Those who are a quarter his age would know how to explain it: Charles Mureau is a party animal.
In back of his one-bedroom house, the 80-year-old bachelor is putting finishing touches on a $200,000 recreation center that will accommodate 300 guests.
"I like parties, but I've never had a place big enough to entertain in. Now I will," explained Mureau, a retired cosmetics maker and artist.
This is no tack-it-onto-the-back-of-the-house addition.
Suitable for Dances
It is a cupola-topped, 60-foot-wide, octagonal hall outfitted with a solid maple floor suitable for ballroom dancing, a 200-year-old marble fireplace imported from England and old fashioned, chain-operated water closets.
The furnishings reflect the get-togethers that Mureau is planning for his friends--Victorian costume balls, croquet parties, lawn bowling tourneys and horseshoe-pitching contests.
"The Victorian Era was one of charm and grace," said Mureau, who sports a dapper mustache and wears jaunty caps and scarfs.
The recreation center has been under construction for nearly a year at Mureau's 40-year-old home next to the Ventura Freeway at the overpass of Mureau Road, which was named for his family. From the freeway, it is visible to passers-by, many of whom have assumed it to be a church, a stable or some sort of retail business, Mureau said.
"I'm very surprised by the attention the building is getting," he said. "People stop in all the time to ask what it is. I've got a stack of letters about it like you wouldn't believe."
Most inquirers are surprised to learn that the huge building is nothing more than a place for private, invitation-only parties, he said. The doubters have included Los Angeles County officials.
The County Engineer's building and safety division closely scrutinized Mureau's construction plans. He had to persuade them it was not a business venture before they issued him an otherwise-routine "recreation room" building permit.
"They wouldn't believe me when I said it wasn't a commercial project," Mureau said. "But I told them it won't be open to the public at all. I'll have a croquet club over, maybe. But it will all be private. This is not going to be used for anything but a private house."
Mureau has lived in Calabasas since 1945, when he built his small house on top of the highest hill of his 24-acre parcel. He retired from cosmetic manufacturing in 1955 to become an artist.
He built a second structure on the hilltop in 1967, with plans to use it as a party room. But it quickly became a workshop and art studio that Mureau filled with his oil paintings and partly finished iron sculptures.
Mureau briefly used a vacant former Calabasas Road schoolhouse for entertaining until it was converted into a restaurant. He said he considered acquiring an empty store in the area before settling on the octagonal dance hall idea.
"I went to La Jolla to a friend's place six years ago and he had a marvelous croquet layout at his house. I got so excited about the game that I decided to do something like that back here," Mureau said.
"But he didn't have a place for dancing. And I've always loved to dance, so I decided to build a place for that, too."
The two-acre area around his party room will have a regulation 105-by-74 foot croquet court, a horseshoe-pitching area along Mureau Road, a shuffleboard court, a lawn bowling area and a pitch-and-putt golf course.
The outside is also being decorated with about 100 of Mureau's sculptures. The black-painted pieces are welded from scrap iron, bolts and machine parts to depict historic characters such as Buffalo Bill, whimsical scenes of giant insects and the like.
Earnings from the first cosmetic career and investments enable him to afford the project, he said.
Mureau said he plans to invite Calabasas community leaders and his scattered neighbors to one of his first parties so they can see how his project turned out. His closest neighbors live in exclusive Hidden Hills and do not have a direct view of the site. A handful of Calabasas Park residents can see it from their hilltop street about a quarter-mile away.
"As soon as I see the light at the end of the tunnel on the construction, I'll send out the invitations," he said.
Required dress for the party will be Victorian, of course.