Wolf Lair Castle

Haunted Los Angeles: Wolf Lair Castle

Posted on Posted in Haunted L.A., Uncategorized

Allegedly haunted: Wolf Lair Castle, located at 2869 Durand Drive, Los Angeles, CA, 90068.

 

Wolf Lair Castle (aka Wolf’s Castle) is a 1927 storybook mansion built on 3.3 acres in the Hollywood Hills. Its haunted reputation dates back at least 40 years. Back in the 1970s, these ghost stories were spread via word-of-mouth. Then in 1982, it went public with the following article from the Los Angeles Times:

 

‘Castle’ Overlooks Lake Hollywood
1921 Hideaway Has Turrets, Towers and Maybe a Ghost

By Ruth Ryon

June 27, 1982

Hollywood is as good as place as any to find a storybook castle outside a storybook.

Or so L. Milton Wolf must have thought when he built Wolf Lair in 1921.

Overlooking Lake Hollywood, his Beachwood Canyon hideaway seems like a small fortress with its turrets, towers and ramparts.

 

Wolf Lair
Wolf Lair Castle. Los Angeles Public Library.

But inside, it’s more like a little palace with its gardens, fountains, carp pond and pool, complemented by leaded and stained glass windows – one with a coat of arms – a grand staircase, gargoyles and coffered and hand-painted ceilings.

gargoyle
Photo: better shelter blog.

And what castle would be complete without a ghost? Wolf Lair might even have that, too.

“He supposedly haunts the place,” said current owner Bob Crane, a Hollywood real estate broker. He is L. Milton Wolf.

“He died at the dining room table…pitched forward into his minestrone,” Crane added. (Crane received the table as a house-warming gift).

 

wolf-durand-dine
The dining room where L. Milton Wolf allegedly died.  Photo: better shelter blog

The former owner had been a tenant for two or three years before buying from the Wolf family, according to Crane, “and he took off all the doors upstairs (in the two-bedroom main house) because they opened at night and nobody was there.

A Number of Wolf Lair Tales

“Then during a dinner two years ago, the fire in the fireplace suddenly whooshed up for no reason. And a picture fell off the wall.”

fireplace
A fireplace in the main house. Photo: better shelter blog.

Crane bought the house about 1 ½ years ago and has not experienced, he says, anything so weird. But even if he did, he probably wouldn’t mind. A history, Agatha Christie and Hollywood buff who co-authored the recently published “Hollywood, Land and Legend” (Arlington House/Publishers, Westport, Conn., $19.95), Crane might shrug and even smile if something strange occurred. He could simply add it to his list of Wolf Lair tales.

“After Wolf died in the ‘50s, the house went through a series of rentals,” he said. “First, there was Doris Day, then Efram Zimbalist, then others.”

But few were as colorful as Wolf, a real estate developer who left his fairytale look on several houses in the Beachwood area.

When he lived in Wolf Lair, he kept a gibbon in a tower that had a heater running water and a perch. (“They filmed ‘Witch Mountain’ here in 1980 with Bette Davis and Robert Morley,” Crane said. “He shoots her as she goes down the stairs to the gibbon’s tower.”)

Lautner Designed Gate House

He had a moon and Venus that light up drawn in the ceiling of a cabana by the pool.

He had celebrated architect John Lautner design a gate house in teak and redwood with a green granite fireplace.

He had a two-bedroom suite in the guest cottage designed like a Tiki Room. “Turn a rheostat and stars in the ceiling come out,” Crane remarked. It has a bamboo roof and bare-breasted native girls painted on the windows.

wolfs-lair-bar
Tiki Room. Photo credit: news.critiki.com

He must have thought of his house as a mini chateau, guessed Crane.

There is no doubt that with Gregorian chants wafting through the main house, Crane thinks of Wolf Lair as home.

“The hard thing about this house, I’ve found, is leaving it,” he said. “One girl I had house sit for me could only get herself to go to work two days out of 14.”

Sitting up on a hill as it does, Wolf Lair has a semblance of distance from other homes nearby.

