The Laurel Canyon Ghost
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by Robert Gustaveson
Description: Among the extravagant homes of the early Hollywood elite and the impossibly rich of Laurel Canyon rests a mansion with a sordid history: murder, fraud, mafia, ghosts, and sťances. What once stood as the pinnacle of decadence in Los Angeles during the Roaring Twenties is abandoned when the mansion's owners mysteriously disappear soon after the death of their son in a fiery plane crash, leaving the house empty and falling into a greater state of disrepair as each year passes. More than a decade later, Ted Nelson goes with his father to view the mansion, which could make them a quick fortune with its sale. From the moment Ted enters the grand structure, he senses something strange about the house. That feeling only intensifies after a swami is murdered there following a midnight sťance. An eccentric Texas millionaire ends up buying the mansion for his teenage bride. They restore the house to its former glory before a tragic accident is followed by a death. Once again in possession of the mansion, Ted's father moves his family there as he searches for a new buyer. After years of odd sensations and stolen glimpses of something in the mansion, a ghostly figure wearing aviator's garb finally appears. In that moment, Ted's life is propelled on a new course--one that involves a lifelong friendship with the unlikeliest of people.
eBook Publisher: Solstice Publishing/Solstice Publishing,
eBookwise Release Date: August 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [616 KB]
Reading time: 414-580 min.
Dad had a talent for finding ponies in piles of horse manure, so I figured he had something up his sleeve when he bought a deteriorating mansion up Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood hills. My first look at it was on a Saturday morning in early December. Vines covered the exterior and huge trees huddled around it. A seven-foot brick wall snaked its way around the five-acre perimeter. A spiked iron gate blocked the entrance to a winding cobblestone driveway that led to a bank of seven garages beneath servant apartments connected by a bridge to the thirty-two room main dwelling.
I had to admit the place had a certain charm. Blue jays flitted among the trees and cooing mourning doves nested in the giant oak while gray bushy-tailed squirrels scurried among the branches. Being tall and strong--and soon eighteen--I was afraid Dad would put me to work clearing out the weeds and brush that filled the overgrown lawn and garden.
Although Dad didn't ask my advice, I told him he'd made a mistake. Contrary to popular belief, the Depression wasn't over by 1940 and money to invest was scarce. Dad laughed and said that since Mrs. Schlitz, a rich widow and owner of an exclusive fashion boutique, had put up all the money, he had nothing to lose. He and Mrs. Schlitz expected to sell it at a profit to The Transcendental Order of Id, a budding spiritualist cult known as the Lotus Blossoms. After hearing that, I thought that maybe they had something after all. The place would fit in quite nicely with a creepy cult like the Lotus Blossoms.
Dad unlocked the creaky front door that led to a foyer and we walked into the dusty interior. There wasn't much light inside since the few windows were dark-colored leaded glass. I was surprised to see it was still fully furnished. However, all of it was covered with sheets with a thick accumulation of dust on them. In the center of the house was a large round room with balconies overlooking it on the second and third floors. It served as an entertainment center and dining area. Next to the wall between the foyer and the kitchen was a small, ramshackle, unpainted gray wooden shack like one might expect to find in the Ozarks.
"What's with the shack?"
"The house was built by Jonathan Rogers, a self-made millionaire who took pride in his humble beginnings," Dad answered. "The shack was where he was born. He had it moved here from an Arkansas farm where his parents had been dirt-poor sharecroppers.
"He got his start in Chicago as a cattle auctioneer for the stockyards. Worked his way up to become a produce broker, then eventually a stockbroker and venture capitalist and made millions. After his first wife died, he married a much younger woman and moved to California during the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition. He built this mansion in the late twenties, and it became notorious for his and his wife's wild parties. Many movie stars and the rich and famous went to them. His son had been an ace fighter pilot in the Great War but was later killed in a plane crash. Then Rogers and his wife mysteriously disappeared. A trustee took control of his estate, which was decimated by the stock market crash and the Depression. The bank foreclosed and took possession, and has been trying to sell it ever since."
