If walls could talk. Imbued in every square inch of this $3.448 million historic adobe estate in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, are the secrets of its most famous former resident, screen-siren-turned-real estate-mogul Corinne Griffith. Born in Texas in 1894, the raven-haired beauty dominated the box office during the 1920s silent film era, when she earned the nickname “the orchid lady of the screen.”
But here’s where things get really interesting: In 1966, while in the process of divorcing her fourth husband, 45-year-old Broadway star Danny Scholl, Griffith swore under oath that she was not, in fact, Corinne Griffith, and that the starlet had died 30-some years before. Instead, she was the “deceased” starlet’s own younger sister, 20 years her junior.
The reason for the (alleged) charade? Simple: The actress’s fortune was at stake. Because according to Scholl, Griffith had lied about her age before entering into their six-week-long marriage; she purported to be 20 years younger than her actual age of 71. Scholl wanted out, and he wanted restitution. Few believed Griffith’s testimony, but her story was enough to convince the judge: He ruled in the actress’s favor, leaving her earnings intact. Upon her death in 1979, she left behind an estate of $150 million — and an artistic legacy that includes the construction of this mission-style adobe hacienda in San Diego County.
Griffith’s transition into the talkies was a bumpy one, and her film career soon fizzled. Did the leading lady then fade into obscurity? Not quite. Instead, Griffith reinvented herself as an accomplished author and artist, and she turned her attention to real estate investments (savvy ones at that).
Among her more astute investments was the purchase of a city block in downtown Rancho Santa Fe, which she redeveloped for commercial use during the 1930s; this was around the same time that the actress initiated construction of this now-7,212-square-foot estate, high in the hills outside of town.
The home was built from two 1900s Spanish missions from Taos and Las Cruces, NM, which Griffith had disassembled and shipped via flatbed railroad car to her build site, then reconfigured to her specifications. Construction was completed in the early 1940s.
The home retains many of the architectural features original to the missions, such as the viga and latilla ceilings, the hand-laid wooden floors, and the handcrafted wooden shutters. One of the mission’s original bells is suspended above the estate’s entryway gate.
Vibrantly colored furnishings team up with custom-crafted lighting, hand-rendered woodcarvings, and exotic collectibles in creating the home’s distinctive style.
Blurring the line between indoors and out, floor-to-ceiling French doors lead from the spacious living room to one of many outdoor spaces that bound the home. The patios and verandas at the rear of the residence provide stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the valley below.
There are five bedrooms within the main house plus three additional bedrooms in the estate’s detached guesthouse. Pictured here is the main house’s master bedroom, which features a custom adobe fireplace — one of seven wood-burning fireplaces throughout the property.
Simultaneously rustic and modern, the cozy galley-style kitchen is complemented by exposed brick and painted tile. The kitchen is located adjacent to a glass-walled dining room.
Recessed windows flank a wood-burning fireplace in the formal dining room.
Sharing the panoramic mountain views enjoyed from nearly every room of the main house, the two-story guesthouse — built by a later owner — offers three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, and a fully equipped kitchen.
Bold pops of color and inviting verandas add to the appeal of the guesthouse, which echoes the main house in its aesthetic.
Slicing through luxuriant tropical foliage, a meandering stone walkway leads to an enchanting grotto-style pool and a natural rock spa, complete with a babbling waterfall.