There is a rural view of trees and mountains and dirt roads.

Wolf Castle
Wolf Lair Castle in the 1930s.

There is wildlife – “an incredible number of great horned owls,” says Crane in delight. “And a lot spend time in the early evenings on my roof. They thump when they land. Then they take off and come back with some mice.”

Wolf Lair is miles away from the bustle of Los Angeles. Yet is just next door. That simply adds to its aura of make-believe.

After all, says Crane, it was built in “fantasy times,” when people like Douglas Fairbanks Sr. were making films. “And I suppose,” he said, “that the spirit carried over to the hills.”

 

Additional information (and a few historical corrections)

 

Leslie “Bud” Milton Wolf was born in Wheeler, Indiana, on May 30, 1894. His father was a wealthy mining engineer who speculated in gold and silver, and his mother was a homemaker. Milton had two younger sisters, Mildred (1900-1999)  and Bonita (1904-1995).

The Wolfs moved to San Diego in the 1910s. In 1917, L. Milton Wolf tried to exempt himself from WWI military service by stating that he worked as a geographic surveyor for the U.S. government. His excuse was rejected and according to military records, he served in the Navy from 1919 to 1921.

In 1919, he married Mildred Florence Roome in Los Angeles. According to the 1920 U.S. census, he lived with her family while working as a “mining engineer”…when he wasn’t on duty.

The Roome family was also a well-to-do family that dabbled in real estate. In 1920, L. Milton Wolf and his mother-in-law invested in Los Angeles real estate. In  1924, the Los Angeles Times Sunday edition printed a photo that reads “Two Chateaux Planned for Hollywoodland Hilltop… Designed for L. Milton Wolf.” Three years later, his Wolf Lair Castle was completed.

the_los_angeles_times_sun__jan_13__1924_

 

wolfcastleconstruction
Construction of Wolf Lair Castle, c. 1926-27.

L. Milton and Mildred Wolf had two children: L. Milton Wolf Jr. (b. 1929) and Jacqueline (b. 1934).  They also had a servant living on the premises as well as Mildred’s sister, Beatrice.

In 1931, Mildred’s widowed mother passed away, leaving Mildred and Beatrice, over $300,000 each.

In the 1930s, Wolf played a lot of golf at the Los Angeles Country, and traveled abroad with his wife. Both of them, however, shunned publicity. In fact, when their son Jr. died, it barely made the news. The grave marker reads that Jr. died in 1933.

L. Milton Wolf
L. Milton Wolf’s grave marker at Forest Lawn Glendale. Find a Death.

According to the 1940 U.S. Census, Mildred R. Wolf no longer resided at the castle. However, L. Milton Wolf continued to live in his home along with his daughter, Jacqueline, and a housekeeper. Wolf later hired renown architect John Lautner to add a guest house around 1945.

Because L. Milton Wolf is a difficult person to understand, a few legends have surfaced over the years to try and explain why he also had a secret passageway and hidden room built under the gateway of his castle. One legend maintains that Wolf used this secret apartment to seduce aspiring actresses (with money and promises to help their career) without his wife knowing about it.

Wolf Lair Castle in the 1950s.
Wolf Lair Castle, date unknown.

Another legend maintains that Wolf owned a gibbon that lived in a tower. While the legend about the secret room being used as a love nest is speculative, the latter legend is true. In the 1950s, Wolf owned a gibbon named Missie. It lived in its own air-conditioned home and sported pink fingernail polish on all of its paws. According to the Los Angeles Times, Missie escaped the castle in 1957 and was caught near the corner of Los Feliz Boulevard and Nottingham Ave. The Times also reported that the pampered monkey preferred men to women.

L. Milton Wolf died in Los Angeles on August 18, 1972. His wife, Mildred, died on August 23, 1978, in Orange County. Both were buried in the family plot at Forest Lawn Glendale. Once again, obituaries were never published on either one of them, so it is unclear how they died.

