Passionate lovers Coco Chanel and the second Duke of Westminster once spent their summers cozied up in a grand manor house in the Scottish Highlands. The place had naturally been the epitome of glamour, class and style. But fast forward a century, and the now-crumbling mansion is a mere shell of its former self. As two intrepid urban explorers push through its decaying spaces, though, they still find eerie remnants of a world gone by tucked away inside. And the artifacts left behind tell a bizarre story of their own…
The manor – known as the Rosehall estate – is located in the achingly romantic Scottish Highlands. You’ll find it in the village of Invershin, to be precise. And you need only take a look around to see why the lovers may have fled there. The miles of the breathtakingly beautiful countryside would have lent a seemingly much-needed sense of privacy for two public figures.
Chanel and her lover would have been able to experience some of the best that Scotland has to offer while staying at Rosehall, too. Within driving distance of the mansion, you’ll find rolling hills and beautifully weathered beaches. And there’s also the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, which was first established in 1877. The designer was known to have picked up a few golf clubs in her time, so there’s a chance she may have played there during her stays.
And if the walls could speak, we bet they’d have some compelling stories to tell about what went on inside. After all, the couple’s notoriety meant that they entertained many VIPs. In 1927, for instance, Winston Churchill was invited to stay at Rosehall when he wasn’t in the best health.
The letters that the then-future prime minister wrote his wife at the time provide a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life at the manor. Of Chanel, he said, she “fishes from morn till night, and in two months has killed 50 salmon. She is very agreeable – really a great and strong being fit to rule a man or an Empire.”
Unfortunately, though, Rosehall wasn’t destined to welcome throngs of guests into its rooms forever. In fact, the manor now lies totally abandoned. And it’s only urban explorers who seem to be brave enough to venture inside. Luckily, some have shared their trips online, letting us in on the amazing discoveries that have been made within. This includes the remnants of Chanel’s trailblazing tastes.
Because by the time Chanel was designing her wealthy lover’s grand Scottish mansion, she’d come a long way from her somewhat unfortunate start in life. Her father had sent the young Gabrielle – nope, her real name isn’t Coco – to an orphanage when she was just 12 years old. Yet it was here that Chanel first picked up sewing.
After Chanel left the orphanage, she began to use her new-found skills to start her empire. She also fell into intense relationships with two wealthy men: Étienne Balsan and Captain Arthur Capel. And through their luxurious lifestyles and financial support, the designer was able to successfully launch her first hat store in 1910. Then, 11 years on, the fashion icon brought out her first signature scent: Chanel No. 5.
Before long, Chanel became acquainted with the suitor who brought her to Scotland. She first ran into the Duke of Westminster, who was otherwise known as Hugh Grosvenor, in 1923 while on vacation in Monte Carlo. The designer obviously wasn’t bothered by the fact that he’d already been married twice and was instead drawn to his poise and handsome features.
The Duke’s immense wealth didn’t seem to worry Chanel, either. But then again, why would it? It seems she rather liked just how rich he was, writing “wealth of such magnitude ceases to be vulgar. It is beyond all envy and assumes the proportions of a catastrophe.”
Within 48 hours of their first meeting, Chanel was invited to dine on the Duke’s lavish yacht, the Flying Cloud. It was one of the biggest privately owned yachts in the entire world at the time. We can only assume the designer was impressed by its luxury – and by Westminster, of course – as the pair subsequently started seeing each other romantically.
Chanel was by now one of the most famous and influential women in the world. After the designer and the Duke attended a racing event together, for instance, photographers captured how she’d fastened a belt around the coat she was wearing. And it didn’t take long for women everywhere to start doing the same.
As it turns out, the relationship between Chanel and Westminster wasn’t just a fling. The Duke divorced his wife in 1926, and the designer also demonstrated her commitment by picking the Duke above another potential lover. Despite being such a trailblazing figure for the era, she apparently told friend Claude Delay, “I chose the one who protected me best.”
