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Home of the Week: Bette Davis Once Owned This Laguna Beach Estate. It Just Listed for $20 Million.

The Hollywood screen legend put a lasting stamp on the place.

Bette Davis home Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty; AP Images

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.

Bette Davis and her third husband, William Grant Sherry, reading in the living room of their home in Laguna Beach, California, 1947. (Photo by Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Bette Davis and her third husband, William Grant Sherry, reading in the living room of their home in Laguna Beach, California, 1947. (Photo by Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)  Photo: Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

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.

Bette Davis home

The living room.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

“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.

Bette Davis home

The kitchen.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

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.

Bette Davis home

The great room.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

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.

Bette Davis home

The views from the great room.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

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.

Bette Davis home

The cozy sitting room.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

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.

Bette Davis home

The primary bedroom suite opens to a private terrace.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

“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.

Bette Davis home

The wine cellar.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Bette Davis home

The family room.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Bette Davis home

The bar.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Bette Davis home

Another bedroom.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Bette Davis home

Many details from Davis’ era have been preserved.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Bette Davis home

The deck overlooking the ocean.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Bette Davis home

Views from the patio go up and down the coastline.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Bette Davis home

The guest cottage.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Bette Davis home

The house perches over a cove.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Bette Davis home

A private staircase leads down to the beach.  Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Bette Davis and her third husband, William Grant Sherry, boating near their home in Laguna Beach, California, 1947. (Photo by Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Bette Davis and her third husband, William Grant Sherry, boating near their home in Laguna Beach, California, 1947. (Photo by Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)  Photo: Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

 

  

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