Copyight © 2011 by Idee Fixe Ltd.

All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
www.crownpublishing.com
Broadway Books and the Broadway Books colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Sheldon Harnick for permission to reprint lyrics from “If I Were a
Rich Man” by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
ISBN: 978-0-7679-3265-3
eISBN: 978-0-7679-3266-0
Printed in the United States of America
Illustrations and endpaper map by Fred Haynes
Jacket design by Jennifer O’Connor
Jacket photography by Ian Cumming/Axiom Photographic Agency/Getty Images
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CA S T O F C H A RAC T E RS

This book is about sixteen great estates in the best neighborhoods of Los Angeles—the contiguous communities of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Holmby Hills,
and Beverly Park. Of those, seven emerged as the book’s main “characters.”
Five are in Beverly Hills: Grayhall (1100 Carolyn Way), Greenacres (1740
Green Acres Place), Greystone (905 Loma Vista Drive),The Knoll (1130
Schuyler Road), and 9481 Sunset Boulevard, named Sunset House by its
latest owner. In Holmby Hills, there is Owlwood (141 South Carolwood
Drive), so named by owner number eight, and in Bel Air, Casa Encantada
(10644 Bellagio Road), the name used by owner number two. The street
addresses of some of these estates have changed over the years for reasons
ranging from subdivision to privacy concerns. To aid identification, they are
generally referred to by their current addresses.
These trophy homes are not historic relics. All but Greystone are occupied today, and several continue to grow. The owners of Sunset House just
swallowed a third neighboring lot. Owlwood now incorporates two more of
the great estates on the famous 10000 block of Sunset Boulevard (10060 and
10100 Sunset, both demolished in 2002).
Those last two “ghost” houses—gone but not forgotten—are also featured
players in this story, as are seven secondary estates, some still standing, some
not, that are intimately connected to the history of this linked bracelet of
gilded neighborhoods. But those sixteen estates are really only windows onto
the fabulous, sometimes glorious, but as often toxic and corrupt lives of the
real subjects of the book—the owners and occupants of those homes over the
last century, along with the founders of the four communities and a handful
of major figures from the history of greater Los Angeles. Their great fortunes

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{ Cast of Characters

fueled their lust for land, power, prominence, and opulence—and have made
these incredibly unreal estates very real, indeed.

PI ONEE RS A N D F O UN D E RS
Brian Adler: Developer of Beverly Park North.
Margaret and Stanley Anderson: Mother-and-son proprietors of the
Hollywood Hotel and founder-proprietors of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Alphonzo Edward Bell: Oilman, founder of Bel Air, owner of the Santa
Monica Mountain Park Ranch, and second owner of La Quinta, which he
renamed Capo di Monte (since demolished).
Elizabeth, Minnewa, and Alphonzo Bell Jr.: Children of Alphonzo Bell.
Edson Benedict: A pioneer settler of Benedict Canyon.
Pierce Benedict: Son of Edson and the first president of Beverly Hills.
Leonard I. Bursten: First, failed developer of Beverly Park; former prosecutor; convicted tax evader.
Charles Adelbert Canfield: Edward Doheny’s partner in the oil business.
Leader of the cofounders of Beverly Hills.
Harry Chandler and Harrison Gray Otis: Fathers of the Los Angeles
Times; land owners and investors. Chandler was a cofounder of the city of
Hollywood.
Wilbur David Cook Jr.: Landscape architect of Beverly Hills.
Daisy Canfield and Jacob Morris “Jake” Danziger: Daughter of Charles
Canfield and her husband, a lawyer and cofounder of the Beverly Hills
Speedway. First owners of Bel Air. Builders of La Quinta at 801 Bel-Air
Road (since demolished).
I. Irving Davidson: Washington fixer. Co-owner of land that became
Beverly Park.
Edward L. Doheny: Pioneer Los Angeles oilman, builder of Greystone
estate.
Allen R. Glick: Teamsters associate, casino owner and mob front, failed
second developer of Beverly Park.
Elliot Gottfurcht: Developer of Beverly Park South.
Burton Green: Oilman, partner of Max Whittier, cofounder of Beverly
Hills.