Let’s face it: the Duke of Westminster’s immense wealth may have also played a role in Chanel’s decision. He was pretty much the Jeff Bezos of his era, after all. Apparently, if you’d have wanted to explore his entire country house in the northwest of England, it would have taken something in the region of 15 hours. Crazy, right? Plus, the Duke also owned properties in London and France. And we mustn’t forget the aforementioned yacht, of course.
It will perhaps come as no surprise, then, that the Duke apparently used to present Chanel with lavish treats. He would reportedly send her huge baskets containing foods that you’d struggle to find at the store – such as strawberries and fresh salmon. And rumor has it that one day, a servant emptying one of these crates found a giant emerald jewel under the goods.
Another time, one of Chanel’s household staff members allegedly opened the door to a bunch of flowers so big, it was difficult to see that the Duke was standing on the other side. And even though these tales should probably be taken with a pinch of salt, it can certainly be said that the designer was living in the lap of luxury at this point in her life.
What we can be sure of, though, is that the Duke was rather generous with his properties. Towards the beginning of his affair with Chanel, for instance, Westminster let her stay in his residence in Mayfair, an upmarket London borough. He also gifted the designer land on the French Riviera – on which she built a beautiful villa. And then, of course, there’s the couple’s luxurious Scottish love nest, Rosehall.
Rosehall has an impressive history. The first mansion on the site actually belonged to Richard Dunning, the second Lord Ashburton. And to help with the transportation of building materials, he ordered a canal made that connected the estate to the nearby River Oykel. Sadly, the whole place caught fire in 1817 – not all that long before Lord Ashburton himself passed away. As a result, a new dwelling had to be built.
Thankfully, workers were able to salvage bits of the old, destroyed house in order to construct the new one. And this time, they made it bigger and better. By the end of the restoration, the Rosehall estate boasted five different buildings, extensive accommodation for the servants, a subterranean network of tunnels and a huge garden with a lake.
For Chanel and the Duke, Rosehall was meant to be merely a vacation home. But that didn’t stop the designer from wanting to put her own stamp on the decor. She selected beige for the walls, for instance. And while that doesn’t sound all that remarkable today, the color would have been a big departure from the traditional style.
That wasn’t all. Chanel had beautiful French wallpapers hung up in the sleeping quarters, and she hired men to create and fit new fireplaces. Plus, the designer even put what may have been the first bidet in the whole of Scotland into one of the house’s bathrooms.
Even though the couple entertained many guests at Rosehall, it seems only Winston Churchill provided a written account of his stay. Aside from revealing how taken he was with Chanel and her fishing skills, the future prime minister’s 1927 letter to his wife summed up why the estate made such a great vacation spot.
Churchill wrote, “This is a very agreeable house in a Highland valley. Well-equipped with salmon, trout and snipe. The air is most exhilarating, keen and yet caressing. It is quite different to England.” But while the beautiful surroundings have managed to stand the test of time, the same can’t be said for the Rosehall.
When you consider the mansion’s exquisite history – an interior designed by none other than Coco Chanel and bedrooms that Churchill would have slept in – it’s certainly a shame that the grounds have been left to deteriorate. And as for Chanel and the Duke’s whirlwind romance, that, too, fell into a state of disrepair.
The Duke, it seems, didn’t enjoy spending time with Chanel’s creative acquaintances, struggling to engage in their topics of conversation. Westminster apparently wasn’t all that happy when Chanel spent time on her vocation, either. And as the designer’s career was such a large part of her identity, it’s perhaps no surprise that she turned down his marriage proposal with the words, “There have been many Duchesses of Westminster but only one Chanel.”
And so after numerous heated rows, the couple’s decade-long relationship came to an end – as did Chanel’s visits to the Scottish love nest. The Duke wed again in 1930, but Chanel never took a husband. Unfortunately, Rosehall was gradually left to deteriorate. It has remained empty since 1967 – and has been taken over by mold and dry rot.
But the mansion’s somewhat eerie exterior hasn’t put urban explorers off taking a look inside. Their footage gives a glimpse of what Rosehall must have been like in its heyday. The YouTube channel Samandjessexplore paid a visit in 2020, for instance, and they discovered numerous relics and reminders of the house’s luxurious past.
