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In Beverly Hills, the real estate ethos is 'buy and demolish'

Sometimes history must make way for current tastes, and preservationists let some landmark homes fall through the cracks. Ira Gershwin's former home is an example of the house that got away.

In most places, an 8,100-square-foot house with five bedrooms, six baths and a swimming pool that had been remodeled by a master architect would be considered the height of luxury.

And if Ira Gershwin had penned lyrics for such standards as "The Man That Got Away" during the decades he lived there, all the better.

Not so much in Beverly Hills, a city of stratospherically priced property, where many residents prefer to build their castles from scratch — and have the scratch to build exactly what they want.

The recent demolition of a North Roxbury Drive residence where Gershwin lived, wrote and entertained Hollywood royalty is just the latest example of how difficult it can be to preserve the past in a city where residents are accustomed to doing as they wish.

Beverly Hills offers a trove of distinctive homes designed by noted architects, many with legacies that date to Hollywood's Golden Age. But architectural and cultural heritage has often proved no match for the nouveaux riches of Beverly Hills.

"Tastes have changed," said Stan Smith, managing director of Teles Properties, a high-end real estate firm. "The kinds of houses people want today aren't reflected in the old stock."

Some of the older homes lack the style and amenities today's luxury buyers want — great rooms, entertainment centers, cavernous closets, restaurant-quality kitchens and vast bedroom suites. Rooms in even the most opulent of older Beverly Hills homes can feel cramped by modern high-end standards.

Perhaps no one has torn down and rebuilt more homes in Beverly Hills than Hamid Omrani.

The Iranian-born Omrani, who estimates he has designed 150 houses in the city, said many of his clients dislike the Spanish, Tudor and other revival styles of Beverly Hills' early homes. For them, remodeling is unappealing. They want to maximize home size, often reducing outdoor space in favor of more bedrooms and more expansive living areas.

"They prefer to buy and demolish," he said.

For the year to date in Los Angeles County, Beverly Hills 90210 has the second-highest median price ($2.6 million) for existing single-family homes in Los Angeles County, after only Santa Monica 90402 ($2.9 million), according to DataQuick, a real estate firm based in San Diego.

The tear-down phenomenon is hardly new. Beverly Hills residents have for decades razed houses that earlier generations considered grand to make way for more lavish residences, many of them stucco-and-glass boxes with the vague aura of Italian villas.

They featured flat roofs, second-floor balconies with tall windows, soaring entry doors embellished by metalwork and columns, lots and lots of columns. Collectively, these houses took on the sobriquet "Persian palaces" because they appealed to the Iranian-born families that are estimated to make up more than one-sixth of Beverly Hills' 34,000 residents.

Initially, many of these new manses overwhelmed their neighbors, but now they have plenty of imposing company.

Many structures associated with celebrities or designed by noted architects were among those toppled by bulldozers, including John Lautner's curvaceous Shusett House. After a home created by modernist Richard Neutra came perilously close to meeting that fate, Beverly Hills finally got serious about preserving its architectural and cultural legacy.

The city enacted an ordinance early last year, then quickly embraced tax breaks to foster neighborhood preservation and designated 14 local landmarks, including the Beverly Hills Hotel, Greystone Mansion, the Witch's House and City Hall. The city is also conducting a citywide survey to identify potentially significant houses.

In Trousdale Estates, where early homes were designed by Paul Revere Williams, Wallace Neff and Harold Leavitt, "we found 200 properties of note, out of 535," said Steven M. Price, a historian who is helping to conduct the inventory.

by Anonymousreply 4601/19/2014


The actions have pleased critics who had long deemed the city too willing to sacrifice significant structures to make way for mixed-breed palazzos or undistinguished apartment buildings. Others say it is unfair to dictate what an owner may or may not do to his property.

The Ira Gershwin house fell between the cracks, city officials say.

The now-leveled house at 1021 N. Roxbury Drive was decidedly "old stock." Lyricist Gershwin and his wife, Lee, hired John Elgin Woolf to extensively remodel the house in his trademark Hollywood Regency style. Because Woolf appears on the city's list of local master architects, the demolition application should have been flagged for further review. But city employees who granted the permit apparently were unaware of Woolf's connection.

The property owner is Steve Needleman of Anjac Fashion Buildings, a Los Angeles real estate firm. Needleman razed the degraded California Theatre in 1990, then a decade later won kudos for his $3.5-million renovation of the venerable Orpheum Theatre in downtown L.A. He declined to comment about the Roxbury tear-down, but, according to city records, he plans to build a two-story, 10,400-square-foot Cape Cod Revival house.

