Marilyn Monroe’s Final Home Is Temporarily Saved From Demolition

Los Angeles preservation aficionados flew into action when the current owners of the historic house were issued a permit to raze it.
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When news of a demolition permit for Marilyn Monroe’s onetime Los Angeles home hit the web last September, fans and preservation aficionados alike immediately got up in arms. Monroe’s home, a 1929 Spanish hacienda-style house at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in the tony Brentwood neighborhood, was the apple of the Hollywood legend’s eye for the last year or so of her life. It was the only home she ever owned independently, having purchased it for $75,000 after the end of her third marriage, to playwright Arthur Miller, and she doted over it, picking out wooden beams and tile for the interior and posing for pictures all around the property. It’s also where Monroe was discovered after her fatal overdose in 1962 at age 36, further cementing the residence’s place in Hollywood lore.

While the house has undergone some kitchen and bathroom renovations in the 60-odd years since Monroe lived there, some of the details she picked seem to have been kept intact, like the aforementioned beams, terra-cotta tile floors, and charming casement windows. Much of the sweeping exterior also looks as it did when she lived there, with lush greenery and crisp white paint. The house had been owned by hedge fund hotshot Dan Lukas and wife Anne Jarmain since 2017 before it was sold off market in July 2023 for an estimated $8.35 million to some mysterious trust called Glory of the Snow. The new owners didn’t come forward to make any sort of statement about the home, but one thing is clear: At some point, they applied for and received a demolition permit allowing them to tear down not just the house but also adjacent garages and other buildings.

News of that permit made its way to the New York Post, who posted a story about the potential loss of the home. That quickly yielded outraged cries from Monroe’s diehard fans, as well as L.A. preservationists like Nathan Marsak, who wrote about the permit on his blog R.I.P. Los Angeles, which attempts to document the city’s disappearing landmarks "one demolition permit at a time."

"If you’re reading this blog then I’d wager you are suitably fed up with those who would destroy our shared history," Marsak wrote. "You look on in horror as local government gives handouts to developers who run roughshod over our communities, while we stand by feeling helpless. It’s very important to advocate for threatened structures in your community, and if you’ve never done so, here’s a good chance to start the practice."

Marsak encouraged his readers to call Traci Park, the L.A. City councilperson for the district in which the house sits, saying, "L.A. doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to retaining and maintaining our heritage, so, how about we not embarrass ourselves on the world stage again, ok?" His call for action was then picked up by other preservation folks across Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, with L.A. history expert Alison Martino posting, "My goodness, will this poor woman ever find peace in the afterlife?" before quipping, "Unfortunately respect for history is not a prerequisite for the nouveau riche." The Los Angeles Conservancy also started to drum up some noise around the home on Instagram, urging people to call Park as quickly as possible, saying that while the house had been recognized as potentially historic in 2013’s Survey L.A., the city’s first program aimed at identifying important buildings, it had never been officially named to the historic register or protected by some other act of city government. If the city didn’t act ASAP, the Conservancy warned, the house could be immediately demolished.

The pool and backyard as it was when she owned the Brentwood home, part of the collection of fan Greg Schreiner.

The pool and backyard as it was when she owned the Brentwood home, part of the collection of fan Greg Schreiner.

Park, who says her office received "hundreds if not thousands" of emails and "nonstop" calls in the day or so that followed those posts, knew the second she saw the news that she had to act. Normally when a homeowner is applying for a demolition permit, they have to post an intent to apply for 30 days before it’s actually issued. They also have to consult all neighbors within 500 feet and inform the neighborhood council. As far as Park and all the internet sleuths could determine, none of this had been done, making the permit’s sudden appearance feel a little suspect.

"There was no question in my mind, from the moment I learned about this issue, that an urgent intervention by the city to prevent this demolition and to further assess this property was going to be absolutely necessary," Park says. She put a motion before L.A. City Council asking that the demolition be halted until the planning department could initiate an application for historic and cultural designation. From there, the application would go to the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission and Office of Historic Resources, where an analysis would be performed as to the home’s cultural and architectural value, meaning they’d be asking questions like "Has the house already been renovated beyond recognition?" and "Does a private home that sits behind a big wall where no one can see it still qualify as an important piece of history?" They’d have 75 days to complete their work and decide whether or not to name the house a landmark.

