Thoughts from Friends: Rodney Kemerer

Wishing Well

Text by
Rodney Kemerer
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member

After years of searching, my wife and I stood in front of our dream home. As we looked at the house from the walkway leading to the front door our shared excitement was evident. I think we were even holding hands. This was it, finally something to commit to as a “forever home.” We looked at each other and then, in an instant, without saying a word, we both knew we would never buy this house. It turns out, we each had very different reasons that revealed both a pragmatic and emotional side of our personalities and touched on a big piece of Los Angeles history.

Let’s turn back the clock a bit. It is 1991. We had been living in a 900 square foot cottage for a few years and had been saving our money. We knew that the next house did not have to be much bigger but it had to have more privacy. A sprawling house was less important to us than sprawling land. We loved walks between gardens more than walks between rooms. We were young enough that the words “fixer” did not frighten us. All of this led us to looking at some very odd properties.

After a few years of searching we had all but given up finding the “small house big property” on the Westside. I began searching for vacant parcels in Los Angeles with the idea that perhaps we would build our “small house.” That search led to the classified ads in The Los Angeles Times. Remember when real estate was advertised in pulpy newsprint? Seems like ancient history now.

Then one day there it was, in tiny print no more than half an inch: “LAND BHPO view pad over one acre flat (total 3.3 acres) OWC with 15% down 70 degree view of city lights, downtown to beach. Secluded, private, gated. Can accommodate 12,000 square foot estate with tennis court.”

I was not going to build a 12,000 square foot estate but the views and privacy got my attention. I called the number in the ad and asked the broker where the property was located so I could go and take a look. She said, “Why don’t you stop by on Tuesday, I’ll have it ‘open’.” I said, “It’s land, it’s always ‘open’.” She replied, “Oh, there’s a small house there as well.” Now I was really excited. Big land, small house, private, views. I’m in.

The next Tuesday I drove to the location and sure enough it was gated. Oddly though, not fancy wrought iron gates but enormous chain link gates. Very institutional-looking, not residential. I drove down the curving narrow driveway with no house in sight. Then suddenly, there it was, tucked carefully against the hillside. The perfect little ranch house complete with a separate garage, split wood fence and a small stone wishing well in the front yard. I made my wish the moment I saw it. This was my dream home.

The tour of the house only locked me into my initial wish. Open beamed ceilings, every room with a view, a small pool, guest house, the complete package. It was a little tired, more like a rental property than someone’s home. The slightly used condition could not hide its charms, including a rustic Dutch front door, but truthfully, you had me at wishing well. I tried to keep my cool and not reveal my growing excitement about this property. Thanking the broker, I said I would speak with my wife and get back to her if we were interested. I was the only one looking at the property that day which in hindsight seemed odd. Pre-cellphones, I raced home and called my wife at work and said, “I found it, the perfect house.” Adding of course that it was way out of our budget but perhaps if we both sold our plasma for a few years we could do it. After all, an asking price is just that, an asking price.

Based on my colorful description, my wife changed her schedule so we could see the house together the following day. I also called a friend who was a broker so she could represent us should we try to go forward.

The next day, the three of us drove to the location and toured the property. My wife was totally smitten. Just her body language told me she loved it as much as I did. Years of negotiating had taught her to keep cool and remain neutral, asking only practical questions about condition and lot lines. Love the wife.

The tour ended and the four of us stood on the stone walkway near the wishing well that I had mentally thrown coins into that first day. The two brokers were excited, counting those fat commissions, and we were excited that we had finally found our dream house.

And that is where the dream ended. I turned to the listing broker and said, “I looked up the street address: 10066 Cielo Drive just to make sure it was not the infamous Manson Murder House. It wasn’t the same address, that was 10050, this is 10066.” As I said this with a bit of a nervous laugh, I saw the listing broker’s face drop to the ground along with all of her spirit and enthusiasm. Then the bomb: “Yes, that will come out during escrow, it is the Manson House, the address was changed.”

Now my wife is not one to be taken aback easily or even gasp as events unfold in front of her, but I remember distinctly reaching out to grab her arm for fear of her falling over at this news. Here she was standing at the entryway of her dream home as the dream turns into a nightmare. I have to add that the first thing our broker said after that bomb was, “…will this affect your interest in the property?”

Back home, shell shocked, we began to discuss the experience and we compared notes. We both knew it was never going to happen but for very different reasons. My take was very practical. I knew I would never have a good night’s sleep in the house, knowing that it was a mecca for every crazed lunatic who ever thought Manson was some type of prophet. I had visions of people waiting to get out of jail or institutions so they could visit and possibly reenact the events of that hot August night. “It will be just like Charlie…” kept repeating in my head. No gate or fence can stop that degree of evil.

My wife, on the other hand, did not express my practical fear. Hers was purely emotional. She could not bear the idea of living in a place where so much suffering had occurred. We agreed with each other and then rarely spoke of it again. Broken dreams are hard to revisit.

Looking back on the experience, I still see the stone wishing well in the front yard that stood as a witness to a wish no one would ever make.

14 Responses

  1. Maureen P.
    | Reply

    Too bad the Kemerers didn’t purchase the property, and make a memorial on part of the site to those lost. It would have spared the city the monstrosity that is currently on the property.

  2. Clare Wagner
    | Reply

    Great article Rodney. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Victor Meschures
    | Reply

    Have you ever thought of writing for a living?

  4. Robbie
    | Reply

    Rodney, Thank you for the history . I can’t imagine what you thought when informed of the tragedy That happened there.

  5. Patti Reinstein
    | Reply

    I always enjoy what you have written. Thanks for the lovely but bittersweet story!

  6. Terry Murkins
    | Reply

    Another beautiful story by Rodney!! Love his style of writing ????

  7. William
    | Reply

    I’m amazed that it wasn’t standard practice for the local government or the new owners to have immediately demolished the building. Clearly, the address had been changed. Had the house remained intact long enough to see the social media age, I’d hate to think of the waves of lookie-loos, selfie snappers, and Manson-devotees who’d make the pilgrimage. Thank you for the article, Rodney!

  8. Tonya Lager
    | Reply

    What an amazing tale. The Kemerer’s are so part of the landscape of the Hills. I have always a great read by Rodney but this is riveting!

  9. Tom Holland
    | Reply

    Great story, well written with a kicker for an ending. Murder and real estate, sounds like a winning combo to me.

  10. Greg
    | Reply

    Wonderful stuff Rodney. What an experience! Thanks for sharing with me.

  11. Pam Falk
    | Reply

    Gasp, what a quintessential LA story and how beautifully told. Can’t wait to share this!

  12. Kim
    | Reply

    Crazy! I never expected the turn that story took! Needless to say, it is beautifully written.

  13. Lynn Rothacher
    | Reply

    Rodney has written a story which perfectly captures the heartbreak of the Land of Broken Dreams with a gut punch of a last sentence. I eagerly await the uplifting sequel: the discovery and acquisition of your dream house, or as Robinson Jeffers would say, your “inevitable place.”

  14. Jodi Heath
    | Reply

    Your bittersweet story is beautiful….and oddly reminiscent, as I recall your mentioning it all those years ago.  You are a wonderful writer Rodney, don’t ever stop.

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