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Cast of Characters } xv
Dorothy “Dolly,” Liliore, and Burton “Burtie” Green: Daughters of
Burton Green.
Hyman Green: Teamsters associate, co-owner of land that became Beverly Park.
Henry Hammel and Andrew Denker: Later owners of Rancho Rodeo de
las Aguas, then known as the Hammel-Denker Ranch.
Henry Edward Huntington: Son of railroad pioneer Collis Huntington,
early Los Angeles trolley car mogul, founding partner in Rodeo Land and
Water.
Harold and Edwin Janss: Cofounders of Holmby Hills, Westwood, and
Westwood Village; owners of Conejo Ranch (later Thousand Oaks, California); benefactors of UCLA.
Arthur Letts: Cofounder of Holmby Hills.
Gladys Letts: Daughter of Arthur and Florence Letts and wife of Harold
Janss.
Llewelyn Arthur Nares: First estate owner in Beverly Hills.
Florence Letts Quinn: Estranged wife and heiress of Arthur Letts; later
married Charles Quinn.
Arthur Pillsbury: First city engineer of Beverly Hills.
Moses Sherman: With a brother-in-law, Huntington’s partner in the Pasadena and Altadena Railway. Cofounder of Hollywood, founder of Sherman
(later West Hollywood).
Maria Rita Valdez: The first settler and owner of Rancho Rodeo de las
Aguas, which later became Beverly Hills.
Max Whittier: Oilman, partner of Burton Green, cofounder of Beverly
Hills.
Benjamin Davis “Don Benito” Wilson: An early owner of Rancho San
Jose de Buenos Ayres.
John Wolfskill: Forty-niner and later owner of Rancho San Jose de Buenos Ayres.

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F EAT U R ED H OU S E S , OWN E RS , A N D O CC UPA N TS
Beverly Hills

Shadow Hill/Grayhall (1100 Carolyn Way)
Harry Dana Lombard: Boston banker, Carole Lombard’s godfather.
Douglas Fairbanks: First actor-resident of Beverly Hills, owner of Pickfair.
Caroline “Carrie” Canfield and Silsby Spalding: A daughter of Charles
Canfield and her husband, the first mayor of Beverly Hills.
Amos Johnstone: Scion of a local real estate family.
George Hamilton: Actor.
Bernard Cornfeld: Retired mutual fund founder, entrepreneur.
Steven Macallum Powers: Penny-stock manipulator, luxury home redeveloper, playboy, best friend of Hugh Hefner.
Philippe Boutboul: Tunisian-born French electronics retailer, special advisor to the president of Burkina Faso, mansion redeveloper.
Mark, Suzan, and Darcy LaPier Hughes: Herbalife founder, nutritional
supplement guru, alleged pyramid scammer, and his third and fourth wives,
both beauty contest winners.
Moussa and Mahnaz “Lilli” Mehdizadeh: Persian-born businessman and his
wife, a member of the Elghanayan real estate dynasty of Tehran and New York.

9755 Sunset Boulevard (since demolished)
Max Whittier: See Pioneers and Founders.
Samuel Berch: Dairy and ice cream mogul, founder of Arden Farms.
Leo Hartfield: Son-in-law of Samuel Berch.
Dino Fabbri: Milanese publisher.
Mohammed and Dena al-Fassi: Brother- and sister-in-law of Saudi
Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud.

Greenacres (1740 Green Acres Place)
Harold Lloyd: Silent film comedian.
Nasrollah Afshani, Naim Perry, and Abdullah Moghavem: Persian-born
investors (never occupied the house).

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Cast of Characters } xvii
Bernard Solomon and Dona Powell: Budget record mogul and his jewelry- and costume-collector wife.
Ted and Susie Field: Marshall Field heir, race car team owner, and entertainment executive and his wife.
Ron Burkle: Supermarket entrepreneur turned billionaire investor.

Greystone (501 Doheny Road)
Edward L. “Ned” Doheny Jr.: Son of the oilman.
Lucy Doheny Battson: Ned Doheny’s wife; later, his widow and builder
of The Knoll.
Leigh Battson: Lucy Doheny’s second husband.
Henry Crown: Chicago industrialist, partner of Conrad Hilton, alleged
Mafia associate (never moved in).

The Knoll (1130 Schuyler Road)
Lucy Doheny and Leigh Battson: See Greystone.
Dino De Laurentiis: Film producer.
Kenny Rogers: Singer; owner of first lot sold in Beverly Park.
Marvin and Barbara Davis: Oilman and owner of Twentieth Century
Fox and his socialite wife.
Eric Smidt: Harbor Freight Tools hardware mogul.

9481 Sunset Boulevard (Sunset House)
Francisca Bernard (Mrs. Dionicio) Botiller: Builder, wife of heir to a
Spanish land grant fortune.
Frank and Cecilia Botiller and Ida Botiller Lindley: Children of Francisca and Dionicio Botiller.
Jack Royal Young Lindley: Brother of Loretta Young, informally adopted
son of Ida Botiller Lindley.
Dorothy Wellborn “Dolly” Green: See Pioneers and Founders.
Neil Steere McCarthy: Lawyer for Howard Hughes, L. B. Mayer, and
others; polo player; cofounder of the Beverly Hills Speedway. Lover of Dolly
Green.
Mary Beich McCarthy: Candy heiress, second wife of Neil, painter.