The City Council has the final authority to approve any designation of structures at least 45 years old. Landmark status would not necessarily protect a building from demolition or drastic alteration, but it would trigger a longer permitting process.

Ira Gershwin's occupancy alone would not have been enough to secure landmark designation, said Jonathan Lait, city planner. Lait acknowledged, however, that the city should have considered Woolf's alterations. "This experience reveals that our permit search needs to extend beyond the original building permit," he said.

The Gershwin house was part of a two-block stretch of Roxbury Drive north of Sunset Boulevard that for much of the 20th century featured a galaxy of Hollywood luminaries living side by side by side in stately mansions. Jimmy Stewart routinely walked his dog. Lucille Ball (whose refined Paul Williams house has been altered beyond recognition) personally presented candy to trick-or-treaters. Jack Benny popped in on neighbors to play his violin.

As the celebrities died off, many subsequent owners built bigger, boxier replacements. One example is at 1019 N. Roxbury, next door to Needleman's now vacant lot. The building replaced a 1920s Mediterranean residence that was razed in 2005.

That house also had celebrated owners or tenants, including, coincidentally, Ira Gershwin. In the 1930s, composer George Gershwin briefly rented the property and lived there with Ira, his brother, and Ira's wife, Lee. Working on a grand piano in the sunken living room, the brothers Gershwin wrote "Shall We Dance" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me."

George died in 1937, and a few years later Ira and Lee bought the house next door at 1021. They regularly entertained Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Fanny Brice and Lillian Hellman. Irving "Swifty" Lazar, the legendary talent agent, closed deals at the house. Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg wrote part of "Over the Rainbow" on George's piano.

The cachet of such names has faded.

The question is "whether Beverly Hills understands that it even has a history worth preserving," said Nancy Gershwin, whose father was a first cousin of George and Ira. "The people who visit from around the world … come to experience that magic. They're not gravitating to Beverly Hills for a tour of new construction."

by Anonymousreply 109/28/2013

Thanks, Iranians! Love ya!

by Anonymousreply 209/28/2013

Persians and Jews. Why anyone would set foot in Beverly Hills is beyond me.

by Anonymousreply 309/28/2013

Money buys neither taste nor class.

by Anonymousreply 409/28/2013

The two most historic and important great Hollywood houses in the area--Pickfair, the home of Mary Pickford and Doulas Fairbanks, and the old Getty house on Sunset that was used for Norma Desmond's mansion--were torn down long ago.

I hope Jack Benny's house has been kept largely as it was form the outside--I'm sorry to hear Lucy's house has been so changed.

by Anonymousreply 509/28/2013

[quote] the old Getty house on Sunset that was used for Norma Desmond's mansion--were torn down long ago.

The house used for Norma's mansion in "Sunset Boulevard" was on Wilshire Blvd, and it was built by millionaire William O. Jenkins. It was owned from 1949 to the early 1960s by the ex-wife of J. Paul Getty, it was then torn down to make way for an office building. The house was also used in "Rebel Without a Cause."

by Anonymousreply 609/28/2013

Steven: Are you here too?

by Anonymousreply 709/28/2013

When the history is destroyed, so is much of the character. I'm glad I don't live around that, it would infuriate me.

by Anonymousreply 809/28/2013

It seems to be the same ethos for plastic surgery in Beverly Hills.

by Anonymousreply 909/28/2013

The old places look nice but the maintenance costs are over the top. They're infested with everything you can think of. It's a shame, yes, but that's life.

by Anonymousreply 1009/28/2013

My sister inherited our parents Bel Air house. My father's ashes hadn't even cooled and she had the bulldozers out there. In a matter of two days, a grand old style estate flattened. I stood at the front gates and watched 70 or so years of history bite the dust.

Bitter, party of one.

by Anonymousreply 1109/28/2013

What a shame. But LA itself is such a "new" city, it doesn't have the ethos of preservation or sense of history that older urban areas have. Glad that Bev Hills is at least trying to get a handle on things.

In some of the Boston suburbs, you can't re-model your front porch if it goes against preservation regulations. You can't walk even 30 feet without being confronted by a plaque designating a spot as "historic".

by Anonymousreply 1209/28/2013

Is the Cukor home still standing?

by Anonymousreply 1309/28/2013

You weren't included in getting the house R11?

by Anonymousreply 1409/28/2013

This is happening everywhere. I live mostly in Southampton and it will cost you $800,000 to buy a 1960s ranch to tear down in the village. My inlaws live in Queens where Indians and Bukharian Jews are demolishing houses and covering the entire property with bricks and cement.

