Doheny Mansion

In an attempt to educate myself on the history of my new little Gomorrah I took a tour of the Doheny Mansion the other day.  Edward Doheny was one of the founders of Los Angeles and he and his wife were well known philanthropists.  The mansion itself is not really that interesting.  It was built in 1899 with a “Roman Revival” exterior and was nearly destroyed in the Long Beach earthquake of 1933.  The architecture is pleasant but unremarkable with the exception of the Pompeian room which boasts an extremely rare Tiffany glass domed ceiling.

The Dohenys were not collectors per se and much of the contents of the home were auctioned off in the 1980s.  The house itself was bequeathed to the stewardship of Mount St. Mary’s College and there are still some nuns in residence on the third floor of the mansion.  The place is big (25,000 square feet) but not immense by today’s LA standards and much of the house is off limits to tours as it is a functioning office of the college.

The tour itself was conducted by a series of matrons and it became rather obvious rather quickly was that the really interesting parts were the details that were being left unsaid.  St. Mary’s is a Catholic college and the docents all seemed very cautious about avoiding the more salacious details of the Doheny life.  The Daniel Day Lewis character from “There Will Be Blood” was purported to be loosely based on Edward Doheny and he was a saucy little number to say the least.  The Dohenys at one point were one of the 10 wealthiest families in the United States with more money than the Rockefellars.  Doheny Sr. was implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal that rocked the Taft presidency.  He was accused of giving bribes to the Secretary of the Interior in order to secure drilling rights that should have been offered for bid on the open market.  The Secretary’s name was Albert B. Fall and this evidently is the origin of the term “The Fall Guy”.  Curiously (or not) Doheny was twice tried and acquitted of offering the bribe, while Fall was convicted of having accepted it.  Having oodles of money can be convenient in such untidy circumstances.

Doheny had a son named Ned who built the beautiful Greystone Manor in Beverly Hills.  Ned himself died shrouded in scandal and mystery.  He was shot dead at Greystone by one Hugh Plunkett who was his long time assistant.  The docents on the tour said that Plunkett was distraught at an impending divorce and the fact that he too had been implicated in some of the Doheny bribery scandals and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  They reported that Plunkett started an argument with Ned, shot him and turned the gun on himself.  It seemed to be an incident that was being skipped over lightly so I did a little research when I got home.  Apparently there is some speculation as to who shot whom.  Ned’s body was moved from its original resting place, one of the bodies was found on top of the murder weapon, there is some evidence that would suggest that Plunkett and Doheny Jr were gay lovers and the LAPD declared the case closed after only two days of investigation.

Ah, fabulous wealth.  My quest for you continues.  I drove by this lovely establishment the other day and thought if all else fails I can get a job at the Disco Duck.  I just need to figure out what a Boogiein Cocktail is and I am in business.

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