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Stewart and Lynda Resnick: Former owners of the Franklin Mint; owners of FIJI Water, Teleflora, fruit and nut farms, and other enterprises.

Bel Air

750 Bel-Air Road (the “Beverly Hillbillies mansion”)
Lynn Atkinson: Public works builder.
Arnold S. Kirkeby: Hotelier.
A. Jerrold Perenchio: Agent, event promoter, entertainment mogul.

10644 Bellagio Road (later Casa Encantada and Bellagio House)
Hilda Olsen Boldt Weber: Former nurse, widow of glass bottle mogul
Charles Boldt, later married to Joseph Otto Weber. Builder and first owner.
Conrad N. Hilton: Hotelier, great-grandfather of Paris Hilton.
Nicky and Barron Hilton: Sons of Conrad. The former briefly married
actress Elizabeth Taylor. The latter is the grandfather of Paris Hilton.
David Murdock: Conglomerateur and head of Dole Food Company.
Gary Winnick: Former Drexel Burnham Lambert investment banker,
founder of the defunct telecommunications firm Global Crossing.

10539 Bellagio Road
Sol Wurtzel: Movie mogul. Builder and first owner.
Woody Feuert: Business partner of costume designer Adrian.
Anthony Norvell: Astrologer, psychic, metaphysician.
Howard Hughes, Elvis Presley, Prince Rainier of Monaco: Sublessors.
Reginald Owen: British character actor.
Dolly Green: See Pioneers and Founders.
Diane Hunt Stockmar: Alleged illegitimate daughter of Dolly Green and
Neil McCarthy.
Bill and Maria Bell: Executive producer of The Bold and the Beautiful
and The Young and the Restless and his wife, an arts philanthropist.

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Cast of Characters } xix
364 St. Cloud Road
Louis W. Zimmerman: Financier.
Casey Robinson and Tamara Toumanova: Writer and producer at Twentieth Century Fox and his wife, a ballerina.
Tony Curtis and Christine Kaufmann: See 141 South Carolwood.
Sonny and Cher Bono: See 141 South Carolwood.
Larry Flynt: Founder, Flynt Publications, and publisher, Hustler.

Holmby Hills

375 North Carolwood Drive (since demolished)
Harold Janss: Builder and first owner (see Pioneers and Founders).
Gregory and Veronique Peck: Actor and his wife.

10060 Sunset Boulevard (since demolished)
Edwin Janss: Builder and first owner.
Charles Reese “Jack” Warde: Insurance executive.
William Osco: Pornographic movie producer; husband of Jackie Kong,
director.
Ghazi Aita: See 141 South Carolwood.
Roland Arnall: See 141 South Carolwood.

10100 Sunset Boulevard (since demolished)
Hubert Prior “Rudy” Vallée: First owner, never occupied the house.
Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay: Actress and her bodybuilder husband.
Harold Greenlin: Former carny and vaudeville, burlesque, and pornographic theater owner.
Engelbert Humperdinck: Singer.
Ghazi Aita: See 141 South Carolwood.
Roland Arnall: See 141 South Carolwood.

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10236 Charing Cross Road (now the Playboy mansion)
Arthur Letts Jr.: Son of Arthur Letts, builder and first owner.
Hugh M. Hefner: Founder of Playboy magazine.

594 South Mapleton Drive (since demolished)
Edna Letts and Malcolm McNaghten: Daughter of Arthur Letts and her
husband. Builders and first owners.
Harry “Bing” Crosby: Singer and actor.
Patrick Frawley Jr.: Owner of Technicolor, Paper Mate, and Schick;
right-wing activist.
Aaron and Candy Spelling: Producer and his wife; they tore down the
house and replaced it.

141 South Carolwood (now incorporates 10060 and 10100 Sunset):
Florence M. Letts and Charles Quinn: Builders and first owners (also see
Pioneers and Founders).
Joseph W. Drown: Partner of Conrad Hilton, hotelier, first husband of
Elizabeth “Bettye” Avery, later Libby Keck, creator and longtime owner of
the Bel-Air and Ocean House hotels (the latter the former William Randolph Hearst–Marion Davies beach house in Santa Monica).
Joe Schenck: Movie pioneer, alleged lover and mentor of Marilyn Monroe, pardoned convicted perjurer.
William Myron Keck: Founder and president of Superior Oil; father of
Howard Keck, the second husband of Elizabeth Avery Drown.
Tony Curtis: Actor, husband of actresses Janet Leigh and Christine
Kaufmann and model Leslie “Penny” Allen.
Sonny and Cher Bono: Entertainers.
Cher and Gregg Allman: Entertainers.
Ralph and Chase Mishkin: Carpet company owner, theater producer.
Ghazi and Salma Aita: Syrian-born middleman, hotel owner, and investor and his wife.
Roland and Dawn Arnall: Savings and loan owner and subprime mortgage pioneer and his second wife.

