Be honest now. Even if you have been really busy lately, would you turn down an invitation to a summer afternoon party at a Mexican-style villa overlooking the Pacific in Palos Verdes Estates?
Or at a landmark Frank Lloyd Wright home that resembles a Mayan temple? Or at a Dutch Castle in Beverly Hills, or at a Pasadena mansion where the "Dynasty" television series is filmed?
Few could resist such an invitation, and that is why many hosts are holding their most important social events at lavish private homes instead of at hotels and restaurants.
Caterers and party planners say that it has become an "in thing" to use spectacular residences for weddings, company parties, charity benefits and other special events.
"Homes have a warmer, more intimate appeal," said Ann Carlton of Canterbury Fare, a party-planning firm with offices in Manhattan Beach, Beverly Hills and Tarzana.
Have to Have a Contact
But not every owner of a palatial estate is willing to open his home to strangers, she said.
To obtain such properties for parties, planners "really have to know the owners," Carlton said. "You have to have an inside contact." An informal sampling of caterers and party planners found that most of them have access to a number of private residences, but when they do not have the right location on hand for a client, the search can be time-consuming and, sometimes, fruitless.
To get an inside track on these special properties, many caterers are turning to two companies that specialize in finding private homes and other unusual locations for parties.
Officials at the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills visitors' and convention bureaus said two rival companies are the only ones they know of in the Los Angeles area that specialize in finding privately owned mansions, castles, and estates for parties. They also offer other unusual locations such as sound stages, art galleries and historic sites.
The two companies, both based in Beverly Hills, are Marilyn Jenett Locations, founded by Jenett, a former professional party planner, and National Special Events Locations, founded by interior designer Maralou Gray.
Each has listings of many unusual party locations, some of which are exclusive to one or the other and some of which are available to both. Each said she has about 14 or 15 elaborate homes that are favorites among their clients.
Fees Range Upward From $2,000
Jenett said the home she lists are available for daily fees ranging from $2,000 to $7,000, including her commission, with one famous celebrity estate available for an astronomical $20,000.
"That's not an everyday booking," she said of the estate, whose owners wish to remain anonymous. The average home rental fee is $2,500 to $3,000 a day, she said.
Gray said her listings range from $1,500 to $5,000 a day, including her commission, and they include the "Dynasty" house.
Although some people might balk at paying so much just for the location, others say it is worth it because guests get such a kick out of getting an inside look at some of Southern California's most spectacular homes and estates.
The idea is especially appealing to executives and other individuals who can write off party costs as a tax-deductible business expense, party planners said.
Jenett said she came up with the idea for her company after working as a professional party planner for several years. She said she had requests for private homes for parties, but found that there was no central source for finding such locations. She decided to start her own company to fill this "missing link," she said.
"I drew my inspiration from film location companies that find places for television and motion picture filming," Jenett said. She added that at first she tried to find party homes through the film location companies, but found that many film sites were not available for parties.
Jenett's listings include the Georgian Colonial Home in Hancock Park that is Pam Ewing's (Victoria Principal's) home in the television series "Dallas"; an Italian Colonial home in Pacific Palisades with ocean views from the lawn that accommodates sit-down meals for 200; a Normandy home built in 1932 by architect Paul Williams, featuring a circular staircase, English country furnishings, a covered terrace and large garden; and an English Tudor home in Sand Canyon surrounded by a 2 1/2-acre park with a private lake and resident ducks.
One of the celebrity homes Jenett has available is owned by a veteran entertainer who occasionally performs for guests, she said.
Started in Madrid
Gray said the concept for her company originated many years ago when she entertained visitors as a hostess for the Spanish Ministry of Tourism and Information in Madrid. She realized how much visitors enjoyed home hospitality, she said, and so set up a network of hosts and hostesses across Europe.