Not long after entering, the YouTubers found a wine bottle sitting on a shelf in what appeared to be some sort of storeroom. The vial wasn’t empty, either. In fact, it was full. Even so, the group respectfully left it where it was. And on the higher shelf, there was a decaying piece of an old newspaper – a copy of the Liverpool Echo from 1942, ominously dated Friday 13th.
Next, the explorers made an even cooler discovery, turning into a room full of old furniture. And in among the treasure trove, there was a chesterfield leather sofa, a turquoise wardrobe with an intricate floral pattern painted on the front and a huge, elaborately carved wooden bed.
Before moving further into the fascinating time capsule, the YouTubers stumbled across a lamp made out of seashells. And all around them lay similar ornaments and battered old pieces of furniture – all of which would have been beautiful in their heyday.
Making their way deeper into the decaying property, the intrepid group soon realized that the incredible relics could be spotted in almost every room. On one of the mansion’s many fireplaces, for instance, lay an old work of art. And that, along with the bright red horse-drawn fire truck sitting in the corner, seemed to offer a glimpse into the unique style of decor you’d have seen back then.
In another room sat an ornate chaise longue, which looked to be in surprisingly good shape considering its surroundings. Yep, you need only look at the green hue on the wall behind to get a sense of the damp conditions. And near that was an intriguing tablet, inscribed in Arabic writing.
Then – strewn around a case that read, “Life is too short to drink bad wine” – the YouTubers found some pretty blue, floral china that had been made in Italy by a company called Tiffany Boutique. And even though they’re not a product of the prestigious Tiffany & Co brand, it’s likely they’re still pretty valuable. New plate sets on the crockery website sell for approximately $150, for instance.
When the explorers eventually made their way up the dark and dust-laden staircase, they discovered even more. In one room sat a gorgeous roll-top bath, which they pointed out may have been used by Chanel or Winston Churchill. Crazy, right? Next, the group uncovered a bidet surrounded by damp, rotting wood. And yes, it’s thought this is the one that people believe was the first to be installed in Scotland – though it’s relatively impossible to be sure.
Continuing through the house’s eerie green-tinged corridors, the intrepid bunch entered a room containing a stack of old skis. And near that, there was a bizarre blue contraption on the floor. If, like the YouTubers, you don’t recognize the object, a commenter on the video helpfully explained what it was. They wrote, “It is a clay pigeon trap used to send the clays in the air to shoot!”
It was in a different part of the house where Chanel’s presence could be felt the most, though. For one, the room we’re referring to contained a cupboard full of shoes, which very plausibly could have been worn by Chanel, the Duke and their illustrious guests. And in the corner were the remains of a grand old sewing machine, where the designer may well have sat and worked on her creations.
Despite all of the magnificent discoveries, though, the house certainly had its dangers. At one point, the explorers found an area where the roof had started to collapse. Elsewhere, the floorboards looked like they’d been completely taken over by rot. And if that’s not enough to send shivers down your spine, what about the area where a bug infestation seemed to have taken hold?
Naturally, the YouTube video received lots of comments. People expressed sadness that the once-beautiful house had fallen into such a state. One person wrote, “I love how you all respect the marvels that you find. Too bad Coco didn’t assign a trustee to take care of the place. Makes me sad to see such a beautiful structure go to ruin.”
But it seems there’s hope for the old mansion just yet. Over the years, you see, professional building reviewers have been in to take a look around. They’ve decided that despite the mess and the dangers, the house can still be revived by someone willing to put the work in. And in 2014, estate agents Remax put the property and its land on sale for the equivalent of just over four million dollars.
And by the time the YouTubers sneaked into the building, it had actually already been sold. Yep, in January 2020 the plans were made public: the estate is going to be turned into a luxury hotel – hardly surprising given its history, don’t you think? Plus, the developers apparently want to keep as many of Chanel’s designs as possible. Start saving now if you ever want to go there!
Yet Chanel’s is far from the only famous abode that’s been left to rot and decay. Beverly Hills is full of magnificent homes, too. But somewhere among the glamorous villas of the rich and famous lies a decrepit building. The mansion was once the home of talented Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli and his family – but it has since been abandoned and left to decay. And its crumbling walls and overgrown gardens are a sorry testament to the legal battle that seems to have engulfed the place.
