Step Inside Liza Minnelli's Abandoned Mansion
| LAST UPDATE 03/17/2022
Looking at it today, it's almost hard to believe this eerily deserted home was once a sprawling Beverly Hills paradise. Here's the untold story of the mansion that was once Liza Minnelli's childhood home.
A Relic of Beverly Hills
It has existed in Beverly Hills for decades, but this sprawling mansion didn’t gain wider attention until 2014. That year a “tipster” shared some info about the property with Curbed, an LA real estate blog.
The tipster was a regular commuter in the area and frequently stopped to check on the house. They told the blog that “its Paul Williams-Esque style always caught my eye.” Unfortunately, the old building had become a stomping ground for local squatters, and trash was strewn everywhere.
A Hollywood Home
Naturally, the Curbed LA team jumped at the opportunity to begin researching the Beverly Hills mansion. What they found was fascinating: the home was originally owned by Vincente Minnelli, a famous Hollywood director, and husband to the legendary Judy Garland. And as one might have guessed, he was Liza Minnelli’s father!
Though the family didn’t move in until the 1950s, the property had been built back in 1925. Unfortunately, the Curbed team couldn’t find any further info. But what they did know was that decades later, the property caught the attention of Minnelli, the director of many of Hollywood’s most beloved movie musicals.
Making Good In Hollywood
Early in his career, Vincente Minnelli had been a successful theatre director before he took the plunge into feature films. In the late 1930s, an MGM producer offered him a directing opportunity. Minnelli promptly accepted and moved to LA, where he produced his first film, Cabin In The Sky.
The movie was a great success, securing plenty of work for the promising director. In the following years, he produced several films for MGM before landing on the set of Meet Me In St Louis in 1944. It was there that he met his future wife and the film’s leading lady - Judy Garland.
An Industry Romance
Though the director had already met the young star several years before while filming Strike Up The Band, their experience filming St Louis together drew them closer together. Within just a year of filming, Garland and Minnelli had tied the knot in June 1945.
It was his first marriage and her second, and everything went smoothly at first. Garland gave birth to their daughter, Liza, on March 12, 1946, and both she and Minnelli were ecstatic. Sadly, their love for their child could not smooth over the cracks that began to appear in their relationship.
Life at Home
One might think that marriage and a child would help the couple settle into their lives and careers, but this wasn’t the case. On one hand, the older Minnelli was at the top of his career, producing successful and acclaimed musicals like Ziegfeld Follies and An American In Paris - and even copping an Oscar nomination.
But in the other half of the relationship, things weren’t going quite so well. Garland was struggling, and after 15 years working for MGM, she was fired by the studio over various issues. Her dismissal triggered severe anxiety and depression, and she began self-medicating to deal with it.
Thing’s Come To An End
Unsurprisingly this spelled out destruction for the marriage. Minnelli was constantly away from home working on film sets, while Garland was left home to deal with her fraught mental health and physical deterioration. During this period, while Minnelli was away, she tried to take her own life not once, but twice.
Trying to balance her partner's career aspirations along with her mental health battle was not working. The final nail in the coffin came when Garland embarked on an affair with Sidney Luft, her eventual third husband. Their divorce was processed and finalized by 1951 - the same year An American In Paris was released.
Still A Family Unit
Though the marriage had been impossible to maintain, it didn’t affect Minnelli or Garland’s love for their only child, Liza. Both eventually found love with new partners, but they still reserved much of their affection for her. In an interview with Vogue decades later, Liza Minnelli spoke candidly about this period.
“There were highs and lows for sure, but I can say I was very happy,” she recalled. Her mother and father were quick to move on with their lives, with Garland marrying businessman Luft, and Minnelli finding love with actress Georgette Magnani, who he married in February 1954.
A Devoted Father
Though Vincente’s absence had been hard on Judy, there was another familial issue that had put considerable strain on their marriage. Minnelli adored Liza and doted on her 24/7. What free time he had outside of work was spent on her, with little time left over for his wife.
Naturally, this didn't change a bit after the divorce. He and Liza continued to share a mutually devoted bond, and Liza herself shared that they were especially close in a later interview with Variety. "I used to dance for my father. He loved it when I danced. He'd be sitting on the bed, and Mama loved to say, 'Come dance.'"
Their Slice of Paradise
Little Liza was just five years old when her parents split, and she was a clear point of contention in her parent's divorce agreement. Her time was to be spent split equally between her mother and father, with exactly six months of the year going to Judy and the other six going to Vincente.
Around this time, Minnelli decided to purchase his own family home. It was a large estate on Crescent Drive, Beverly Hills, with nineteen rooms (six bedrooms and six bathrooms) plus an in-ground pool. The mansion would be home to himself, his wife, their first child, and Liza for 6 months of the year.
A Glance Inside
As we’ve seen, the house was a little run-down in the present day. But back in the 1950s, it was an impressive estate and prime piece of property in the center of Beverly Hills. It also came in at an astounding 5,800 square feet, a little world for anyone who lived in it.