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OTH ER N OTA B L E C H A RAC T E RS
Alfred and Betsy Bloomingdale: Department store heir, credit card mogul, and Reagan kitchen cabinet member and his socialite wife.
Roland Coate Sr.: Architect of The Knoll.
Vince Conti: Pimp, actor.
Hernando Courtright: Manager and owner of the Beverly Hills and Beverly Wilshire hotels. Close friend of Dolly Green.
James Dolena: Architect of 10644 Bellagio Road.
Robert Farquhar: Architect of 141 South Carolwood and Daisy Danziger’s Crestmount.
Heidi Fleiss: Waitress, prostitute, madame, girlfriend of Bernie Cornfeld.
Miles Gray: Haberdashery heir and husband of Minnewa Bell and Burtie
Green.
William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies: Proprietor of the Los
Angeles Examiner and Evening Herald and his mistress. Owned 1011 Beverly
Drive and 415 Pacific Coast Highway (later the Ocean House hotel and now
site of the Annenberg Community Beach House).
Sumner Hunt and Silas Burns: Architects of Grayhall.
Charles Hopper: Head of sales in Bel Air during the Depression and
World War II.
Howard Hughes: Texas oil heir, movie producer, aircraft manufacturer,
airline owner, noted bachelor and eccentric.
Gordon Kaufmann: Architect of Greystone, 10060 and 10100 Sunset,
375 North Carolwood, 594 South Mapleton.
Atwater Kent: Radio pioneer, inventor, engineer, party host, and third
and last owner-occupant of 801 Bel-Air Road.
Sidney Korshak: Lawyer; middleman between the Chicago Mafia and
unions, Los Angeles investors, and Hollywood studios and producers.
Francis Xavier Lourdou: Architect of 9481 Sunset Boulevard.
Walter McCarty: Cofounder of the Beverly Hills Speedway, founder of
the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Colleen Moore: First actress to own a home in Bel Air.
Antonio Moreno: Silent film actor, second husband of Daisy Canfield
Danziger.
Vicki Morgan: Lover of Bernie Cornfeld and Alfred Bloomingdale, later
murdered.

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Wallace Neff: Early architectural draftsman in Beverly Hills. Architect of
Pickfair renovations, Enchanted Hill, and 10539 Bellagio Road.
Hugh Plunkett: Personal secretary and presumed murderer of Ned
Doheny.
Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings: Interior designer for 10644 Bellagio Road.
Enrique “Heini” Schondube: Mexican industrial heir. Third husband of
Dolly Green.
Sumner Spaulding: Architect of Greenacres.
Fred Thomson and Frances Marion: Cowboy star and his wife, a screenwriter. Builders of Enchanted Hill.
Paul Trousdale: Developer of the Doheny Ranch as Trousdale Estates
and other subdivisions.

A NOT E O N GE O GRA PH Y
While New York City is defined to a great extent by a contained, vertical
geography, and in most of Manhattan at least, an easy-to-comprehend numerical grid, Los Angeles is typically characterized by the word sprawl; it is
horizontal and both historically and geographically uncontained. But despite
the fact that non-Angelenos find the place a geographical bafflement, it has
its own logic.
East is downtown, where Westsiders—the wealthy residents of Beverly
Hills (its own city, surrounded on all sides by L.A.), Beverly Park, Holmby
Hills, and Bel Air—rarely go. Some, without shame, even proudly claim to
have never been there. Downtown is where Los Angeles was founded. It’s
the home of the city’s government, of the Los Angeles Times, and of cultural
institutions (the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion,
the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA) that are the equivalent of New York’s
Lincoln Center. Though it is only 11.5 miles from the eastern edge of Beverly Hills, twenty to forty-five minutes away (depending on the time of day
and traffic), downtown L.A. strikes many as another country, so far away
from the people most likely to appreciate its pleasures—and in many cases,
also the people who paid for them—that getting there can seem a dreaded
excursion.

