Standing alone among stately trees on Hillside Road, where it has stood like a sentinel
for over one hundred years, the majestic edifice known as the Demens-Tolstoy house,
is a living memorial to the past. With rows of grapevine adorning the foreground
and with green mountainside and blue sky for a background, it presents a striking
picture, although the grapevines are now gone.
The historically rich three-story structure is a landmark of the area. The "ranch
house", as it was affectionately known, was once the center of a thriving 300 acre
ranch which produced an abundance of citrus fruit, grapes and hay. Citrus demanded
a lot of water which was abundantly provided for the ranch primarily by a number
of tunnels (horizontal wells) dug into the side of the mountain, from which water
was piped by gravity flow to waiting reservoirs for distribution. The seven or more
tunnels supplying water for this ranch were hand dug mostly by Chinese railroad laborers
from Russia in a run for his life - just steps ahead of the pursuing revolutionaries.
Tolstoy was a nephew of the noted Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, best known to
many for his classic "War and Peace". He emigrated to America, where he met and married
Vera Demens, daughter of Peter Demens. After the death of her father, Vera Tolstoy
and her sister Inns, who lived with
the family until her death, inherited the property, and the large house has since
been known as the Demens-Tolstoy house.
Tolstoy spent a lot of time in Hollywood, where he had become a well-known and successful
technical advisor to the moving picture industry. However, he managed to host a large
number of gala affairs at the Alta Loma house, where numerous celebritiesmixed with
local citizens and other guests.
become available for work after construction of the railroad line from east to west
had been completed.
In its early years, the house was the setting for many festive parties which provided
an opportunity for host Peter Demens, a former member of Tsarist Russia's Imperial
Guard, and other members of White Russia's nobility, to rub shoulders with the local
Demens (Piotr Dementieff), a member of the Russian nobility and a captain in the
Tsar's Imperial Guard, emigrated to America in 1880. He eventually settled in this
area and purchased the Alta Loma property.
The exciting times and gala affairs continued in later years when Hollywood celebrities
and a variety of other guests were entertained at lavish parties by Andre Tolstoy,
another former member of Russian nobility.
In 1917, Tolstoy, a cavalryman in the Imperial Guard, made a hasty departure