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What’s the Story with That Mansion in Eagle Rock?

The Mansion, often referred to as the Bekins Estate, is located at 1554 Hill Drive, between Dahlia and Loleta. Well folks, a large number of members and guests of the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society found out what’s been going on straight from the source last night at the Society’s public meeting at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock.

In my 20 years as a Realtor, I’ve heard that question more than any other when the conversation turns to properties in Eagle Rock. The Mansion, often referred to as the Bekins Estate, is located at 1554 Hill Drive, between Dahlia and Loleta. Well folks, a large number of members and guests of the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society found out what’s been going on straight from the source last night at the Society’s public meeting at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock. Mr. Robert Kvassay gave a slide show update on the property that has been in his family since 1965. 1554 Hill Drive (historical photo)
In the last 2 or 3 years, the grounds, which had fallen into a state of advanced disrepair, began to show signs of attention. Slowly, the years of neglect were trimmed back, and it seemed like every week a new fountain or walkway or flower bed appeared.
Not long ago, a new wall surrounding the Hill Drive side of the property appeared along with a new sign announcing the name “Chateau Emanuel.” It turns out that Emanuel was Robert’s father, and this restoration has been a labor of love honoring his parents, Emanuel and Maria Kvassay. hill drive pres at center for the arts
Public records show that the property consists of 2.81 acres (according to Robert it is almost 4 acres—there are probably additional lots with separate parcel numbers), the house was built in 1925, and consists of 5577 square feet. Here is the history of the property according to the Historical Society Fall, 2009, newsletter, and to Mr. Kvassay’s remarks.
It was originally built by Martin Bekins, the founder of Bekins Van Lines. When he died in 1933, his widow, Kathryn Cole, sold the house to Wilfred “Bill” Lane. Mr. Lane had invented a “shotgun” process to improve production of old oil wells by fragmenting the rock they penetrated. He also donated and supported a Boy Scout camp in Big Tujunga Canyon. In the neighborhood, he was known for handing out ice cream on Halloween. His widow, Hazel, sold the property to the Kvassays in 1965.
Maria and Emanuel grew up in what is now Slovakia. He was a math teacher and bought forest lands which yielded lumber and wood products. They emigrated to the United States after the Communists took over their country and appropriated their holdings. They lived in another house in Eagle Rock near MaCastle at the other end of Hill Drive before purchasing the 1554 Hill Drive property. Emanuel started the Sierra Packaging Company, which Robert still runs today. Maria was a talented seamstress who owned several dress shops including Mary’s Fashions in the Eagle Rock Plaza. They were both active in the movement to free Slovakia from Communist rule, and entertained dozens of dignitaries at their home, including Shirley Temple Black, Edward Teller, and Lech Walesa. They were active in the Republican party and worked to help other immigrants come to this country, and become citizens.
The family attended St. Dominics Church in Eagle Rock, and the 3 sons grew up in Eagle Rock. Two of the sons currently live at the Hill Drive property.
There are 3 houses on the property:
1. The gardener’s house is about 1200 sqft.
2. The carriage house is 2-story, about 3300 sqft, and the driveway actually goes through it.
3. The3-story main house is about 6000 sqft. It has 2 full kitchens, one is on the lower level adjoining a large ballroom.
The estate has a large swimming pool and spa, 3 rose gardens, 2 fire pits, 6 full kitchens, 7 bars (and, ironically, the family doesn’t drink), a bistro, a croquet court, a stage, a grotto, and a fish pond. According to Robert, he has restored and updated the property, but hasn’t really built anything new. Many locals remember the observatory which used to be at the top of the property, and now the mystery is revealed: Robert built that observatory many years ago and then when it fell into disrepair, he dismantled it and donated the telescope to the Telescopes in Education project at Mt. Wilson Observatory. One of the fire pits is now on the pad where the observatory was, right next to the croquet court. There are many retaining walls all over this multilevel property and they were all made of recycled concrete salvaged from places all over the city. He used an inventive method to replace the yards and yards of handrails along the walkways—he filled a firehose with cement, then cut the hose off after it hardened.
The property requires a tremendous amount of time and money to keep up. The lawns take 6 hours to mow. He said that after it rains it takes two days to clean up the grounds. And how about this utility bill: $3500 per month for water and power! Whew!
And now I have a little scoop for you: you can see all the photos we saw last night at www.chateauemanuel.com!

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