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Too Big for His Need : Jerry Buss Puts Fabled Pickfair on Sale

February 23, 1986|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Pickfair is for sale!

Jerry Buss, who bought the honeymoon home of actor Douglas Fairbanks and actress Mary Pickford 5 1/2 years ago for about $5.4 million, has listed it with Merrill Lynch-Rodeo Realty in Beverly Hills at $11.5 million, explaining, "It's a much bigger house than I need."

During much of his residency, the 53-year-old sports entrepreneur had his four children living with him, but now only his son Jimmy is at Pickfair. Buss' daughter Jeanie and son John purchased their own homes, and his daughter Janie is away at college. "So Pickfair is rapidly becoming an empty nest," Buss, a bachelor, said. He recently purchased a retreat outside of Los Angeles but in Southern California, and is about to look for a penthouse residence in the immediate Los Angeles area.

Elliot Feinman, president of Merrill Lynch-Rodeo Realty, was pleased at getting the listing, saying, "Yes, we got it again! The first time, we sold it for the Pickford estate to Jerry Buss. It's like deja vu. But Jerry Buss has done quite a job on restoration."

Massive Remodeling

Bob Steiner, a spokesman for Buss, confirmed that "considerable work was put into the 42-room house."

Buss spent an estimated $2 million to $3 million on remodeling the baths and kitchen, restoring fine wood moldings and floors, adding a championship tennis court and a library and installing new carpeting.

"He kept the taproom authentic, and where Mary Pickford had a museum of gowns, he made a trophy showroom," Feinman said. "What I like best is that he did not try to blend old with new but kept it Old World. The restoration is one of the finest jobs I've seen."

Buss tried to maintain the period and flavor of the home as it looked in the '20s and '30s, Steiner said, and "considerable study was made of what the house looked like in those days. The plumbing and heating was modernized, but there was a concerted effort to make the house look as it did at its peak."

In Need of Repair

Buss, owner of the L. A. Lakers, Kings and The Forum and a principal in the Santa Monica real estate firm of Mariani-Buss, spent countless hours overseeing the restoration, Steiner said.

When he bought the house at a probate sale, it was in need of repair. It went on the market in March, 1980, at $10 million, but when nobody in the courtroom topped Buss' $5,362,500 bid, Superior Court Judge Edward Rafeedie said, "It must be a fixer-upper." Spectators laughed.

In its heyday, Pickfair was far from being a fixer-upper. Some considered it second to the White House in hosting distinguished guests. Among them: Lady and Lord Louis Mountbatten, who honeymooned in the guest house in 1922; the Duke of Kent, Queen of Siam, Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Russia, Duke and Duchess of Alba, Prince William of Sweden and Grand Duke Otto of Austria.

Pickfair started out as a hunting lodge, built in the early 1900s. Douglas Fairbanks bought it from sportsman Lee Phillips in 1919, five years before Beverly Hills became a city. He and Pickford spent their honeymoon there when they married in 1920. The name of the estate was a combination of the famous couple's last names.

With the help of architect Wallace Neff, Pickford redesigned the lodge into an elegant, English-style home with leaded-glass windows, inlaid mahogany floors, an L-shaped veranda and a copper roof supported by heavy wrought iron. The estate originally consisted of about 15 acres which were whittled down ultimately to about two acres.

Hosted Charity Events

Through the years, the house also deteriorated. A year after Pickford and Fairbanks were divorced in 1936, she married actor Buddy Rogers. They also entertained lavishly until the 1960s, opening their home for charity teas, dinners for servicemen during World War II and parties for dignitaries and movie stars.

Then Pickford remained in self-imposed seclusion at her home for nearly 15 years before Rogers hosted charity benefits there by himself. Pickford died in May, 1979, at age 86, and Rogers built another home nearby.

Since Buss completed renovations, he also hosted charity events at Pickfair.

About that, he said, "It was very satisifying to help raise millions of dollars for good causes by making Pickfair available for charitable organizations."

He enjoyed owning the landmark. To him, the restoration work was "challenging and exciting."

However, he added, "it is time to move on."

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