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Detective Work

Every home has a story.

Not long ago, I was driving down El Camino Drive in the heart of Beverly Hills when I noticed an attractive old Spanish-style home that was quite a bit taller than any of the others on the block.

Why, I wondered.

So I tracked down the name and phone number of the owner to find out.

When I called, I reached an assistant who was not particularly pleased to hear that I was a real estate agent. The house wasn’t for sale, she said. I assured her I wasn’t soliciting. Rather, I was just curious about the history of the lovely old home. A bit skeptical, the assistant promised to pass on my message to her employer.

The next day, I received this email from the homeowner:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for admiring our house. We love it too. I know it was built in 1928. Don’t know the story behind it or the architect. Wish I did. But if I find out I will share it with you.

All the best,


Rather than satisfy my curiosity, that only increased it. So I did a bit of detective work and sent this email to the homeowner the following day:

Dear Susan,

Since you were kind enough to respond, I thought I would ask my title rep to do a little digging…and managed to locate the original 1926 building application for your home, which is attached.

Let me point out a couple fascinating things.

First, you will see that the address at that time was on Speedway Street, not El Camino. I don’t know if you are aware, but in the early 1920’s a motor racetrack occupied that entire part of Beverly Hills. I’m told that at the time it was as famous as the Indy 500 is today. The speedway closed in 1924 (2 years before your house was built.) Among other properties erected at the time was the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, which was completed in 1928.

So…imagine what your brand new house looked like on the site of the former speedway, two years before the hotel even went up!

When the building application was filed, your home was valued at $10,000.

Unfortunately, the name of the architect is a bit hard to make out. I couldn’t find anything on variations of that name.

However, the owner’s name was a little clearer. It appears to be either “M.D. Shannon” or “M.D. Sherman.”

I got excited for a second because M. Sherman – Moses Sherman – was a major developer in early L.A., after which Sherman Oaks was named (and also the then-city of Sherman, which is now called West Hollywood.) You may also recognize the names of Sherman’s development partners: Van Nuys, Lankershim and Whitley. But alas, Moses Sherman’s middle name was Hazeltine (like the street off Ventura Boulevard in the Valley) and that middle initial on the building app is definitely not an H.

Still…your house, with its regal height, must have been pretty grand at that time, perhaps built for a person of great means or stature. Could the owner have been a relative of Sherman’s?

Anyway, I hope you find this as fun and fascinating as I do. I used to be a screenwriter before getting into real estate, and I often tell my clients “Every home has a story.” It’s that wonderful history behind every property that makes it so special – and my job so much fun.

And that’s true.