On a visit to Los Angeles recently I was once again drawn to Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. I had been there years before and was fascinated with the way the house exuded the personality of its owner.
Will Rogers, one of America’s best-loved humorists, and arguably one of the most famous men of his time, was a man of irony and his house and family ranch illustrate this. He transformed this land, purchased in 1922 to escape his Beverly Hills life, into a beloved home. Born in Oklahoma of part Cherokee heritage, he started out as a cowboy and championship roper, and eventually ended up on vaudeville stages across the country. His outspoken candor and gentle wit, combined with practical advice and honesty won him fans around the world and ultimately made him a multimedia star. He became a Broadway and film star, radio commentator, and newspaper columnist.
He eventually settled in Hollywood but longed for a retreat where he could pursue his passions for horses and aviation. He was friends with all of the celebrities of the day, including Walt Disney, Clark Gable and Charles Lindbergh, but he connected with the common man. His house is a simple ranch house, with several additions. It features art from some top Western artists including paintings by Charles Russell and Ed Borein and elaborate hand-crafted saddles . His library features an amazing collection of signed first editions from many famous authors of his time, but supposedly he hated to read books.
On a tour of the house I saw a modern kitchen, a simple breakfast room, and a dining room table where a look underneath revealed many wads of gum placed there by his children. Also, the patio where the family entertained friends well-known throughout America. His office where he hosted his friends who his wife did not approve of and the outside stairs he built so these friends could come and go without passage through the house. As the house was a refuge for the Rogers family, it was also a refuge for friends when needed. Will hosted his friends Charles and Anne Lindbergh during their baby’s kidnapping investigation.
In 2006 the property re-opened after a 3-year closure and $5 million restoration. Rogers’ love of horses and riding is evident in the renovated hay barn, stables, riding arenas, and riding trails throughout the property. Riding lessons were underway during my visit.
I’ve visited many historic homes, and some stand out in my mind. This home summons the character of a man who lived life to the fullest and sadly, died too young in a plane crash in 1935. His widow donated the family’s ranch to the state in 1944. The peaceful place includes the last remaining polo field in Los Angeles, a city that boasted 25 polo fields in the 1930s. Visitors can watch polo matches, ride horseback or hike to Inspiration Point for sweeping views of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.