Though it was built in 1925, the mansion was redesigned by John Elgin between the years 1944-1953. Elgin was a Hollywood Regency architect who converted the Spanish Colonial Revival-style home to a French Regency style. These days, the property is worth around $2.7 million.
Soon after moving in, Minnelli took to filling the expansive home with memorabilia from his various films. And in “typical” fatherly fashion, he commissioned countless child-sized versions of the same costumes that appeared in his films, specifically for his daughter to play with.
Young Liza and her friends had a ball at the Crescent Drive home, with actress Candice Bergen recalling fond memories of their playdates, sharing, “I remember always asking to go to Liza’s to play dress-up.” On top of that, Liza had her own enormous playhouse! It seemed like this idyllic life would go on forever.
Their Luck Changes
This would not be so, as Minnelli's success would not last forever. Liza later described her early life as "very happy," even as she moved back and forth between her father's estate and the many apartments and hotels that her mother lived in. But the waning of her father's career brought some changes.
During the 50s and on into the 60s, Minnelli reached the heights of success in Hollywood, even being described as "an artist who could give substance to the world of dreams." By the 70s, he had all but faded from the limelight. His last film in 1975, A Matter of Time (which starred Liza herself), was a commercial failure.
The Family Goes On
After publicly disowning his last film and withdrawing into private life, the accolades stopped rolling in - as did the family's cash flow. There were no more lavish Hollywood parties or extravagant gifts, and the mansion was described as being "rather threadbare" around this time.
The reign of old Hollywood was coming to an end, but it was not the end for this family. By now, young Liza had grown up and launched herself into the entertainment industry. By the mid-70s, she had nabbed an Academy Award for her iconic role as Sally Bowles in Cabaret and was well on her way to being a Hollywood ‘It Girl.’
A Dutiful Daughter
But things weren’t going well for Vincente. By the 1980s he had virtually nothing left of his illustrious Hollywood career, and it was Liza’s turn to take care of her aging father - as he had once taken care of her. Thankfully she was thriving as an actress and performer and took it upon herself to make sure he lived comfortably.
According to rumors, during this time, Liza paid off her father's mortgage and took care of the maintenance and repairs on the family estate. It was likely a small price to pay, considering all he had done for her. She once said of her father, "I always realized he was special […] he opened up so many possibilities to me in life."
A Sad Day In Hollywood
In the decade after his retirement, Vincente Minnelli’s health began to rapidly decline. He passed away on July 25, 1986, the result of several years of an ongoing struggle with pneumonia and emphysema. He spent those last years in the comfort of his Crescent Drive home.
He had also been battling Alzheimer’s for some time, and his daughter made a point to visit him frequently while in LA. Sadly, by the time of his death, she was on a European tour. Vincente passed away in the company of his fourth wife, Margaretta Lee Anderson.
What About The Will?
In the days to follow, questions began to arise around Minnelli's estate. Just a week after his death, the details of the deceased director's final will were released to the public. For some, it probably wasn't very surprising. For others, it was likely a huge shock.
Minnelli had bequeathed the vast majority of his estate to his first-born daughter, the apple of his eye, Liza. This included the Crescent Drive property (then evaluated at $1.1 million), various film memorabilia, artwork, and jewelry. Of course, not all parties were impressed.
But let’s get into the nitty-gritty first. Of his entire estate, Vincente had left $100,000 to his fourth wife, $5,000 to his second daughter Nina (born from his marriage to Georgette Magnani), and everything else he left behind was passed on to Liza.
Thus began a family dispute between the sisters. According to their dad, he felt confident that Nina was sufficiently taken care of, hence her small portion of the inheritance. But in Nina’s eyes, Vincente had always intended to split the home between his daughters. She believed that Liza had interfered with his original wishes.
Eventually, Nina and Liza settled the issue without legal precedent, which left Lee, Liza’s stepmother. The older woman had not contested her share of the inheritance, but there was one more stipulation in Vincente’s will - pertaining to the Crescent Drive house.
As we mentioned, the family mansion had been passed down to Liza, and Liza only. But Minnelli had included one final wish - that his wife Lee would stay as the main resident of the house for the rest of her life. At first, Liza accepted the terms of the will. But the matter of the house soon became a contentious issue.
The Widow On Crescent Drive
More than a decade following Vincente's death, his wife would live on in the Crescent Drive mansion. She was an elderly woman already, fully retired after decades as an actress, and spent most of her time alone on her husband's property cleaning and caring for the belongings he had left behind.
Some members of the public were fascinated by the aging widow, and she was even interviewed by the LA Times in the late 1990s. Reporter Robert Abcarian visited Lee and wrote a piece on her quiet life nestled in the heart of Beverly Hills, where she kept the old mansion in perfect condition.
Trouble Comes Knocking
After 13 years of living on the property since her husband’s death, Lee had ensured that the house, and all of its belongings, remained virtually unchanged. But the same could not be said for her long seamless life on Crescent Drive. In 2000, Liza Minnelli listed her home on the property market… with her stepmother still living inside.