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Cast of Characters } xxiii
Also to the east and southeast are the poorest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, like South Central, which burned in the infamous rioting in the 1990s,
and the homes of the Westside’s maids and gardeners, many of them Central
American, who sometimes travel hours each way by bus to turn grand neighborhoods like Bel Air into Spanish-speaking villages during daylight hours.
Their march into and out of the district’s wealthy canyons each day is a visual
signature of life on the west side of town.
Northeast of downtown Los Angeles are its old-money bedroom communities of Pasadena and tiny, exclusive San Marino; their architecture greatly
influenced that of Beverly Hills. Scattered around downtown like brilliant
stones on a broken necklace are other former enclaves of wealth, including
parts of Hollywood, Windsor Square, Hancock Park, and Los Feliz, as well as
hip Silver Lake, home of architectural gems by the modernist master Richard
Neutra.
West of the neighborhoods that are the focus of this book, Los Angeles
dead-ends at the Pacific Ocean, which is vaster by far than its East Coast
counterpart and a tropical aqua rather than the North Atlantic’s slate gray.
Some of the oceanfront neighborhoods are posh, like Malibu; others funky,
like Venice; and some are a mash-up of both, like Santa Monica; but all are
desirable for their proximity to the beach, sunsets that blaze redder because
of the smog, and their distance from downtown.
As the communities that concern us here were forming, planners envisioned a road called Beverly Boulevard running east to west through the Los
Angeles basin, parallel to Mulholland Drive. Beverly Boulevard was merged
with Sunset Boulevard in 1933. The aptly named Sunset wends its way across
twenty-four miles of this twenty-nine-mile-wide metropolis, a curlicue, not
an arrow, running east to west, as well as the dividing line between the hills
that define the north side of Los Angeles and the flats that mark the south.
Its most famous blocks, comprising the Sunset Strip, are in West Hollywood
(also its own city since 1984), between Beverly Hills and Hollywood, which
was annexed by Los Angeles in 1910. Rising above Sunset, in both Eastside
and Westside neighborhoods, are the steep, fire-prone canyons that reach
their apex along Mulholland Drive before tumbling into the San Fernando
Valley to the north.
Mulholland, a scenic highway at the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains named for the engineer who brought water to L.A., was already under
construction when planners suggested a series of canyon roads running north

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and south through Benedict, Coldwater, Franklin, Sepulveda, and Higgins
Canyons—roughly parallel slashes through the mountains, connecting the
basin with the San Fernando Valley on the other side. At the time, the Cahuenga Pass, site of today’s Hollywood Freeway, was the only route of consequence connecting the valley to downtown Los Angeles. In 1929, it was said
to carry a million cars a month, making the need for alternative routes acute.
The canyons now named Coldwater (originally Cañada de las Aguas
Frias, or Canyon of the Cold Waters) and Benedict (originally Cañada de
las Encinas, or Canyon of the Live Oaks—later renamed for its first resident, Edson Benedict) got twisty, turny eponymous roads; Franklin Canyon
a foreshortened Beverly Drive that never made it to the valley; and Sepulveda
Canyon got both a boulevard and the San Diego Freeway, also known as
Interstate 405.
South of Sunset, the city flattens and gradually morphs from the mansions of Beverly Hills to a mix of industry and residences in places like Culver
City (home of the famous MGM Studios, now the Sony Pictures film and
television complex) and finally to the asphalt sprawl of the airport, Los Angeles International, better known as LAX. Landing there on a clear day, one can
easily spot the primary features of the Los Angeles Basin: ocean to the west,
mountains to the north, downtown to the east, and just north of the ebony
towers of Century City (on the former Twentieth Century Fox studio lot),
the subjects of this book, the urban oases of Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills, Bel
Air, and Beverly Park—all nestled in the foothills, as the early advertising
brochures put it, between the city and the sea.

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Introduction

On Summit Ridge, Above Beverly Park
November 2009

The greatest frustration in researching this book was the difficulty I had
seeing the estates I was writing about, all of which are hidden behind gates,
fences, and foliage and visible, if at all, only in glimpses. Most homeowners
are understandably disinclined to open those gates even under the best of
circumstances. I took a commercial tour of the star homes at one point; was
given a second, far more accurate tour by a real estate broker; and repeatedly
drove through the communities I’d decided to write about. I was even invited into a few of the breathtaking houses described in the pages that follow.
Beverly Park was the hardest nut to crack because, unlike Beverly Hills,
Bel Air, and Holmby Hills, it is what’s called a guard-gated neighborhood.
You can’t even drive through it without being invited in by a resident. So one
day, I tried to drive around it, looking for a place where I could see this community that was conceived as a modern update of its neighbors, an update
consisting of those fences and gates that keep the curious like me at a safe
distance. Like its older siblings, Beverly Park, built beginning in 1985, has a
hidden history. Unlike them, it is also almost entirely hidden itself.
Seeking a vantage point, I drove up what was once called Higgins Canyon on Beverly Drive, but that road ended abruptly. I doubled back and tried
Franklin Canyon. Turning west on Mulholland Drive, I found the north
gate of Beverly Park, but was turned away by a guard. A block further west,
I turned south on Summit Ridge Drive and eventually came to an intersection with a sign directing cars to the other two guarded gates of Beverly Park.
There were also signs that read private property and no trespassing and a
squad car from the Bel-Air Patrol, a private security service.

