The site was a vast, dark Hollywood estate that sprawls across a Los Feliz hillside. Once a retreat house, mother house and novitiate for the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it is empty now, except for a caretaker—or is it?
Corridors that twist and turn, secret doors, bedrooms without occupants, narrow winding stairways, an escape tunnel, a floor panel concealing an elevator that descends to an empty wine cellar, gloomy stone walls--what better place could there be for a haunting--especially when you learn that Charles Manson got inside, and that the LaBianca murders took place in the house next door?
Built in 1927 for business magnate and philanthropist Earle C. Anthony, the mansion has eerie traces of its former days, like a figure of the Virgin Mary in the shadowy entry hall. She’s soft and pretty, like a pin-up girl lost in a mausoleum.
The wines and cheeses she’s looking down on were set out by David and William Vondrasek, the founders and winemakers of Artisan Uprising in Paso Robles. The guests were a handful of LA wine writers.
One woman, familiar with the paranormal, felt presences and heard unearthly talking—Latin names, she said. Even now, as I write this, the story vanished from my computer and I had to rewrite it from memory. That’s really scary.
As we followed each other through an endless series of rooms, climbing from one level to another, someone mentioned “The Shining.” We saw a dining room that had been turned into a chapel with kneelers still there, waiting for nuns who never come--at least not in a form that we can see.
We watched the last of the sunset, then left the darkness for what seemed to be a cheerful, normal kitchen, where we set out our potluck dinner. I contributed the Turkish bulgur pilaf in the foreground, an intruder in a menu that was mainly Italian—lasagne, penne with New York steak, roast chicken, an arugula salad with cheese and chocolate cookies with bacon.
In the dining room next to the kitchen, the Vondraseks had lined up their 2013 releases, including a Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Merlot and Malbec. At least that’s what I think they were. It was very dark in that corner.
William Vondrasek, who’s pouring in the photo, says the brothers are thinking about getting into whiskey too. A shot of that might have eased the chills in my spine. Just hearing about the experience scared a friend I had lunch with the next day, and I didn't give her all the details.
As I sit here writing this, what is that muttering I hear behind me? Why did my cat screech and run out of her room? And why is that door creaking? Is it only the wind?