Minnelli secured a buyer just two years later. Soon enough, she and Lee were embroiled in a highly publicized legal battle over the status of the home. Liza was taken to the Los Angeles Superior Court under charges of “gross neglect,” as cited by her own stepmother.
Over the course of months, the Hollywood press went back and forth between Liza Minnelli and Margaretta Lee Anderson. On the one side, Minnelli was accused of being a cold and callous stepdaughter with no regard for her father's dying wishes - and on the other, Lee vehemently denied that she had done anything wrong.
She told the Daily Variety, "I finally got a nice offer to sell it and offered her a $450,000 condo, tax-free. She won't move. I did exactly what my father asked me to do[...] I am willing to give her a happy life." According to her, Vincente had approved the selling of the house as long as Lee was taken care of.
The Court Case
Regardless of Liza’s public self-defense, her stepmother filed the lawsuit and accused Minnelli of further counts of neglect - including dismissal of staff and shutting off the power to the house. Minnelli was formally accused of “breach of contract, elder abuse, and infliction of emotional distress.”
Because there was no staff to take care of the house and limited electricity, Lee apparently lived in terrible conditions for months. Her lawyers claimed the elderly woman had been “reduced to an anxious and fearful beggar.” Despite all of this, the lawsuit was officially withdrawn before any conclusion had been reached.
Apparently, all it took was a simple dinner. Liza and Lee shared an evening together and came to a new, and somewhat elaborate agreement. And as Lee later said to the judge, "I can't sue Liza. She's my daughter." Heartwarming, of course, but what was the actual agreement?
As it turned out, Lee approved the selling of the house on the condition that she could remain living in it. This all came about after an equally lengthy dispute with the new owners of the home, Mehrdad Saghian and Stephanie Jarin. They had put down a deposit, but Liza had attempted to void the sale without opening escrow.
Of course, there was only one realistic solution for Liza to take, one that would keep the former resident and the new owners all satisfied. She formalized the sale but continued to pay rent to the couple to allow her stepmother to maintain residence there.
It hadn’t been an easy decision to come to, but eventually, both lawsuits were dropped, and all three parties were able to move on with their lives. And after a few months of turmoil, Margarette Lee Anderson returned to her home at Crescent Drive, where she remained until her passing in 2009. She was 100 years old.
The House’s Fate
Now that Lee had passed away and left the house empty, Mehrdad Saghian and Stephanie Jarin were finally able to make full use of the property. With a sprawling estate like this, the options were endless. But in truth, it was difficult to figure out what their plans were.
An old LA Times interview with Lee had shared that the new owners wanted to remodel and refurbish the property, and there were even rumors that the building would be completely demolished - but nothing of the kind took place. The former Hollywood home was left abandoned.
And as often happens when large properties are left untouched (and unprotected), the Crescent Drive mansion soon became a stomping ground for local squatters and urban explorers. The closest thing to security was a rusted gate and locks on the doors, which were soon broken and forced open.
Countless people (possibly hundreds) traipsed through the house, leaving it in a terrible state. Windows were smashed, trash and debris were strewn through every room, furniture was broken, and the walls and floors were covered with mold. The formerly glorious estate was in ruins, unrecognizable from its Hollywood days.
But it wasn’t just people looking for somewhere to sleep or to party. The old Minnelli house soon became a significant attraction for urban explorers both in LA and across the country. And not only that - fans of the Minnelli’s and Judy Garland were eager to get a glimpse of the former family home.
During the years the house was left abandoned, people came for many different reasons. Some held unauthorized tours for admirers of Liza, Vincente, and Judy (despite her never having lived there). Others dug up vestiges of the family, including old vintage records and 80s magazines that would have been read by Vincente and Lee.
Youtube's Deep Dive
Over time word spread, and vlogger Adamthewoo decided to make a video about the abandoned house. He soon posted a recording of himself and a friend entering the desolate property and exploring various rooms filled with crumbling plaster and pieces of furniture.
But despite the years of squatters and trespassers, there were still a few remaining remnants of the Minnelli’s. The Youtuber found a spice rack with the name “Minnelli” printed on the side, and a small pile of VHS tapes from the 80s. These were very likely things that Liza had not bothered to claim after Lee’s passing.
What About The Owners?
Now that all of the family dramas and legal complications had been left behind, there was only one mystery left to resolve: that of the absent owners. Where were they, and why had they purchased the estate and left it to be plundered and damaged by trespassers, with seemingly no concern?
It is perhaps the most interesting question still surrounding the Crescent Drive property, and one we sadly don’t have an answer for. There have been many sensible theories floating around, particularly that the house was too expensive to maintain or renovate - but we still don’t know for sure.
What’s Happened Since…
Over the years, there have been a few observations made about the property. For example, in 2013 Curbed Los Angeles reported that a row of trees had been planted right in front of the mansion. It took another five years for any more changes, with a new structure built behind the house.
Interested spectators have used Google Earth to track any new renovations done to the Crescent Drive property, but it’s hard to make out what (if anything) has been done since 2018. All we can say is, we hope this once-glamorous estate gets the makeover it truly deserves.