Vincente Minnelli made a name for himself in the movie business during the mid-20th century, helming multiple classic musicals. For instance, in 1951 he sat in the director’s chair for An American in Paris – a film that later took home the Academy Award for Best Picture. And seven years later, he repeated that success and also earned the Best Director award for his work on Gigi.
Vincente entered the world in Chicago in 1903 but spent much of his childhood moving around Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Eventually, the family set up home in Delaware, but the future director returned to Chicago after graduating from high school. And it was there that he immersed himself in the theater, taking jobs designing costumes and sets.
This passion for the stage culminated in Vincente’s first directing gig: a musical titled At Home Abroad. The production started in 1935 and ran successfully for two years. Vincente’s reputation flourished in tandem, and in 1940 he took a job at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios – cementing his future in the movie industry.
Over the course of his life, Vincente married four times. Indeed, he tied the knot with his first wife, accomplished actress and singer Judy Garland, on June 15, 1945. Like her husband, Garland was involved in many movies throughout her career. She received considerable recognition for her work, too, picking up a Golden Globe and Special Tony among other awards. The star is perhaps known best, however, for her role as Dorothy in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, for which she earned a Juvenile Oscar.
Garland met Vincente while working on his 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. And she would go on to collaborate with him twice more over the next few years. The actress found success in the music industry, too, producing a handful of studio albums. In 1961 she even became the first woman to take home the Grammy for Album of the Year. What’s more, two years later, the star hosted an Emmy-nominated TV show called The Judy Garland Show.
Vincente and Garland had one child: Liza Minnelli. Born on March 12, 1946, Liza would grow up to become a star in her own right. Indeed, she bagged an Academy Award for her role in the 1972 film Cabaret and is also widely celebrated for her singing voice. Some of Liza’s more famous performances took place at Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall in the late ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s.
But alas, things didn’t end happily for Vincente and Garland. In 1951 the couple divorced, and their struggles were supposedly sparked by Garland’s streak of self-destructive behavior. Wracked by insecurity, anxiety and depression, the actress reportedly took sleeping pills and amphetamines. Eventually, she suffered a nervous breakdown and even made two attempts to take her own life after MGM terminated her contract. The star also started having an affair – spelling the end of her marriage.
As previously mentioned, Vincente married three more times before his death, wedding his final bride – Lee Anderson – in 1980. Six years later, the director passed away from pneumonia and emphysema in his Beverly Hills home, aged 83. And in the years since his death, the ownership of his mansion has proven to be controversial.
Indeed, Vincente left his property – said to be worth some $1.1 million at the time – to Liza. But he also left lifetime use of the house to Lee. So, while his widow continued to live there, his daughter apparently paid the bills. Then in 2000 Liza put the house up for sale, apparently without Lee’s knowledge. And as recompense, Liza offered her stepmother a $450,000 condo – yet Lee refused to leave.
Even when the house finally sold a couple of years later, Lee still wouldn’t vacate the property. Liza supposedly responded by ceasing payment of the mansion’s electricity bills, and she also fired the staff who were employed to take care of it. As a result, Lee filed a lawsuit against her stepdaughter, kicking off what would ultimately be a short legal battle.
The lawsuit in question alleged that Liza had breached a contract and brought emotional anguish upon Lee. Indeed, the court papers ascertained that moving the then-94-year-old “will no doubt be the death of her.” Liza’s 2002 wedding to David Gest added further fuel to the fire too.
For one thing, the lawsuit caused Liza to withdraw Lee’s invitation to the wedding. But it was the lavishness of the festivities that apparently drew the most ire from Liza’s stepmother. In reference to the wedding, you see, the lawsuit read, “While the defendant is honeymooning all over the world, having fed 850 of her closest friends a 12-foot cake, [the] plaintiff is alone in a cold, dark house at age 94.”