One of my favorite farmhouses is being demolished as I type this. The farm was sold for millions long ago and now has multimillion dollar homes on it. The farmhouse itself was huge and probably cost a lot of money when it was built. It would have looked great with a coat of paint and some upgrades. But no. It's being smashed to smithereens, no doubt so that a hotel-sized house can be built on the land.

by Anonymousreply 1509/28/2013

It was that "homosexual lifestyle" thing R14. She backed up the Brinks truck and I got nada. Has taken 5 years to move on from that.

Well, maybe still a little bitter!!!

by Anonymousreply 1609/28/2013

I remember the stink when Gianni Versace bought a defunct Art Deco hotel next door to his Miami Beach mansion.

In spite of a lot of protest and effort from the city, Gianni successfully tore it down to build a garage for his cars.

by Anonymousreply 1709/28/2013

R13 The Cukor house is still standing - 9166 Cordell Dr., Los Angeles. It's one of my favorite houses. Billy Haines did all the original furnishings, and the house is so full of Hollywood history - Cukor entertained film royalty here, from Olivier & Vivian Leigh , to Garland, Cary Grant, Crawford. It's where Mae West met Garbo, at a dinner party for 6 -West brought by Roddy McDowall, Garbo, by good friend (and dietitian), Gaylord Hauser. After not really paying attention to each other, during dinner, West got up, at the end, came over to Garbo, sat down, and said ' Greta, you gotta get back o work'. And of course, famously living in the guest house, off, and on, for 25 years, Katharine Hepburn, & Spencer Tracy. Plus, Cukor's well known Sunday afternoon 'mens' brunches, and where parties, where, in a closeted era, he would invite lots of good looking men, and his industry friends (I.e. - older men) would show up with hustlers, and 'gay for pay' actors & escorts, hoping to get noticed, as they lay, and swam, in the pool, in skimpy 'swim trunks' -as they were called then. Thank God the current owners, Richard Irving & Lynn Von Kersting, chef, & designer, and restauranteurs (they own The Ivy, among others) have preserved the home.

Fun Fact - the Cukor house, and pool area, were re-created on a 20th Century Fox soundstage, in 1962, for the ill-fated last Marilyn Monroe film , "Something's Got To Give", which Cukor was directing. It's where MM's famous nude swimming scenes were done. After Monroe's death, the picture was re-written, and became "Move Over Darling", starring Doris Day. The same sets are seen in that film.

by Anonymousreply 1809/28/2013

Awesome post Mr Hollywood. The Billy Haines biography is the closet I've found that really dishes old Hollywood. Any more you might have would be greatly appreciated.

by Anonymousreply 1909/28/2013

I still miss Jimmy Stewart's house on Roxbury. A glorious house on a double lot with a huge vegetable garden taking up one of the lots. As soon as he died the estate was sold, the new owners bulldozed it all down and built a HUGE monstrosity.

Why does it matter to us? Maybe it hurts to see the things we value being discarded. As we too will be discarded and forgotten.

by Anonymousreply 2009/28/2013

It should matter because there is some historical significance to these places.

To be fair, in hindsight it may not have seemed that way; Stewart for example died many years ago and it probably wasn't viewed as a loss to raze his estate back then. But with the continued destruction of so much of "Old Hollywood" its good to know some are waking up to the fact that you can never get it back once its gone.

You can't save everything, naturally; but you can develop a preservation plan that makes sense for the given area.

by Anonymousreply 2109/28/2013

All those fucking Hollywood clowns make too much money and should have their heads on pikes with the banksters.

by Anonymousreply 2209/28/2013

[quote]In some of the Boston suburbs, you can't re-model your front porch if it goes against preservation regulations. You can't walk even 30 feet without being confronted by a plaque designating a spot as "historic".


[quote]Why does it matter to us? Maybe it hurts to see the things we value being discarded. As we too will be discarded and forgotten.


by Anonymousreply 2309/28/2013

Famous family, R11/R16?

by Anonymousreply 2409/28/2013

Wasn't someone like Charo on one of those Celebrity Ghost shows, because her neighbors hated her for tearing down a Hollywood landmark and she claimed that she had to do it because of ghosts attacking her?

by Anonymousreply 2509/28/2013

The Japanese don't believe in restoring old properties but they do rebuild them as they once were.

by Anonymousreply 2609/28/2013

Thank you Mr. Hollywood. Wonderful post. Love the history behind the Cukor home. If there were a time machine my first and rather superficial wish I know would be to attend those Sunday brunches with the boys.

I'm happy to learn the house still exists. I wonder if we might find interior shots of the house when Cukor owned it.

by Anonymousreply 2709/28/2013

[quote]If there were a time machine my first and rather superficial wish I know would be to attend those Sunday brunches with the boys.

