Millionaires who bought Marilyn Monroe’s house sue L.A.: They want to demolish it

The couple believe that the city has carried out ‘backdoor machinations’ to stop them from demolishing the property, which they want to level in order to extend their current home, right next door

Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe, in an undated portrait.AP
María Porcel

When Marilyn Monroe bought her first and only house, at the age of 35, she almost didn’t believe it. In an interview with Life magazine, just a few weeks before she died, she showed off her new home to photographers and reporters. It was filled with unopened boxes and handicrafts recently purchased in Mexico. “And it has walls!” she effused. It was her one true home, the only home that ever belonged to her. The house — located in the exclusive neighborhood of Brentwood, west of Los Angeles — is where she died in August 1962. She had only lived there a few months.

In the 60 years that have passed since Monroe’s death, the house has been handed from owner to owner. Some necessary modifications have been made while preserving its essence. However, a millionaire couple has now bought the place and intends to demolish it. No one seems to be able to stop them, not even the city. The pair have sued the city of Los Angeles so they can tear the home down and do whatever they want with the land.

The lawsuit was filed on May 6, but did not become public knowledge until Tuesday. The claimants are Brinah Milstein and producer Roy Bank, who bought Monroe’s house in Los Angeles for about $8.35 million last August. They knew the home well: they live in the neighboring mansion. Their intention had always been to demolish it. Now it has emerged that they are planning to build a new home on the plot and to expand their property. The news was met with concern in Los Angeles, which has already lost many of its most important buildings due to lack of conservation and care.

In September, shortly after the millionaires’ plans became known, the Los Angeles Department of Citizen Planning nominated Monroe’s home to be listed as a Historical-Cultural Monument (HCM) along with 1,200 other protected places, which halted the demolition permits. The city has continued to take steps to protect the home, and in March, the City Council was allowed to vote on its HCM designation, a vote which will take place in the summer. But these efforts may not be enough.

In their lawsuit, Milstein and Bank argue that the house — which has had 14 owners in these six decades, not counting Monroe — has undergone many important changes and that up to a dozen permits have been granted for remodels, according to Los Angeles Times, which has had access to the court documents. According to the couple, city officials acted unconstitutionally and retrospectively when seeking protection for the site. The millionaires accuse the city of “backroom machinations” to conserve a site that, they believe, does not deserve to be considered a monument.

An aerial view of Marilyn Monroe's home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, in September 2023.
An aerial view of Marilyn Monroe's home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, in September 2023.Mario Tama (Getty Images)

The new owners even question whether the actress spent time there. Monroe bought the single-story, 2,900-square-foot Spanish colonial style house — very different from the celebrity mansions of today — just a year and a half before she died, and she lived there until her death. But the homeowners dispute this. “There is not a single piece of the house that includes any physical evidence that Ms. Monroe ever spent a day at the house, not a piece of furniture, not a paint chip, not a carpet, nothing,” the lawsuit says.

Members of the Brentwood Homeowners Association told EL PAÍS in August that they felt “very sad” about the demolition plans, but that they had “no power or jurisdiction to intercede.” The Brentwood neighborhood, like so many in the city, is under threat by millionaires who do not respect its historical legacy. Just a few weeks ago, actor Chris Pratt and his wife, writer Katherine Schwarzenegger, demolished the Zimmerman House in that same neighborhood to build a mansion. The 1950s home — designed by American architect Craig Ellwood and landscaped by Garrett Eckbo, considered one of the pioneers of modern gardens — is today just rubble.

The patio of Marilyn Monroe's home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, in an image from 1962.
The patio of Marilyn Monroe's home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, in an image from 1962.Keystone-France (Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Monroe’s home had the phrase “Cursum Perficio” — Latin for “The Journey Ends Here” — in a tile on the front porch. After living in the homes of her three husbands, at the Roosevelt Hotel (next to the Hollywood Walk of Fame) and in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, this was her first and only home. The property has tall wooden beams and a kidney-shaped pool which, legend has it, Monroe never had a chance to use.

Monroe bought the home for $75,000 (about $775,000 in 2024), but now it is worth millions. Brinah Milstein’s family, according to 2015 data from Forbes, has a fortune of more than $3 billion. The Milstein family emigrated from Russia to New York at the beginning of the 20th century and managed to build a global construction empire and acquire a savings bank. They are also philanthropists, donating money to the arts and medicine. Roy Bank is a producer and owns Banca Studio, which makes television programs. The couple has been married for a decade.

The home on 12305 Fifth Helena Drive is not visible from the street, but it always has a few curious onlookers hanging around, and colorful tour buses often stop to point it out, even if only its outer wall is visible. In 2013 the city tried to protect the home, but the proposal did not go ahead as it was private property and could not be accessed. Now, the Department of Citizen Planning, the Cultural Heritage Commission and the City Council are trying to protect it. As are the residents of Brentwood, who know that fighting is all they can do to keep the house of their most illustrious citizen standing.

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