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Legendary Mansion of Film Stars Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Demolished

April 20, 1990 GMT

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) _ Pickfair, the romantic estate where legendary movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks once reigned over Hollywood, has been demolished to build a palatial home for actress Pia Zadora.

Cherubs still guarded the gate Friday and vines and flowering shrubs draped the curving wall surrounding the estate, but inside, beyond a thicket of trees, stood only portions of the mansion amid bins of rubble.

Sounds of hammering and shouts of construction workers echoed across the hillside where ″America’s Sweetheart″ once hosted parties for virtually all the legends of Hollywood’s Golden Age as well as royalty and presidents.

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The 2.7 acres that remain of the original 15-acre estate are now owned by Miss Zadora and her millionaire husband, Meshulam Riklis. They are building an elaborate mansion that will incorporate a living room from the old house.

″A person hates to see part of an era, a very famous era, the Pickfair, just sort of disappear very suddenly. But it’s my feeling it’s not the end of an era,″ said Matty Kemp, longtime associate of the late silent film star.

It was not the house itself but Miss Pickford and Fairbanks, as well as the company that Tinseltown’s ″king and queen″ kept, that made Pickfair what it was, said Kemp, who runs the Pickford Co., which continues to handle the late actress’ films.

″The glamour came from the people, the celebrities of the day. You name them - Valentino, Swanson - that’s where the glamour was at Pickfair.″

Miss Pickford made her first movie in 1909, ″The Violin Maker of Cremona,″ directed by D.W. Griffith. She was in more than 100 silent films, including ″Polyanna″ and ″Poor Little Rich Girl,″ before making her first talkie, ″Coquette,″ in 1929. It won her an Oscar for best actress.

She followed that with ″Taming of the Shrew″ and ″Kiki″ before ending her career with 1933′s ″Secrets.″ The motion picture academy gave her a special Oscar in 1976 for contribution to the industry.

Pickfair was built shortly after Miss Pickford married Fairbanks in 1920. What was once a stable in the country and then a hunting lodge was transformed into a gracious home that - with some exaggeration - became known variously as the Buckingham Palace of Hollywood or the White House.

″It was as famous as the White House in Washington,″ said Kemp. ″Mary, during her reign as the queen, she was the most popular woman in the world. My God, there wasn’t anyone that didn’t know Mary Pickford.″

An invitation to Pickfair meant you had arrived. Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson were just two names on a startling guest list: Maurice Chevalier, Anna Pavlova, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Jack Dempsey, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Ford, Babe Ruth, Lillian Gish and H.G. Wells.

Miss Pickford was 86 when she died in 1979. Her marriage to Fairbanks had ended in 1934 and she hadn’t made a movie in nearly 50 years. But the mystique of Pickfair lingered on until the end.

Her third husband, actor Buddy Rogers, several times called reporters to the mansion to dispel rumors that Miss Pickford, who became reclusive in the mid-1960s, was locked up. She spoke from an upstairs room, using a tape- recorded message or telephone.

″I’m feeling so good that I’m ready to go back to work,″ she said in one such interview in 1978. The mansion at that time was reported to be ″in splendid repair, fully staffed and brimming with legend.″

After her death Rogers decided to sell Pickfair and built himself a new house on a portion of the property. He called it Pickfair Lodge and still lives there.

Rogers, who was out of town Friday, sold the house to Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, for $5.4 million in 1980. He sold it to Miss Zadora and her husband in 1988 for $6.67 million.

The couple announced last July that they were embarking on a two-year remodeling project to transform the house into a Renaissance-style Venetian palazzo with tile roofs, leaded windows, balconies and verandas. The demolition work has been going on since the beginning of the year.

Now, however, only a separate guest house-servants quarters and the old house’s living room remain standing. The rest had simply begun to crumble.

″I understand they ran into some problems with the foundations, termites,″ said Kemp.