Park’s motion was unanimously passed, temporarily halting demolition. The L.A. Board of Building and Safety Commissioners issued a letter to the owners pausing all work on the site and saying that the demolition permit was "issued in error." Unfortunately, according to some preservationists, that’s an error that seems to happen quite often, as the city’s system hasn’t been synched with the Survey L.A. report of what’s historically significant, meaning that permits are frequently issued for homes and buildings that should merit at least a preliminary status review.

Since then, the home’s landmark application has been working its way through the city process, receiving approval in January from the Cultural Heritage Commission and in March from the Planning and Land Use Management Committee. But the full City Council still has to vote on the matter by mid-June—and now, the home’s owners, who have since been revealed as heiress Brinah Milstein and former reality TV producer Roy Bank, are suing L.A. for the right to demolish the residence. 

On May 6, the billionaire couple filed a lawsuit against the city, accusing officials of taking "backdoor machinations" to conserve a site they don’t believe meets the criteria for monument designation, contending that Monroe only lived there for a short period and the home has been "substantially altered" over the years. According to the Los Angeles Times, which has had access to the court documents, the suit alleges that the city violated its own codes in pushing for the designation, which has deprived the plaintiffs of their "vested rights" as the home’s current owners. It also mentions that Milstein and Bank own the neighboring residence and planned to demolish Monroe’s former house to combine both sites and expand their home.

"People really need to start to prioritize preservation," says Jaime Rummerfield, cofounder of the nonprofit Save Iconic Architecture, noting that the home was designed by architect Arthur C. Munson, who has a number of Historic-Cultural Monuments under his belt. "In L.A., we don’t have a city chief of preservation and we don’t have a preservation department that proactively flags these type of properties." That’s potentially why so many classic Hollywood residences and buildings have either been torn down in recent years or are currently facing demolition—and why so many online resources and advocates have sprung up aimed at protecting these properties. Just a few weeks ago, Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger angered more than just preservationists when word got out that they demolished the Craig Ellwood-designed Zimmerman House, also in Brentwood, to build a massive modern farmhouse in its place.

"We were very early nationally getting a preservation ordinance and our ordinance is strong, but even so, we have a lot of very high profile, interesting structures that have been lost," says Kim Cooper, cofounder of Esotouric, a hyper-specific, hyper-interesting tour service that offers hours-long deep dive adventures all over town. "A lot of our structures are famous because they’ve appeared in movies and celebrities have been photographed there and so people all know them and care about them, but sometimes that’s still not enough."

Monroe chats with photographer Earl Leaf during a press party held at her home in 1956.

Monroe chats with photographer Earl Leaf during a press party held at her home in 1956.

"It’s very symptomatic of L.A. where a lot of people look at sites just from the perspective of ‘it’s a good lot and it’s in a good location,’" says Adrian Scott Fine, senior director of advocacy at the Los Angeles Conservancy. "They don’t think about what’s on the site right now. It’s all about the numbers and the money, and we get that, but this is the only house that really tells this particular story about Marilyn Monroe, and it’s a very interesting slice of her life. It’s also a very nice 1920s Spanish hacienda-style house as well."

"As far as I’m concerned," Park says, "there is no conceivable argument that could be made by a property owner that they did not understand what this home was and what it represented at the time it was purchased." "It’s not like this is Mamie Van Doren’s house or even Jayne Mansfield’s," adds Marsak.

Tearing down historic homes to replace them with new builds is not an L.A.-specific issue, but there’s something particular about these battles over preserving L.A.’s residences. "People come to L.A. and this is one of the places they want to see," Fine says on Monroe’s residence. "Even though they can’t see the house, they go to see that gate before they go to see her burial plot, among other places. It’s a pilgrimage for a lot of people, and it means something to have that physical connection to a person. We work really hard when we have enough notice to really advocate for preservation and reuse in these places because of the story they tell. When you don’t have the physical place to point to, it’s less real, less tangible, and much harder for an average person to understand that person and that point in time."

Top Photo: An aerial view of 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood, Los Angeles, in 2002, by Mel Bouzad/Getty Images.

This story was updated on May 8, 2024, to add more information about the recent lawsuit filed by the current owners of Monroe’s former home.

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