No Place Like Home: The Dupuy Mansion, Alhambra, 1920s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of Walter P. Temple’s longtime friends and business partners was Sylvestre Dupuy, a native of Los Angeles who was born on the Rancho Rosa de Castille.  This property, encompassing today’s campus of California State University, Los Angeles, and nearby areas, was granted in 1831 to Juan Ballesteros, but never confirmed by the United States Land Commission during the California land claims process.  Later, the property was owned by the Batz family, emigres from the Basque region of southwestern France along the Pyrenees Mountains dividing that country from Spain.

Dupuy’s parents, Raymond and Marie, were enticed to come to Los Angeles from France at the behest of Marie’s brother, Jean Pedelaborde, who was raising sheep on the hilly areas of the rancho along the southern reaches of the San Rafael Hills.  When Marie died, however, her husband took Sylvestre and other children and returned to France.

Sylvestre remained in France until he was about fourteen years old and he and an elder brother sailed from Bordeaux through the Bay of Biscay and across the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans in spring 1893.  From there, he made his way back to Los Angeles and to the Rosa de Castille ranch.  Within a few years, Pedelaborde decided to return to France and left his property to Sylvestre.  The enterprising young man, barely in his twenties, soon acquired nearby land on leases for raising sheep and farming barley, oats and hay.  In 1899, he married Anna Candelot and the couple raised four children, three sons and a daughter.

Unidentified Mansion At The Top Of A Hill 96.7.85.1
This snapshot from the photo album of Agnes Temple and in the Homestead’s collection shows Sylvestre Dupuy’s Pyrenees Castle not long after its completion in 1926.

Dupuy did very well in his ranching enterprises and became associated with Walter P. Temple in oil and real estate enterprises, most notably as an officer in the Temple Townsite Company, which developed the Town of Temple, renamed Temple City in 1928.  While still in his mid-40s and during the boom period of the mid-1920s, Dupuy decided to build a castle, dubbed the Pyrenees Castle.  Today’s post highlights a couple of photographs taken of the mansion and its original owner.

Designed by John Walker Smart, who practiced architecture in his native Scotland and in Winnipeg, Canada, before relocating to Alhambra about 1920, the edifice was a massive 8,600 square feet and sat on a hill in the southwestern part of the city just south of Valley Boulevard and overlooked much of Dupuy’s ranch lands.

The mansion took a few years to build and was completed in 1926, a year before La Casa Nueva was finished by his business partner, Walter P. Temple.  With its distinctive group of rounded towers, arched porticos and steep gabled roof, the structure definitely stood out as it loomed over the far more modest areas around it.

W P Temple George Woodruff And Sylvester Dupuy At Dupuy Home Alhambra ca 1928 80.19.83.1
Another photo from the museum collection shows Dupuy at the center, flanked by Walter P. Temple, right, and Temple’s attorney George H. Woodruff, left, and the front entrance to the Dupuy mansion.

Yet, Dupuy’s fortunes were tied in many ways to those of his fellow investor Temple and the onset of the Great Depression and the lingering financial troubles at Temple City and in oil investments caused serious problems.  Dupuy died in 1937 at only 58 years of age and was buried at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles.

The mansion did remain in family hands for awhile afterward.  A 1939 Los Angeles Times article, addressing rumors about the mansion, with claims of the building being owned by wealthy titans of industry or mob figures, pointed out that Dupuy’s wealth dissipated before his death.  However, he left enough, the article continued, for his widow and two of his children and their families to occupy it.

In 1946, however, the Dupuys sold the house, which was converted into an eight-unit apartment building, though Anna Dupuy continued to live in one of the apartments until she died three years later.  Decades later, after years of obscurity, the Pyrenees Castle suddenly became infamous.  The house was purchased by Chris Yip, a Chinese-American businessman, who paid nearly $600,000 for it in the mid-1980s and then spent nearly that much on a huge renovation.

 

DuPuy 1930 census
The listing of the Dupuy family at their Alhambra mansion in the 1930 census.  Though it has been said the house cost $500,000 to build, the stated value in the listing is $150,000.

The home then became the property of a Hong Kong bank for a few years, until an unlikely buyer picked it up in 1998 for a little over $1 million.  The new owner, prone to strange outbursts with firearms and addicted to alcohol and drugs, was legendary pop  music impresario Phil Spector.  The Bronx native was at his creative peak in the mid-1960s through early 1970s, but was increasingly erratic and reclusive when he moved into Dupuy’s chateau.

In February 2003, after partying in Hollywood, Spector met Lana Clarkson, a waitress at the House of Blues, where Spector ended his night on the town at the landmark club.  They returned to the Pyrenees Castle and allegedly Clarkson agreed to go to the house under the impression Spector could help her flagging acting career and intended to have one drink before leaving.

At 5 a.m. the next morning, however, Spector emerged from the mansion with a gun in his bloodied hand and told his chauffeur that he thought he’d killed someone.  His first court case ended in a mistrial, but the second, in 2009, resulted in a conviction for second degree murder, implying that he did not plan the killing, and he received a sentence of 19 years to life.  Spector remains in prison, but his third wife, whom he married just after the Clarkson murder, still lives in the house, although she recently filed for divorce.

An interesting article by Hadley Meares for KCET on the Spector incident can be found here.

Meanwhile, depending on whether Spector emerges from prison alive or disposes of his estate, who knows what the future holds for Sylvestre Dupuy’s Pyrenees Castle?

UPDATE: In mid-March 2019, it was reported that Spector was selling the house and asking $5.5 million for it so he could meet the terms of the settlement of a divorce from his third wife (who he married while incarcerated for the murder of Lana Clarkson).  As of early July, the house remained unsold at that listed price.

 

 

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