The Villa Maria at St. John of God Retirement & Care Center
Also known as the Ramsey-Hughes-Durfee-Mansion


 William Ramsay was born in Canada on July 9, 1855.  He came to Los Angeles from Lake Charles, Louisiana where he had established the Bradley-Ramsey Lumber Company.  He retired in sunny Southern California where he promptly commissioned architect Fredrick L. Roehrig to design a suitable auspicious home in the then remote edges of West Adams.  Roehrig designed a Tudor revival home with 42 rooms suitable for this millionaire client.  The mansion has six family bedrooms, three bedrooms for servants and a driver’s quarters above the garage.  The entry hall measures 20 by 30 feet, the giant dining room has William Morris inspired fabric above a mahogany dado and the 34 feet by 28 feet living room has two immense bay windows.  The ballroom measures a 96 by 26 feet and features beams and window seats to give it a castle like ambience.  The lumberman and his family did not live in the house long.  Mr. Ramsey died at 53 with funeral services held in the residence.


The house was leased to Rupert Hughes, an early movie industry tycoon, who threw elaborate parties.  Rupert and Adelaide greeted people warmly to their Sunday Brunches in the early 1920’s.   Among those who often attended were Mr. and Mrs. Sam Goldwyn.  Producers and directors visiting the home could see its picture possibilities and sometimes arranged to use the grand staircase and paneled rooms as setting for movie weddings and duels.  Charlie Chaplin filmed part of one of his motion picture on the lawn.  Rupert was the uncle to the famous Howard Hughes.  Rupert was born in Lancaster, Missouri and grew up in Keokuk, Iowa.  He was a prolific playwright, novelist and screenwriter.  He adapted many of his plays and novels to the silent screen:  All for a Girl, The Bigger Man, (all in 1915), What will People say, (1916), The Unpardonable Sin, (1919), the Thirteenth Commandment and The Cup of fury (both 1920), souls for Sale (1923) and No One Man (1932).  The Patient Leather Kid was nominated for original story in 1927. 


In the early 1920’s, the house was sold to William G. Durfee, a horse race devotee, and his wife Nellie McGaughey Durfee, sheltered daughter of Figueroa Street millionaire.  They paid the unheard of sum of $105,000 for the house and the three acres it sat upon.  William Durfee’s courtship to Nellie had been a scandal.  His 1920 divorce from the mother of his two children made the newspapers, as did his marriage to Nellie in 1911 in Santa Barbara.  But by all accounts, William and Nellie were too much in love to care what the world thought.  They furnished their home with the bounty of their many trips to Europe and elsewhere.  It all came to a crashing end, however, after William Durfee died of suspected food poisoning on a fishing trip in the Pacific Northwest in 1927.   His funeral at the estate on Western Avenue was attended by all the prominent horse-racing people in Southern California; he was buried in Rosedale Cemetary.  Thereafter, Nellie Durfee closed her heart and her life. She retreated into her mansion, slept with the key to William’s room around her neck, changed nothing in the house and died in relative obscurity in 1976. Today, the Villa Maria, the name given to this residence in honor of Mary the Mother of God, is presently the Provincial Headquarters of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God. This Order which bears its founder’s name originated in Granada, Spain in 1537. St. John of God was a man of great hospitality-in action and in spirit. He was a man who “knew love”. He understood that love had a healing and therapeutic value for those who were sick, aging and suffering. He founded his first hospital on this principal of love. In this tradition the Brothers operate healthcare facilities throughout the world.


Once again the house is being used for filming movie and television series. Among these are: Dragonfly; Minority Report; Sister Act II; True Confessions; Mommy Dearest; The Thorn Birds; Hart to Hart; Snoops; Fr. Dowling Mysteries; Murder She Wrote; Matlock; Cagney & Lacy; Hunter; Judging Amy; Melrose Place; Beyond Belief; Vanished; Bones; CSI-Las Vegas; Angel; The Social Network and many others.