Liza responded to the lawsuit in April 2002 – a month after her wedding. Speaking to Army Archerd, who was a writer for Daily Variety, she explained, “My father left me the house, saying, ‘It is my wish if you sell the house that you move [Lee] to a residence.’ I finally got a nice offer to sell it and offered her a $450,000 condo tax-free. She won’t move. I’ve been supporting her forever. I did exactly what my father asked me to do. And now we can’t go into escrow because she won’t move. I am willing to give her a happy life.”
Despite the fracas, though, the legal battle came to a conclusion fairly quickly. Lee in fact dropped the lawsuit a month later after Liza had reportedly reached out to her and invited her to dinner. The pair then came to an arrangement over the mansion: Liza would pay rent to the new owners while Lee continued to reside in the property. And after Lee’s death, the buyers could finally take full control.
In 2006 – four years after the buyers made their offer – the house finally closed escrow. And three years later, Lee passed away – less than a month after her 100th birthday. It was at this point that the new owners could take residency of their $2.75 million purchase. First, though, they discussed plans to renovate the property.
Ultimately, however, the new owners’ plans seemingly fell through the cracks – and no restoration supposedly ever took place there. And rumored visions to scrap the property and construct a new estate on the same site never materialized, either. As a result, the mansion appears to have since been home only to squatters.
But let’s take a look at the property’s history. The home was first built in 1925, which was around the time that Spanish Colonial Revival architecture was apparently coming into fashion. The hallmarks of that style include smooth plastered walls, terracotta features and flat roofs. However, the mansion was renovated and redesigned between 1944 and 1953 by John Elgin Woolf – this time in the French Louis XV style.
In total, the house – which is situated at 812 N. Crescent Drive, CA – boasts 19 rooms, six of which are bedrooms and another six of which are bathrooms. The mansion is set over around 5,900 square feet on a lot that spans a whopping 42,500 square feet. It’s an enormous space, then, and certainly fit for a celebrity. Vincente moved in shortly after his split from Garland in 1951.
As a child, Liza alternated between living with both her parents. She therefore spent half of the year at her father’s mansion. And she undoubtedly enjoyed her time there. After all, Vincente reportedly adored his daughter. He commissioned an artist called Tony Duquette to build her a huge playhouse in the property’s backyard, for instance.
In addition, Vincente reportedly had multiple outfits fashioned for his daughter, making her house a popular hang-out spot for her friends. And star of sitcom Murphy Brown Candice Bergen recalled as much in her autobiography. She said, “I remember always asking to go to Liza’s to play dress-up because in her closet hung little girls’ dreams.”
At the turn of the millennium, the Los Angeles Times profiled Lee Minnelli and painted a grand picture of the mansion in which she resided. As well as describing “python-skin-covered walls” and “vast dressing rooms,” the story highlighted the various designer outfits that hung in Lee’s wardrobes. Her own suite was apparently “smothered by books, papers, catalogs and, of course, many framed photos.”
In fact, even after her husband’s death, Lee apparently changed very little in the home. Vincente’s easel and paint were, for example, said to be exactly where he had placed them. And the house still contained a room showcasing relics from the director’s illustrious career, including his Best Director Oscar that he had won for Gigi.
With all that in mind, then, it’s not hard to imagine that the house was once an impressive sight. Yes, when Vincente first purchased the mansion back in the 1950s, it was likely something to behold, particularly when considering Woolf’s then-recent renovations. Nowadays, though, the property looks much the worse for wear.
The images that are available of the house in its current state, you see, paint a much more depressing picture than what is conjured in the Los Angeles Times article. The years since Lee Minnelli’s death have not been kind to the mansion, it seems. The grass and trees are overgrown and untended, for instance, suggesting that the property has been absent of a groundskeeper for some time.
What’s more, located in among the enormous plot’s untamed vegetation is an outdoor swimming pool. But just like the rest of the property, it’s a shell of its former self. Devoid of water, it looks more like a huge cavern in the ground. Seeing it empty is strangely eerie, particularly when you remember the glamorous people by whom it would have once been enjoyed. Now, the pool is simply a remnant of a time long since passed.
