The owners of Marilyn Monroe’s house want to tear it down, but the city of Los Angeles is putting up a fight.

The fight to save Marilyn Monroe’s home in Brentwood, California, is heating up, and now it has become one step closer to awarding it the status of an architectural monument.

The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously in mid-January to recommend that the former Monroe house be given the status of a historical cultural monument. In 2023, the owners received permission to demolish the iconic Spanish colonial residence, which caused a strong reaction from historians, residents of Los Angeles, and fans of the actress around the world.

Councilwoman Traci Park sprang into action after what she said were hundreds of emails and phone calls to her office, filing an emergency motion with the Los Angeles City Council to begin consideration of the house as a city landmark. The council voted unanimously to begin the landmarking process, and the Department of Building and Safety revoked the owner’s demolition permits.

In August, the Brentwood house was sold for $8.35 million to the Glory of the Snow 1031 Trust, managed by Andrew Schure. According to the Robb Report, LA history tour company Esotouric revealed the identity of the owners, billionaire heiress Brinah Milstein and her husband Roy Bank – a former reality TV producer and head of development for the company behind CBS’ Survivor and NBC’s The Apprentice.

Milstein and Bank, along with their legal counsel, addressed the Cultural Heritage Commission on 18 January, proposing that the house be relocated rather than designated a landmark. They argued that the condition of Monroe’s house had been a source of frustration to residents, that Monroe hadn’t been productive in Hollywood during the time she lived in the Brentwood residence, and that the house had been significantly renovated since the star had lived there. They also argued that her primary residence was a New York apartment she once shared with a former husband, playwright Arthur Miller.

“In the eight years that we have lived next door, we have seen the property change owners two times,” Milstein said.

“We have watched it go unmaintained and unkept. We purchased the property because it is within feet of ours. And it is not a historic cultural monument,” she continued. “It has been over six decades since Miss Monroe’s passing and in those 61 years it has not been designated. The home has undergone extensive remodels and additions several times by the previous owners. … Since the media frenzy surrounding whether or not to now make this a historic monument, our quiet, peaceful neighborhood has seen a significant increase in traffic noise, tour buses, sightseers, disruption, and disturbance.”

Bank addressed the commission and said that the family is respectful of Monroe’s contribution to the film industry and her fans. “But we ask that you oppose designation and instead allow the council to consider other options that will better allow fans to celebrate Marilyn in a more appropriate and commensurate way. We’ve offered to relocate the home and make it accessible to the fans who want to see it, let them visit, celebrate, remember Marilyn, and even take pictures of a house that they will otherwise never have access to as long as it’s a private residence.”

Bank said relocating the home would avoid “an exponential increase in tourism, tour buses, people, a disturbance that is sure on a calm, quiet, private, narrow residential street in Brentwood.”

Architectural historian Heather Goers spoke passionately at the meeting in support of landmark status. Goers said Monroe’s Brentwood home was largely unfurnished while the actress lived there because custom-made sofas, tables and lamps she’d ordered had not yet been delivered at the time of her death. Monroe had taken great care in selecting pieces for the first and only home she ever owned, the historian said. She’d travelled to Mexico and chosen hand-painted tiles for her fireplace, and bought landscaping books to recreate the Mexican-style gardens she’d loved on her travels. She also registered her dog’s licence in the city and, remarkably, told Life magazine during a tour of the property, “Anyone who likes my house, I’m sure I’ll get along with”.

Among the Monroe fans who emailed the commission, attended the meeting in person or online via Zoom were actors, art historians, conservationists and a former neighbourhood resident.

“I live in Los Angeles and grew up on South Carmelina, just a few houses away from this house,” said Isabelle Edwards. “My parents are also long-time residents of the street; they still live there. I’m very much in favour of this property becoming a landmark. This property has been known as Marilyn Monroe’s home for as long as I can remember.

Edwards, who said she’d been inside the house, described it as “very much intact”.

“The authentic character, charm and architecture have not changed… The layout is pretty much the same. The character of the house, the windows, the living room is pretty much the same as in the [1962] photographs,” Edwards claimed. She also noted that she often visits her parents’ home in the neighbourhood and has not noticed any additional traffic.

Parisian art historian Jacques Le Roux emailed the commission, describing Monroe as a “sacred figure”.

“It is the only place in the world that grounds the myth of Marilyn in history, in the history of the United States and the world,” Le Roux wrote. “It is the only physical reminder that remains of the life and death of an extraordinary human being.

“Destroying the only place she owned during her lifetime, and where her transformation into a sacred figure began, would be a shame, [an] irreparable mistake, an ignorant act against culture and history.”

The five members of the Heritage Commission, many of whom had visited the property in recent weeks, each made a brief statement about the cultural and historical significance of the house. They voted unanimously to recommend the 5th Helena Drive house for heritage designation.

The LA City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee will consider the matter, probably in the coming weeks. According to Park’s office, the timeframe for the matter to be resolved “varies as it still needs to be discussed in committee”. The 18 January vote was a recommendation from the Heritage Commission, but the application still needs to be approved by the City Council before the property is considered designated.

“Because PLUM already has a queue of items to discuss,” the office said, “it can usually take several weeks to get to a vote before it goes to Council.”

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