Dad opened the door to the shack and went in. I followed. There were just two small rooms, without furniture, except for a small black iron potbelly stove with a stovepipe through the roof.
The bank that held the mortgage took over the property and tried in vain to sell it, Dad told me. For eight years it remained empty and unattended.
"How did you discover the Lotus Blossoms might be interested in buying this place?" I asked.
Dad smiled. "One afternoon a few months ago, I was waiting to be served lunch in the dining room of the Biltmore Hotel when an acquaintance walked over to my table and asked if he and his companion could join me. I, of course, agreed. He introduced me to Eric Krause, the Swami of the Lotus Blossoms."
"So one thing led to another and you found out the Lotus Blossoms were looking for a spooky place for a home."
"Right," Dad replied. "Krause told me the group was meeting in a rented basement of an old hotel on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles and wanted to move to a more suitable place, preferably in a rustic area in the hills near Hollywood. I immediately thought of the Jonathan Rogers mansion. I described it and told him that, although it was in a rundown condition, it could be restored and would have an atmosphere that would appeal to them. He was impressed and wanted to see it.
"The next day I went to the bank and told the loan officer I was interested in buying the mansion and wanted to inspect it. Since I'm well-known at the bank, they gave me the key to the gate and mansion without anyone accompanying me. Krause and his associates were very impressed with the property. They even said the condition was perfect for conducting seances and classes concerning psychic and occult phenomena. When they asked what it would cost to purchase, I told them a half million. They didn't blink and said it was fine, but their by-laws required the approval of the majority of the members for purchases of real estate. They would put it to a vote at their next meeting.
"After they left, I went to the bank and asked for a six-month option to purchase it for two hundred thousand. The bank agreed but required a ten percent non-refundable deposit. Then I went to Mrs. Schlitz and got her to put up money. Rather than half interest, she insisted on two-thirds since she was putting up all the money and taking the risk if the Lotus Blossoms decided not to make the purchase."
"Sounds great," I told him. If the deal went through and he netted a hundred thousand, maybe he would buy me a new car to replace my 1928 Model A Ford.
We walked through the rest of the house. There were seven suites, each with a different color scheme: peach, blue, yellow, beige, lavender, pink, and green. Each had a large sitting room, a wood-paneled study, a spacious bedroom with an alcove for the bed, enclosed by leaded glass doors and a lavish bathroom with sunken tub and floor-to-ceiling mirrors. None of them had any identifiable style.
I lifted the sheets from some of the furniture. Each upholstered piece was velvet of the same but darker color as the suite it occupied.
Beside the suites and the big round room, there was a large sitting room with a huge fireplace and oak mantle over which hung an oil painting of a middle-aged balding man and a gorgeously beautiful young blond woman by his side. I assumed it was Jonathan Rogers and his second wife. On the walls were trophy heads of animals: an African lion, leopard, gorilla, moose, mountain lion, big horn sheep, and Bengal tiger. A screened-in aviary and music room with a small pipe organ adjoined it. Off the big round room was the kitchen, entered by two swinging, stainless steel--covered doors. Inside the kitchen were gas ovens and stove tops, large stainless steel sinks and granite counter tops. The floor was white tile with a butcher top island in the middle. A pantry with swinging louvered doors contained a bevy of pots and pans and other utensils.
In the basement was a fully equipped gymnasium, a locker room and a ten-by-twenty foot light blue tiled swimming pool, a bank of forced air furnaces, one for each floor and the basement, and a half dozen fifty-gallon hot water heaters.
I had to admit the house had a lot of possibilities, but it would take a couple hundred thousand more to fully renovate it. If the Lotus Blossoms were satisfied with it the way it was, with only a few repairs, so much the better. Its small, thick, leaded-glass windows cut out much of the daylight and cast eerie colors on the walls.