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2

{

U N R E A L

E S T A T E

Certain I would only be spurned again and identify myself as a nuisance
in the process, I pulled off the road between the two gates and parked on a
ridge where, just beyond a low fence, the roofs of the mansions of Beverly
Park were all visible in a canyon bowl just below. Finally, I was able to get a
glimpse of this protected enclave and see its sprawling homes for myself. I
was, frankly, astonished; from above, the large houses all crowded together
looked like a suburb, albeit one pumped up on steroids.
Beverly Park is the youngest, most expensive, and arguably most exclusive subdivision on the west side of Los Angeles. That region is so famous it
has multiple nicknames, most of them coined by realtors seeking to smear
cachet over as many communities—some nice, some not so—as possible.
The broad residential zone between the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains
and Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, and the Pacific Ocean includes Malibu and Santa Monica, Westwood, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades,
Beverly Crest, Bel Air, Holmby Hills, Beverly Hills, and Beverly Hills Post
Office, an L.A. neighborhood that has a snob-appeal Beverly Hills mailing
address even though it’s not actually in that city. Beverly Park is a neighborhood within Beverly Hills Post Office.
Together, they are collectively the Westside. Its smaller, brighter nucleus,
the homogeneous and contiguous estate district made up of the last four of
those communities, has been dubbed the Platinum Triangle, though from
above, it looks more like a broccoli flower. But another nickname, initially
coined to capture greater L.A.’s reputation for spaced-out flightiness, alleged
eccentricities, otherworldliness, frivolity, and lack of any ties to what most
people consider reality, especially in the realms of ambition and conspicuous
consumption, more precisely describes these, its richest and most prestigious
districts.
Welcome to La-La Land.
There are certain alluring neighborhoods around the world that are considered the best of the best nests, not just for locals but also for the world’s most
discerning homing pigeons. These are places that symbolize and consecrate
success when their names are uttered in answer to the question, Where do
you live? London’s Knightsbridge and Belgravia, Monte Carlo, the 7th arrondissement of Paris, the Gold Coast of Manhattan, Connecticut’s Greenwich, Florida’s Palm Beach, Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak, Pacific Heights in
San Francisco, and Atherton and Woodside in the Silicon Valley all have

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Introduction } 3
their fans and their charms. But the Triangle is in a class by itself, offering the
unique experience of country living within a world-class city and boasting
easy access (geographically speaking), high quality of life, spectacular beauty,
extravagant architecture, a year-round temperate climate, and a world-class
concentration of glamour, fame, and fortune. The best homes in those communities are what economists call positional goods, their value determined
in large part by their scarcity and how much others desire them.
Let’s be clear: La-La Land is not Hollywood. The Hollywood community
is part of it, but La-La Land is more than, as the Beverly Hillbillies theme
song put it, swimmin’ pools and movie stars. La-La Land is a figurative geography as much as a real one; it’s a place of pregnant possibility and polar
opposites, good and evil, American dreams and nightmares, sudden rises
and vertiginous falls. So it appeals equally to dreamers and schemers, all of
them gambling to survive on an L.A. mountaintop. That group certainly
includes directors, producers, actors, and even some writers. But movie and
TV people were latecomers to the Platinum Triangle. Initially unwelcome,
they have helped make its international reputation as a place with truly
great estates, but ironically, few celebrities can afford to live in the largest
of them anymore. And Hollywood stories are hardly the most interesting
ones in town. The Triangle is the world capital of unbridled fantasy and
ambition—sometimes base, but always compelling, whether centered on
power, sex, fame, fortune, or all of the above.
Location, location, location, the realtors say. Beverly Hills, Holmby
Hills, and Bel Air, the neighborhoods that latecomer Beverly Park apes and
aspires to join, were all conceived at the start of the twentieth century to be
the most exclusive, prestigious, luxurious, envy-inducing communities on
earth. Great homes on large, flat pieces of land with sweeping views in these
three hillside neighborhoods soon became the West Coast equivalent of what
the author Tom Wolfe memorably characterized, in a bit of literary understatement, as the “good” apartment buildings of New York’s Upper East Side.
What makes them so good is, largely, that you and I can’t live in them and
probably never will. Not only that, we will probably never even visit unless
we work for a caterer, landscaper, or private security firm, or shell out for a
pricey benefit ticket. They are home to the fewest of the few, the self-selected
stars of democratic society, those who seek to act on the world’s great stages
of the theater of ambition.
Sitting adjacent to each other, these four communities (one, Beverly