The rest of the grounds aren’t much prettier, either. Debris and rubble are littered around, while marble columns lie toppled and strewn. In fact, such is the state of the house’s exterior surroundings that it’s hard to believe anyone of note ever lived here. You’d certainly never guess that it was once the home of some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
Unfortunately, the inside of the house doesn’t spin a different tale. The kitchen, for instance, is in a sorry state. Cupboard doors are torn off their hinges, while drawers have been pulled out and stacked haphazardly. Broken furniture, dishes and other detritus are scattered here and there, and the dirty sink is in desperate need of attention.
The vastness of the property and its general state of abandonment seem to make for unnerving viewing. Yes, there’s an inherently creepy feeling to the crumbling walls that’s palpable even in the images. The parts of the carpet that have remained intact are filthy, and though some sections have been torn away to reveal the old padding underneath, that too is now aged to red dust.
Upstairs, the words “Judy Garland” are scrawled across one of the walls. There’s no way to know who penned them, but it’s not hard to imagine someone getting wind of who used to live here and coming to scribble the name. Regardless, it’s a much-needed reminder of the lofty figures that were once associated with the now-abandoned house.
Really, almost the entire home appears to be in a terrible state of disrepair. There are holes in the walls, doors coming away from their hinges and piles of papers littering the rooms. And while we can’t say for sure, it’s unlikely that the house was in this state when Lee Minnelli passed away. Over the years, then, it has probably been subject to the whims of curious passers-by and squatters.
This sense of squalor doesn’t improve in the master bedroom, either. While some parts of furniture remain, most of it is long gone – including the bed and bedside tables. More trash covers the floor, and the room is horrendously dirty. Plaster is falling from the ceiling, too, and there are yet more holes in the walls.
In other areas of the house it’s more difficult to distinguish the rooms as having any particular uses. In one space, for instance, there’s a bathtub, a mattress and an exercise bike – along with more random objects, such as a fire extinguisher. Given the eclectic nature of these items, it becomes difficult to piece together a coherent image of those who once resided here.
But this doesn’t mean that people don’t try. With the house now abandoned, there’s nothing to stop members of the public from poking around. And that’s exactly what one YouTuber – with the username adamthewoo – did in 2014. During his exploration of the house, he discovered that there’s no running water. That’s hardly surprising, though, when you consider the fact that the home hasn’t been lived in since 2009.
Old television sets and VHS tapes are scattered in another room, along with a multitude of other belongings. Perhaps, then, Liza had no interest in coming back for her or her stepmother’s possessions after Lee’s death. Well, that’s adamthewoo’s theory, which he explained in a post for Abandoned Explorers – a website that’s dedicated to urban and industrial ruins.
“Maybe Liza retrieved some things she wanted from the home, but she certainly wouldn’t be interested in old furniture [or] TVs,” adamthewoo wrote for the website. “So those were probably just left since the house needed a complete renovation anyway, and that was up to the owners.” Alas, it seems that the new landlords never got around to the essential restoration that the house desperately required.
In another room, meanwhile, there’s a fireplace that’s certainly seen better days. However, according to the two guys touring the house in the 2014 YouTube video, there was evidence that it had actually been put to use not long before their visit. This lends credence, then, to the suggestion that squatters have lived in the house at some point since 2009. What’s more, behind this fireplace lies a wall that’s covered in dirty, mirrored glass.
As the video continues, so does the guys’ tour, and on it, they find few traces of the grandeur that the property had obviously once enjoyed. In the dining room, you see, only a few cushions, a couple of chairs and the old TV set remain. And even more random furniture lies askew in other rooms, including a lurid, bright-green couch. Elsewhere, large sections of the ceiling are in fact missing.
Nevertheless, it does appear that some work has actually been done on the mansion since 2009. There are, after all, aerial photos of the property on Bing that show a utility truck and dumpsters parked outside the house. Whatever work was planned, however, clearly never came to fruition. And it’s thought that the local authorities may be preventing the current owners from tearing the mansion to the ground in order to start afresh.
In fact, Abandoned Explorers posited that this may be the reason the home was left deserted. “Was this why it had been basically left open to squatters for years in hopes it would be accidentally burned down or be destroyed by vandals beyond repair?” the author pondered. Whatever the case, the house has again been left to decay – despite once being home to some of Hollywood’s most famous clientele.