Larger-Than-Life Actor had a Larger-Than-Life La Cañada Estate
Victor McLaglen, a huge Hollywood star from the ’20s to the ’50s, led a legendary life of big adventure. At the turn of the century, at 14 years old, McLaglen joined the British Army, lying convincingly about his age because of his size, well over six-feet, and heavily muscled. He then traveled the world, trying his hand at various professions. He was a boxer, a wrestler and a circus performer. He prospected for gold, served as a policeman and was a trainer for a rajah of India. In WWI he saw much action, was wounded twice and served as a spy. In 1920 he was cast in a movie and his film career took off.
He moved to Hollywood, made 115 films and won an Oscar. He brought that atmosphere of big living to his six-acre La Cañada estate called Fairhaven.
The story of Fairhaven began in 1924 when a wealthy contractor purchased a big plot of land near the San Gabriel Mountains in La Cañada. He built a massive mansion in a European style, even importing craftsmen from the Black Forest region of Germany for the task. Yet he never occupied the house and, in fact, defaulted on his loan, and the house sat abandoned for several years.
But in the late ’20s, the newly successful actor Victor McLaglen and his family visited the abandoned estate. His daughter later described the empty house and grounds as a “lost, stark structure with the rough grounds lying dead.” But McLaglen and his wife saw potential in the empty land, dramatically set against the rocky tall mountains. They saw the massive house as a potential refuge from the world.
Victor’s wife famously said, “It’s a regular haven, isn’t it, Victor? If it’s going to be ours, couldn’t it be Fairhaven?” They bought Fairhaven, and began to mold the house to their lifestyle.
Slate for the roof was brought from Italy, leaded glass windows from England, and rich mahogany paneling from Majorca. The grounds were filled with fruit trees, avocado, orange and pomegranate, and the ground between was covered in flowers.
Physical health was important to the family. Gardens supplied fresh vegetables, chickens for fresh eggs, and a small herd of cows for milk. A pool and tennis courts were built. Paths ran through the lush landscape and the dry wash coming through the property was transformed into a castle’s moat, with stone bridges crossing it.
Pets were a priority and an exotic menagerie was housed at Fairhaven. Local animals, like bears, deer, coyotes and foxes, could be found along with oddities like coatimundi, peacocks, a parrot and a kangaroo. Big stone doghouses were built for the pack of Great Danes, and a stable housed their many horses.
The estate was hit hard by the big New Year’s Flood of 1934. The gardens were destroyed and McLaglen’s cars were damaged. The slide the McLaglen children played on was found in Glendale. All was repaired though.
It was a happy place for the McLaglen family but Mrs. McLaglen died in 1942, and Victor sold Fairhaven two years later. The estate passed through various hands and in the ’50s, Fairhaven began to be subdivided. The original house never changed much in appearance from when the McLaglens enjoyed it, and it did retain two-acres of the grounds, including the moat and bridges.
Today the historic Fairhaven is located at 1219 Journey’s End, and it’s possible to catch a fleeting glimpse of the mansion through the massive iron gates. And a true mansion it is. The main house is 5,000-square-feet, with three suite bedrooms, formal living and dining room, a music room and library. An additional 1,300-square-feet is below the house in a finished basement with two gyms, office and wine cellar. If that’s not enough, there’s a 2,000-square-foot guesthouse, a pool house and a four-car garage. It recently listed for $5.25 million.
We have some legendary homes in our valley, but few have the historic background and the Hollywood credentials as Fairhaven. It’s truly a gem in our community.
Thanks go out to Jim Carbonetti for supplying the info on Fairhaven.