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Rich Witch Wanted : $1.75-Million Tag on Beverly Hills Landmark Spooks Buyers

February 26, 1987|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

With a price tag of $1.75 million, Beverly Hills' famed Witch's Cottage appears to have scared away any potential buyers.

The house at 516 N. Walden Drive, which has a steep, gabled roof and odd-shaped windows with shutters, seems to be right out of a fairy tale. The 3,700-square-foot house is surrounded by a rickety fence, and large rocks are scattered in the front yard, where a moat with a wooden bridge marks the entrance to the front door.

Every year, thousands of people visit the house, many by tour bus. Each Halloween, the owners have decorated it as a haunted house with pumpkins and lanterns.

But despite its popularity as a tourist attraction, the house has attracted only one offer in the month it has been on the market, said Gina Ralbag, the Fred Sands real estate agent who's selling the property for the owner. The $1-million offer was to tear down the house and build a new one on the 12,500-square-foot lot.

The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, bought the house 21 years ago. "The owner doesn't want to let anyone see the house unless they present a $25,000 cashier's check," Ralbag said. "That automatically eliminates some people." The check is returned once the house is shown.

"There are many properties in Beverly Hills with an asking price of $1.75 million," Ralbag said. "But for that price you usually get a new house that is completely remodeled, and a more traditional-type house."

Some officials are concerned about the possibility that someone may destroy the unofficial city landmark.

City Councilman Benjamin H. Stansbury said he would consider preserving the house by moving it to city-owned property. "If the house is facing imminent destruction, and if the city has a site that is suitable for it, then maybe the only expense involved would be the actual relocation cost," he said. "The house is part of the character of the city and I would like to see us keep it.

"Halloween will not be the same without it. Every year, tens of thousands of children have visited the house, and I would hate to see that go."

"The house doesn't appeal to me as a house to live in, but everyone has different tastes," Beverly Hills Mayor Charlotte Spadaro said. "I think it is somewhat of a landmark and it would be nice to save it, but I don't know how dedicated people would be to saving it. I think saving it would be a lovely thing to do."

The Witch's Cottage has seemed out of place among the expensive homes along Walden Drive, where large two-story houses with manicured lawns usually sell for more than $1 million.

The cottage was designed for the Irvin V. Willat Productions Movie Studio in 1921 by architect Henry Oliver. It was moved to Beverly Hills from Culver City in 1929.

It includes two bedrooms, four baths and a maid's quarters. There are three fireplaces, a dining room, a wet bar with a wine cellar and a kitchen.

Winston Millet, founder of the Beverly Hills Historical Society, said: "It would be too bad if the house were torn down. But it is private property, and the people who put up the money have the right to say what should be done with it.

"It may be a landmark, but I wouldn't live in it."

He said he did not want to see the city take over the house because "it would be very expensive to maintain. "

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