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Hills, a separate, independent city, the others parts of L.A.), comprise a
distinct psycho-geographic unit, irrespective of political boundaries. La-La
Land is as small as it is special, occupying a mere fifteen square miles, but
its size belies its magnetic position in the world’s imagination. It is the focal
point of a kind of social, financial, and professional desire that exists nowhere else. For here, ambition in all its forms runs as hot and uncontrolled
as lust. The very visible reward for success is to live in the billionaire’s belt
around Sunset Boulevard.
The three original communities of the Triangle were all formed by real
estate developers between 1906 and 1923. At about 5.7 square miles, the
city of Beverly Hills is much larger than its estate district, which begins just
south of Sunset and rises up to Mulholland Drive, bordered to the west by
Bel Air, to the east by Hollywood, and above it, by the Franklin Canyon Reservoir, long the source of the Westside’s drinking water. Bel Air, the largest
Triangle neighborhood, at about 6.4 square miles, is loosely bordered by the
Getty Museum and Sepulveda Boulevard on the west, Mulholland along the
north, Sunset Boulevard to the south, and Beverly Glen to the east. Holmby
Hills, shaped like a fist with its index finger pointing south down one side
of the Los Angeles Country Club, nestles between Beverly Hills and Bel Air.
At four hundred acres, it is comparatively tiny, yet its huge homes on large
lots straddling Sunset lead some to call it the most prestigious of the four
communities. Their young sibling, Beverly Park, is formally part of Beverly
Hills Post Office, which is in Los Angeles but shares the cherished 90210
zip code with Beverly Hills and so, in most minds, is part of the smaller city.
About the same size as Beverly Hills, B.H.P.O. sits in a notch mostly north
of Beverly Hills between the upper Hollywood Hills and the upper reaches
of Bel Air.
Together, they are—and always have been—mecca for the self-invented.
Though there is a landed gentry in California, much like the colonial
Society-with-a-capital-S of the East Coast, it no longer has the social power
or financial leverage to capture the popular imagination—that resides instead with the Triangle’s founding fathers, who were descendants of fur
trappers, Forty-niners, railroad builders, ranchers, and oilmen of the late
nineteenth century, and the descendants, both familial and professional, of
the Jewish movie moguls of the early twentieth century. They all made this
a community of staggering wealth and set the standards of how it should be

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spent. Their contemporary equivalents are tech billionaires, rock musicians,
financial manipulators, and pyramid scheme operators.
Born out of the alchemical reaction of overlapping booms in oil, railroads, and land in the early twentieth century, the Triangle was conceived for
the Los Angeles elite, but it wasn’t until the relative arrivistes of Hollywood
started buying land and building great estates in the 1920s that its fortunes
were assured and vast farms and ranches turned into luxury residences. The
Depression and World War II stopped that movement in its tracks, and for
years afterwards, the great homes of the area were relegated to white elephant
status. But in the 1970s, oil-rich Middle Easterners revived the market, and
the odd price correction notwithstanding, the area’s luster as an enclave of
supreme achievement has been unassailable ever since. It’s now occupied by
parallel but separate and often opposing societies—quiet, ultraconservative
local wealth; some lingering Hollywood glamour and its consort, decadence;
and the latest iterations of fast money earned everywhere from cyberspace to
infotainment to the lower depths of the financial industries.
They may look askance at each other but they mix and mingle (even in
bedrooms); in many ways the apogeal product of their union was Ronald
Reagan, the movie star turned politician who emerged as a force in the Republican Party, backed by ultraconservative wealth, and became a Bel Air
resident himself in 1989. Though Richard Nixon, another Southern Californian, also moved to La-La Land, and Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton loved to
party there, it was Reagan who was the apotheosis of its will to power. The
kitchen cabinet who propelled Reagan to the White House were all Platinum
Triangle residents; a few owned trophy houses there. Today, you hear more
about its liberal cabal, but for a moment, Reagan’s pals ruled the world.
The Triangle population is constantly refreshed by an endless stream of
fortune-seeking and -spending East Coasters and foreigners who have made
Los Angeles the world’s last frontier. For all of them, a home in the Triangle
is the ultimate fantasy of arrival. It is rarely acknowledged that, perversely,
they hope and believe money can buy the appearance of permanence in a
place defined by transience. In most cases, this “arrival” is followed by almost
inevitable departure. Unlike the landed gentry elsewhere, rare is the family
that holds on to a great estate across generations. Indeed, Triangle mansions
are so huge and cost so much to maintain that owners typically downsize,
dispose of, or lose them long before inheritance comes into play. The real

