10050 Cielo Drive: Famous House, Horrifying Past

 

Sitting at the edge of the cul-de-sac along a private road within the Benedict Canyon, lays the address of 10050 Cielo Drive. The 3.3 acre property lays atop a hillside overlooking the famous landscapes of both Beverly Hills and Hollywood. The house on this land, like many in the area, was home to a numerous amount of famed figures coming and going. For awhile, 10050 Cielo Drive would just be another Hollywood house, an architectural beauty for movies stars and musicians to call a home. That was until February of 1969, when famed director Roman Polanski and his wife, Hollywood actress Sharon Tate moved in. What followed on August 9th, 1969 would forever change the world and would figuratively mark the death of the 1960’s.

Michèle Morgan. Actress for RKO Radio Pictures

Michèle Morgan. Actress for RKO Radio Pictures

10050 Cielo Drive was designed and built by architecture Robert Byrd in 1941 for Michèle Morgan, a French actress for RKO Radio Pictures. The house was designed to resemble a beautiful and peaceful 19-century French Cottage with its rustic look, beamed windows, living room loft and stone fireplaces. The house itself was 3,200 square feet with a guest cottage measuring at 2,000 square feet. It included a picturesque swimming pool and a private driveway surrounded by tall pine. The Los Angeles Times states Michèle Morgan is said to have bought the house for only $32,000 after fleeing the German Invasion during WWII and moving to America. After the war had ended Morgan had left back for France and the house was bought by Dr. Hartley Dewey who began to rent it out. 

Through Dr. Hartley Dewey, the house was rented to many Hollywood Elites of the time such as silent film actress Lillian Gish while she starred in Duel In The Sun. In 1963, Hollywood business agent Rudolph Altobelli bought 10050 Cielo Drive for $86,000. He as well, chose to rent the house to his celebrity clients and friends. Notable residents included Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, and Dyan Cannon. In 1966, Altobelli leased the house to music producer Terry Melcher who was the son of actress Doris Day. Melcher worked alongside some of the 1960’s biggest musicians including The Byrd’s, Paul Revere and The Raiders, and most notable, The Beach Boys.

Charles Manson Mugshot - California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation 1968

Charles Manson Mugshot - California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation 1968

Through Melcher’s relationship with The Beach Boys drummer, Denis Wilson, he was introduced to Charles Manson, an unstable and wannabe musician looking to make it among his Hollywood friends. Denis Wilson met Manson when he picked up hitch-hikers Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey and brought them to his home in the Pacific Palisades. At the time, it wasn't known, that Charles Manson was quietly growing a following with young females. This cult, famously dubbed “The Manson Family” included both Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey. Through these women, Denis Wilson met Charles Manson and found him to be a semi-talented musician. Wilson then introduced Manson to Terry Melcher in hope to give Manson the opportunity for an audition with the music producer. Melcher passed on signing Charles Manson on two separate occasions while auditioning at Manson's “Spahn Movie Ranch”, a location that was used as the Manson Family’s headquarters. This upset Charles Manson who would later seek revenge leading to the horrors that followed in 1969 on Cielo Drive.

Terry Melcher eventually moved to live with his mother in Malibu. In February of 1969, 10050 Cielo Drive was leased to its new residents, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. Roman and Sharon lived a good life, Sharon Tate was becoming Hollywood's new “It-Girl” and became pregnant with Polanski’s child. Polanski was gone frequently working on new projects, leaving Sharon Tate at the house with friends. On March 23rd, 1969, Charles Manson visited the house on Cielo Drive, rumored to have been looking for Terry Melcher and seeking revenge. Altobelli was on the property at the time and told Manson that Melcher had moved away in January. Charles Manson is said to have already been aware of Melcher moving and visited the house to lay eyes on the new residents, specifically Sharon Tate. Manson eventually left the property and went back to growing his following at Spahn Movie Ranch. 

Sharon Tate - By Orlando Suaro 1966

Sharon Tate - By Orlando Suaro 1966

Early in the morning on August 9th, 1969, in the dark of the night, Cielo Drive changed forever. Roman Polanski was in London working on a film. Sharon Tate stayed home with her friend and ex Jay Sebring, friend of Polanski, Wojciech Frykowski, and his girlfriend Abigail Folger (heiress to the Folger Coffee Company) who were staying the night. On Cielo Drive, Manson Family members Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel gathered outside. Charles Manson instructed them to go 10050 Cielo Drive and “totally destroy everything in it, as gruesome as you can”. The group arrived at the entrance to the property. Tex Watson climbed a telephone pole near the gate and cut the power lines leading into the house. They then backed their vehicle to the bottom of Cielo Drive and walked back up the hill to the house. Afraid of a security alarm, the group climbed an embankment and made their way onto the property.

While walking up to the house, the group saw headlights approaching them. In the vehicle was eighteen year old Steven Parent. Parent was visiting William Garretson, the properties caretaker who lived in the guesthouse. Tex Watson stopped the vehicle and ordered Parent to get out. Watson then leveled his .22 - caliber revolver at Parent who begged for his life. Watson stabbed Parent in his palm then proceeded to shoot him four times in the stomach, killing him. The group then arrived at the front of the house and found an open window. Watson entered and let the others in after unlocking the front door. In doing this they awoke Wojciech Frykowski who was sleeping on the living room couch. Frykowski asked who they were and why were they there. It is said that Tex Watson responded “I am the Devil and I’m here to the Devil's business”. Then Watson ordered the others to gather everyone in the house and bring them to the living room. The group then tied up the residents with towels and proceeded to brutally murder them, including Sharon Tate and her unborn baby by stabbing the victims multiple times. Before the Manson followers fled, they left the word “PIG” on the wall painted in Tate’s blood. While on their way back to Spahn Ranch, the group changed clothes and disposed of the weapons. They would later get caught and be sent to prison, alongside Charles Manson who carried out the murders.

Morning of August 9th, 1969. Police presence outside the Tate Residence.

Morning of August 9th, 1969. Police presence outside the Tate Residence.

Today it is still a debate on why Charles Manson carried out the murders on Cielo Drive. Some think it was racial and Manson would blame the murders on the Black Panthers. Others think the original target was Terry Melcher, but realizing he moved, targeted Sharon Tate. Either way, the house went down in history. It is believed that the murders represented the death of the 1960’s and led to a more cynical and gloomy 1970’s. Since that night in 1969, 10050 Cielo Drive real estate investors bought into the property with it’s last resident in 1993. The resident was Trent Reznor with the band Nine Inch Nails. Reznor used the property as a recording studio for the band. He named the Studio “Pig” after the grizzly message that was left on the wall. In 1994, Reznor moved and the house was torn down. Since then the address of 10050 Cielo Drive has been changed to 10060 Cielo Drive and a new house has been built. The current owner is the creator of the show Full House, who turned the property into a mega-mansion with a 15-car underground garage.

No matter what physically changes or who owns the property, the story will always remain. The name will be carried and remembered through works such as Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 movie Once Upon A Time In Hollywood starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. The movie re-imagines the events leading to that night in 1969. 10050 Cielo Drive will live in history as the house with unspeakable horrors and an intense past. It is our job to remember and pay tribute to the brighter side of the house, the fame that ran through its walls, the residents that occupied it and their contribution to our society today through their movies, their music, and their acting. 

October 30, 1988 | RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

October 30, 1988 | RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer