Alhambra's Sleeping Beauty has awakened after being almost forgotten in a lonely bower, and it looks like magic.
The beauty is a 25-room castle on a hilltop where it sat neglected for more than a decade until it was discovered by Cris C. Y. Yip, a American whose business is headquartered in Hong Kong.
It was instant love, according to Yip's niece, Eva Hu of San Gabriel, who found the castle for her uncle. Yip's diverse business interests take him all over the world, and he was looking for a base on the West Coast. He bought the deteriorating castle last summer and asked Hu to supervise its restoration.
In the fairy tale, Prince Charming's kiss awakened the Sleeping Beauty. In real life, it was money that did it. After paying $585,000 for the castle, Yip spent an estimated $500,000 to refurbish his new home, and Hu says he isn't through yet.
The castle is a replica of one in the Pyrenees Mountains. Sylvester Dupuy, a Basque farmer, built it in the 1920s atop a hill in Alhambra's southwest corner, where it looked down on his farmlands located in what is now Monterey Park. The hill is ringed by the Long Beach Freeway, the San Bernardino Freeway and Valley Boulevard. Dupuy raised four children there, planted dozens of evergreen trees, then sold the property in the 1940s. The big house was divided into apartments during World War II. It changed hands several times and eventually was abandoned and vandalized.
Its four red-roofed towers can be seen through the trees that almost obscure the house, but in recent years few people got past the iron gates on Grandview Avenue.
To refurbish the house, entire walls and apartment kitchens had to be removed, Hu said. The house was scarred with damaged floors, broken windows, a leaking roof and gaping holes where wall sconces and chandeliers had been ripped out by vandals.
It was in such bad shape, Hu said, that 15 building contractors declined to bid on the restoration. Bruce Wei of St. John Construction eventually took on the job and is still at work.
However, the house was considered completed in November when Yip invited the public to view it at an open house. Hu and her husband, Todd Hsu, were hosts in the absence of Yip, who has homes in several other countries and one near Washington.
Yip, who said he is president and chairman of the board of Lotus, a science and engineering corporation, and is involved in international trade, made a brief visit to his Alhambra home this week.
"I bought the house for two reasons," Yip said. "First, it's a work of art, and it is terrible that nobody maintained it. Secondly, the wonderful weather in the Los Angeles area. I'm planning to stay here after I retire."
Alhambra Mayor Michael Blanco was among the 500 who came to the open house. "It was an exciting event," he said. "The land could have been turned into condos or some other kind of use, and I'm very happy that we still have this landmark house."
Most of the castle has been restored to its original state, with identical woodwork and masonry, Belgian marble floors in the entry and Holland tile on the roof. But it has been modernized with new kitchen and bathrooms, the installation of 32 telephones for intercom use, an elaborate electronic security system, four huge heating and air-conditioning units and three electronically operated gates at the top and bottom of a long, winding drive.
All the rooms and hallways are carpeted in bright red, and there are matching red velvet curtains throughout the house--even in the pantry. There are six Italian crystal chandeliers, two of which weigh more than 150 pounds each. There are Chinese carved rosewood tables and chairs in the dining and living rooms, antique furnishings in Yip's office, and Italian lacquer and custom-made furniture, curtains and bedspreads in the bedrooms. Entire walls of mirrors line the entry hall.
An oval fountain in a courtyard replaces a rose garden. Still to come, Hu said, are a covered swimming pool, a greenhouse and landscaping on the surrounding hillsides.
"I like it," Yip said, "But a lot more needs to be done."
Hu and Hsu are living in the castle temporarily as they oversee its reconstruction.
"I have fallen in love with it, too," Hu said. "But for me it was not love at first sight. I didn't even want to enter the house. I never thought it could be this beautiful."