How do you know he'd let you attend? It's likely he wouldn't consider you fabulous or handsome enough.

by Anonymousreply 2809/28/2013

Jealous, self-conscious, socially inept queen with ugly swim trunks @ R28

by Anonymousreply 2909/28/2013

I love you R18. A friend of mine, who is the great-niece of fashion designer Valentina, inherited everything from her. She invited me over to look at the goodies and there were letters to Valentina's husband, George Schlee, which were written from the guest cottage at Cukor's home. They were from Greta Garbo, who lived in the same NY apartment building. Garbo was clearly depressed and anxious but I think Cukor was a kind and loving pal. So glad the house is still there.

by Anonymousreply 3009/28/2013

R30 Interesting that Valentina kept the letters to her husband from Garbo. It's my understanding she and Garbo were on such bad terms that they did not speak when they passed each other in the same apt building.

by Anonymousreply 3109/28/2013

R20 A great difference between people like J. Stewart, and the ignorant boors who destroy many of these homes, and thus, alter the neighborhoods, is that years ago, in the 70's, when Stewart's neighbor ( on the SE corner of Roxbury & Lexington), put his house up for sale, Stewart bought it - probably spending at that time, at least $500,000 - $1,000,000 - a huge amount then. Yes, he tore it down, but the reason was so he and his wife could plant a large vegetable garden. So he had his lovely Tudor home, which he had lived in since the late 40's, and a beautiful garden adjacent - not an over scaled monstrosity .

by Anonymousreply 3209/28/2013

Frank Lloyd Wright proved once and for all that old crap is old crap.

by Anonymousreply 3309/28/2013

R33 = Tear down fiend, if he had the money. No sense of history

by Anonymousreply 3409/28/2013

The problem with Beverly Hills and all that history is the invasion of the tasteless Persians. The city of Beverly Hills will not challenge all that Middle Eastern moolah because of the property taxes. You knock down an historic 9 million dollar mansion to build a 20 million dollar Persian Palace (with a fountain in front) and the tax dollars just flow into the coffer. Beverly Hills is no longer about Hollywood royalty it's now a port in the storm for uber-rich Middle Easterners who possess not one ounce of taste.

by Anonymousreply 3509/28/2013

R35 And Jews do ? Please !!!

by Anonymousreply 3609/28/2013

Bev Hills is no longer about Hollywood money. Those days are over. R35 is right, and R36, agreed. Hideous taste all around.

by Anonymousreply 3709/28/2013

I'm still kicking, and twirling, around my colorful, stripey, house , waiting for those offers to pour in . All you boys are picking apart my decor, but the fact is I'm soon gonna clear $5.5 million, and move into a high rise, with a doorman, so I don't give a hill o' beans what y'all say. Happy Talk !!!

by Anonymousreply 3809/30/2013

The world, it seems, is full of rich idiots.

by Anonymousreply 3909/30/2013

What a bitch, R16! My father wanted my brother and I to divide the estate (not all that grand but not bad) but a lot of it was tied up in a retirement account of my dad's that my mother put in my brother's name. My dad died first. My brother did the right thing, as executor, and divided everything. Too bad your nasty sister was so greedy.

by Anonymousreply 4009/30/2013

And look what happened to him, R17.

by Anonymousreply 4109/30/2013

[quote]Wasn't someone like Charo on one of those Celebrity Ghost shows, because her neighbors hated her for tearing down a Hollywood landmark and she claimed that she had to do it because of ghosts attacking her?

That was Pia Zadora...and the house was Pickfair.

From Wikipedia:

[quote]Pickfair was a 56-acre estate in the city of Beverly Hills, California designed by architect Wallace Neff for silent film actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Coined "Pickfair" by the press, it was once one of the most celebrated homes in the world. Life Magazine described Pickfair as "a gathering place only slightly less important than the White House, and much more fun."

by Anonymousreply 4209/30/2013

Savages, but then the place has always been filled with them.

by Anonymousreply 4309/30/2013

The Roman Polanski-Sharon Tate house was torn down in 1994. There's now a very ugly castle-looking house on the property. How tragic.

by Anonymousreply 4409/30/2013

To be fair, a lot of those ugly little ranches in BH really aren't what people with money want to live in today.

by Anonymousreply 4501/19/2014

Exactly R45. Beverly Hills was not wealthy back in the day. It would not have been considered special even in Cleveland. Now it has serious money, so this was inevitable. The surprise is that it is Beverly Hills and not somewhere more beautiful in the Southland.

by Anonymousreply 4601/19/2014
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