L. Milton Wolf's grave marker at Forest Lawn Glendale.
L. Milton Wolf’s grave marker at Forest Lawn Glendale.

Following L. Milton Wolf’s death, rumors swirled that Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, Charles Boyer, Marlon Brando, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones once lived in the house from the 1950s through the 1970s. However, all of these celebrity tenants appear to be more wishful thinking than true.

According to a person claiming to be Wolf’s grandson, Efram Zimbalist, Jr. briefly lived there in the 1970s. So did actress Shelley Duvall and her boyfriend, Patrick Reynolds. The mansion also became a filming location for Return from Witch Mountain (1978), starring Bette Davis and Christopher Lee. (source: dupontcastle.com)

return-from-witch-mountain-wolfs-lair-kim-richards
Return from Witch Mountain (1978). Photo: Life Between Frames Blogspot.

Around 1981, real estate broker Bob Crane bought the castle…and the ghost stories went public.

In 1996, the castle was on the market with an asking price of $4.3 million. It didn’t sell and the price dropped to $2.9 million before Disney executive Phillip Barlow bought it for $2.4 million.

The castle then changed hands over the next decade. According to the movieland directory, Barlow sold it to Oprah producer Debra DiMaio in 2001. A year later, DiMaio sold it to Lionsgate Entertainment executive Jay Faires and his wife, Debbie Matenopoulos, former co-host of “The View.” In 2008, Faires and Matenopoulos tried selling their castle for $7.5 million. However, they couldn’t find a buyer willing to pay that price.

In 2010, NYC techno music composer and musician Moby bought the castle for $3,925,000. Moby then spent an additional $2 million restoring it back to its 1920s roots.

According to a New York Times article published April 27, 2011:

The castle needed major work. The roof leaked. The living room walls had been painted a dark gray, the floors had been painted black, the wall above the Gothic fireplace was covered in shells and there was what Moby calls “a low-rent country kitchen from 1979 with strange terra cotta tiles that were ugly to begin with.” He wanted a restoration, not a renovation.

“I basically went through the house and found all the original details from the ’20s and tried to renovate the house around all the original architectural elements,” he says, which meant getting rid of “everything from 1945 on.”

In 2014, Moby sold Wolf Lair Castle for $12.4 million.

So far—no further ghost stories have been reported…except for an occasional report of a ghostly gibbon shrieking inside one of the towers. However, when a faux-Normandy castle has a secret passageway, a hidden Prohibition era wet bar, a turret built for a pet monkey, and an owner that allegedly dropped dead into a bowl of soup, I suppose anything is possible.

wolfslair_moby

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4 thoughts on “Haunted Los Angeles: Wolf Lair Castle

  1. Just FYI, the LA Times for August 3, 1933, on page 14 lists a death notice for little Leslie M. Wolf, son of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie M. Wolf. It does note that services were “strictly private”.

    1. Thank you. I couldn’t find it. I’ll make the change to reflect that. I did notice, however, that the Ancestry’s death notice for Jr. lists the year as 1938. Very confusing.

  2. Jackie Wolf and I were close friends in 1946-7 both attending Immaculate Heart Training School on Franklin Ave. She was taking voice lessons and would play LIly Pons records to introduce me to opera.
    I especially recall the “Bell Song” from Lakme. I began a life long love for the music even meeting my future husband while reading a Wagner biography. Thanks, wherever you are. What grand times

  3. In my youth I was close friends with Mr. Wolf’s grandson / Jaqueline’s son… Her mother still lived in a smaller house on the property though Mr. Wolf had passed away by then. I visited there a number of times, though other than the speakeasy I’d only been in the main castle once when it was between tenants. The speakeasy was and presumably still is a delightful place. Mr. Wolf had a collection of model trains that he had built mostly from scratch himself, presumably there would have been a large train layout somewhere in the castle but I’ve never seen any photos of it. I can’t confirm or deny any of the stories about celebrity tenants… or ghosts … but Mr. Wolf himself seems to have been an extraordinary person, as was Jacqueline. I’m a better person for having known her and her family.

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