footage for their “Come As You Are” music video in the park area. Most recently, the mansion made a cameo in 2022’s Top Gun: Maverick as the home of Iceman.


Troop Beverly Hills fashion show Wattles
Shelley Long in Troop Beverly Hills

According to LAParks.org, rentals are currently not permitted at Wattles, and based on online reviews it has been several years since weddings were held on the premises. There is one vestige holding strong: Wattles Farm. In 1975, 4.2 acres of the property south of the mansion was turned into an organic community garden, through an initiative of Mayor Tom Bradley, and it remains a vibrant component of the neighborhood.


The magnificence of Wattles Mansion was captured in a poem, engraved on a brass tablet at Jualita’s entrance, written by Carrie Jacobs Bond:


“Come in, dear friend, and rest a while;

From care and toil be free;

And I will share with you the peace 

That comes up here to me. 

The ocean breeze will cheer you, 

The mountains, make you strong; 

The birds will tell you from morn till eve 

Their happiness in song. 

So just come up and rest a while, 

From care and sorrow free, 

And I will share with you the peace 

That comes up here to me.”

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