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estate lineage of the homes in this book demonstrates the patterns of Triangle
ownership. Some examples:
• On Sunset Boulevard, a mansion built in 1928 by a Spanish land-

grant family passes to the personal lawyer of Howard Hughes and
Louis B. Mayer and then to a guy who started out running a janitorial service and his wife, who ran a little ad agency. They are
now the billionaire owners of Teleflora, FIJI Water, POM, thirty
thousand acres of citrus groves, seventy thousand acres of pistachio
and almond orchards, and the Neptune Pacific shipping line—and
have bought three properties adjacent to theirs to create their own
Sunset empire.
A Bel Air mansion built between 1935 and 1938 for a nurse widowed by a rich older husband was then owned by Conrad Hilton,
the hotel chain founder (and grandfather of Paris Hilton). It then
passed to the owner of Dole Food, who made a staggering $58 million profit when he sold it in 2000 to a former junk bond trader
who’d walked away from a public telecom company’s collapse with
hundreds of millions of dollars.
Greenacres, the mansion completed in 1929 by silent film star
Harold Lloyd in Benedict Canyon in Beverly Hills, has since been
owned by three Iranian businessmen; a record company mogul and
his socially ambitious wife; Ted Field, the much-married Marshall
Field heir who raced cars in the 1970s and ran Interscope Films
and Interscope Records in the late 1980s; and most recently, the
controversial supermarket billionaire, alleged model-hound, and
former Friend of Bill (Clinton), Ron Burkle.
In 1949, the Doheny family sold their ranch to a subdivider
and their adjacent mansion to a mob-connected businessman who
never lived there—it is now empty and owned by Beverly Hills—
and moved to a slightly smaller mansion that they sold to the movie
producer Dino De Laurentiis, who sold it to the country singer
Kenny Rogers, who sold it to the Colorado wildcatter turned studio mogul Marvin Davis, whose widow sold it in 2005 to a guy
who sells hardware—lots of hardware. He tore it down to cement
and studs and has been rebuilding it ever since.
The veritable Rose Bowl parade that has passed through today’s

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Owlwood, a huge Sunset Boulevard estate built in 1932, includes
a founder of Holmby Hills and his wife’s mother, the developer
of the Bel-Air Hotel, a movie mogul and convicted tax cheat who
seduced Marilyn Monroe there, the crooner Rudy Vallée, the actor
Tony Curtis and two of his five wives, pop stars Sonny & Cher and
rocker Gregg Allman, Jayne Mansfield, Engelbert Humperdinck,
an oilman, a carpet manufacturer, a staid insurance man, a Syrian
middleman for military contractors with a taste for hookers, a guy
who owned both dirty movie theaters and part of the Jimi Hendrix
estate, and a twenty-five-year-old known as the Boy King of Porn.
The last two each did time in federal prison. Its current owner is
the second wife and widow of one of the pioneers of subprime
mortgages.

More than a neighborhood, the Triangle is the seat of a certain set of aspirations, not all of them the same, but generally harmonious. It is a mirror
that both reflects and confirms self-image. But it is also a pleasure pit, and
as another of its nicknames, Lotusland, implies, can and has turned status
and image into a kind of opium, inspiring addictions just as dangerous and
all-consuming.
Just like New York, Paris, London, and Rome, the Triangle has a stratified
hierarchy. It is a Darwinian place where the pecking order is so brutal that
to stumble is often to die or, even if you live, to quickly disappear, if you’re
smart, or else linger on as your life shrinks, first in the estimation of others,
then, unless you have superhuman strength of character, inevitably in your
own.
Why inevitably? Because La-La Land is a make-or-break kind of place.
Only certain sorts want to be there and have the nerve, the skills, the resolve,
and the peculiar set of delusions to make their evanescent dream come true.
How brutal is it? Even movie stars have mostly left the area, leading some to
contend that they don’t matter anymore since they’ve effectively been priced
out of the molten center of the Triangle’s volcanic real estate market. All
that matters here is money—or the ability to conjure its appearance out of
nothingness.
Appearances may not be everything in the Triangle, but they count for
a lot in a place defined by rootlessness and the illusion that wealth and accomplishment bring security; a city that is philosophically, emotionally, and

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even physically a fantasy; a place that would turn brown, wither, and die
were it not for piped-in water, roll-out insta-lawns, and gardeners who come
in every day from somewhere else to sustain its grand illusions. Though it
wasn’t invented for them, that’s why Hollywood types found the Westside a
perfect place to settle. Nothing is indigenous in Los Angeles, a quality perfectly captured in the faux-historical pastiche that has come to be seen as the
architectural style of the Triangle. Everything and everyone here comes from
somewhere else. Impermanence defines the place. The book you are reading
is an attempt to give back to this magical kingdom some of the history it has,
perhaps willfully, forgotten.

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