By Lindsay Blake | Variety

There’s no denying that Bette Davis is Hollywood royalty. But despite her best efforts at chewing up the scenery, even she couldn’t save the 1976 supernatural horror film “Burnt Offerings.” Based upon Robert Marasco’s 1973 novel of the same name, the dark tale sees New York writer Ben Roth (Oliver Reed), his wife Marian (Karen Black), son David (Lee Montgomery) and elderly aunt Elizabeth (Davis) taking up residence at a leased Long Island mansion one fateful summer. As the season progresses, the house slowly begins to possess each member of the family, using them as sacrifices – burnt offerings, if you will – in order to restore itself to its original grandeur.

Largely considered a dud, Orlando Sentinel Star reviewer Dean Johnson had some particularly harsh words for the film upon its release, writing “‘Burnt Offerings,’ huh? ‘Boring Offerings’ might have been more fitting. Or ‘Banal Offerings.’ Or, to further a point, take a look at the ‘Burnt Offerings’ initials. There’s a review for you in two letters.” Yikes! Johnson even takes issue with the Neoclassical Revival pad at the center of the story, concluding, “This is one big old house that isn’t even interesting set-wise.” On that point, Ben, I am going to have to politely disagree. The Roths’ summer rental is nothing short of spectacular!

Said to be at 17 Shore Rd., the mansion can actually be found standing on a grassy 50-acre plot about 20 miles east of San Francisco at 2960 Peralta Oaks Ct. in Oakland. Known as the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate, the striking property was originally built in 1899 for Alexander Dunsmuir, son of British Columbia coal magnate Robert Dunsmuir. A hard-partying playboy, Alexander fell in love with Josephine Wallace, his “favorite bartender’s wife” according to the Oakland Mom blog, shortly after moving to San Francisco in 1878. While that makes for a good story, per the Oakland Tribune Josephine’s husband, Waller (yes, his name was Waller Wallace!) actually worked as the “head usher at the old California Theater in San Francisco in addition to being a law clerk, baseball player and sports writer.” Regardless of his employment history, Josephine quickly ditched him to take up with the much wealthier Alexander, whom she dated for a whopping two decades before eventually tying the knot. Prior to the wedding, Dunsmuir commissioned local San Francisco architect J. Eugene Freeman to design a three-story, 37-room estate on a leafy 600-acre plot near the Oakland foothills as a gift for his soon-to-be bride.

(Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate)

The luxe digs took nine months to complete, setting Alexander back $350,000 – about $11.5 million today. The 20-bedroom, 10-bath estate boasted such lavish appointments as fine wood paneling, silk wallpapering, parquet flooring (each room with its own unique pattern), an incredible 10 fireplaces and a formal entry capped by a Tiffany-style leaded-glass dome measuring 12 feet in diameter. The 16,224-square-foot property also included staff quarters with live-in accommodations for 12 as well as an employee dining room with a fireplace and call box, the latter of which a 1973 Sacramento Bee article noted was watched over 24/7 by a housekeeper who was tasked with dispatching “the appropriate servant the family needed” at any time of the day or night.

Alexander and Josephine tied the knot at the estate on December 21, 1899. Sadly, the merger was short-lived. Dunsmuir passed away unexpectedly the following month while honeymooning with his new bride in New York. Josephine subsequently retreated to the house her husband had built for her, where she passed away from lung cancer just a little over a year later. The property was subsequently bequeathed to Josephine’s daughter from her first marriage, actress Edna Wallace Hopper (aka the “eternal flapper”), who in turn leased it for several summers to I.W. Hellman Jr., son of Los Angeles’ very first banker, Isaias W. Hellman.

Isaias Jr. eventually purchased the place in January 1906. Four months later, the infamous Great Quake tore through San Francisco and the Hellman family promptly headed to Oakland to take refuge in their new home. The Hellman’s eldest son, I. W. Hellman III, recalled to the Daily News-Post in 1963, “Our family was hurriedly packed in our Columbia automobile and we drove to Dunsmuir House. There must have been 20 or 30 members of the family plus servants living in Dunsmuir House for days following the earthquake.” The property continued to provide refuge to the Hellmans for decades to come.

(Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate)

Isaias and his wife updated and expanded the estate during their tenure, adding water and electricity to the premises, as well as such luxe amenities as a golf course, a conservatory, tennis and croquet courts and a garden maze. They also dotted their pastoral wonderland with countless varieties of trees, including Camperdown Elms, Bunya pines and Hornbeams, and populated it with horses, ducks, deer and other animals, all of which wandered the grounds freely. Mrs. Hellman was also responsible for adding a pool and a Mission-style bathhouse. I.W. Hellman III told the Oakland Tribune, “My brother, Fred, and I often hiked all the way down to San Leandro Bay to swim. Mother wasn’t happy with the water there and that’s how the big swimming pool happened to be installed.”

(Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate)

The family also entertained on the premises regularly, inviting all of the local movers and shakers of the day. A former gardener (one of eight who worked full-time at the property!) told the Tribune that there would often be “more millionaires standing out there on the lawn than you can find on Wall Street when the stock market opens.”

I.W. Hellman passed away in 1920 and his widow continued to own the estate and summer on the premises until her own passing in 1959. Three years later, the City of Oakland purchased the house with plans to utilize it as a conference center. That idea eventually fell through and today, the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate is a popular tourist attraction. While typically open to the public for docent-led and self-guided tours, as well as holiday events, due to the pandemic, the grounds are currently closed until further notice. The site does remain available as a wedding and special events venue, however, as well as for filming.

(Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate)
(Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate)
(Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate)
(Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate)
(AVCO Embassy Pictures)
(New World Pictures)
(Gravitas Ventures)
(TriStar Pictures)
(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
(Warner Bros.)
(Paramount)

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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