It may be more than 70 years since the All About Eve star called this imposing oceanfront mansion just south of California’s tony Laguna Beach home, but locals still refer to it as The Bette Davis House.
The two-time Academy Award winner was at the pinnacle of her formidable career when she bought the home in 1947 as an escape from the Hollywood paparazzi, living here until 1950.
Sitting on a bluff overlooking rocky Woods Cove, a five-minute drive south of Laguna, this 5,400-square-foot, six-bedroom French Normandy-style house perches high above the cove, with private-access steps leading to a sandy beach.
Davis was 39 and married to her third husband, artist and former boxer William Grant Sherry, when she purchased the residence.
According to history books, it had been built in 1929 as a summer home for Charles H. Prisk, a wealthy newspaper publisher and owner of the influential Pasadena Star-News and Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Designed by well-known Laguna Beach artist and architect Aubrey St. Clair, the three-story, white-stucco mansion preserved many of the original features from when the actress lived here.
“One of the glass doors leading out to the oceanfront terrace still has the lovely, stained-glass crest featuring the letter “D-for-Davis,” listing agent John Cain, of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty, tells Robb Report.
More prominent is the large, wrought-iron “D” on the home’s towering, oceanside brick chimney. According to Cain, when Davis moved in, it used to be a letter “P” that Charles Prisk had installed. “By replacing it with a “D,” she quickly branded the home as her own,” he says.
Features like these helped earn the home a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. While Cain says this limits modifications to the exterior, it does mean tax breaks for owners to help offset restoration and maintenance costs.
According to records, the current owners purchased the property in 2004, paying $13.5 million. Since then, they’ve modernized the eight bathrooms and upgraded the two kitchens.
Turn off Pacific Coast Highway a mile and a half south of Laguna Beach, and follow the hill to Ocean Way and you can’t miss the home’s distinctive, Normandy-style, half-timbered frontage, distinctive green window trim and wood-shingle roof.
A door from the road leads into a private courtyard with a fountain and steps to an outside dining terrace. Inside the main house—there’s a separate guest cottage—the standout feature is the spectacular great room with its intricate, coffered wood ceiling.
The space gives way to the home’s aptly-named “lookout room” with its wall of windows providing uninterrupted views of the crashing Pacific below, and those legendary California sunsets.
Steps away, the home’s elegant living room has a French-style fireplace and soaring, distressed-wood ceiling. From here, a staircase ascends to the third-floor bedroom level and the home’s lovely primary suite, where French doors open on to a private terrace with views of Woods Cove and up and down the Laguna Beach coastline. Romantics will love the suite’s Juliet balcony that overlooks the great room below.
Back on the first-floor level, you’ll find the family room with its imposing stone fireplace and doors that exit onto a sunny, beach-overlook patio. The bar area has an ornate stained-glass ceiling. On this level there’s also a wine cellar, a fitness room and another bedroom.
The self-contained, two-bedroom guest cottage has its own kitchen and a breezy, beach-house feel.
“Of course the Bette Davis connection is a big part of the home’s appeal,” says Sotheby’s Cain. “But what is so special about the property is its prized location and that direct beach access.”
1991 Ocean Way is listed with Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty for $19.995 million. Take a 3-D tour here.