Merv Griffin is building a fabulous home on 157 acres he just purchased above Beverly Hills.
By phone last week, he said, "I just came from that project, and it's the most amazing grading and slicing of the top of a mountain you've ever seen!" About 100 tons of equipment will be required to move 2 million cubic yards of dirt.
When construction is completed, in about two years, the home will stand on 16 acres of flat land, with nearly a 360-degree view. There will be a mile-long, four-lane road leading from the main gate to the main house.
"We'll have a helipad, a couple of lakes and a palladio-style house, like those you see outside Venice (Italy) but with a variation, because we'll need lots of glass for the views," said the popular former talk-show host-turned-TV-producer, who is on the most recent Forbes magazine list of America's 400 richest people.
So far, he expects the marble-and-limestone house to have 24,000 to 25,000 square feet of space, "but I'm sure it will get larger."
He commissioned prominent interior designer Waldo Fernandez to design it. Fernandez, who was once an apprentice in 20th Century Fox's set design department, has worked on Griffin's Beverly Hills estate and his La Quinta ranch as well as designing homes for Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn, Warren Beatty and Bette Davis.
"I have a beautiful home in Beverly Hills but fell in love with this property," Griffin said.
His Beverly Hills home got an addition last summer: a tennis pavilion with dining room, wet bar, changing rooms, spa and sunken tennis court. He bought the 10,000-square-foot mansion in 1986 for $5 million in cash from the estate of Liliore Rains, a daughter of Beverly Hills co-founder Burton Green.
Griffin's newest property, in what is known as the Beverly Hills Post Office area, was once owned by the Princess Shams, a sister of the late Shah of Iran. The shah planned to build a $20-million palace there.
Griffin has no idea yet, he said, how much his project will cost, "but it's starting to add up like mad, and we're talking about millions upon millions."
The site was on the market for about a year through Jack Hupp & Associates, Beverly Hills, at an asking price of $6.5 million, and Steve Lewis of the firm represented Griffin in the sale.
"But then we have the cost of grading and the cost of the house," Griffin noted. "I can tell you better what the whole thing is going to cost in a few weeks."
"Funny," Griffin went on, "but I live on nothing but hills. I have two acres of forest in Beverly Hills, my home in Carmel is 1,700 feet high, and this one will be 1,400 to 1,500 feet above sea level. The only flat property I own is the ranch I'm building in La Quinta."
Griffin says he has always loved real estate. His first purchase was a ranch with lakes and waterfalls in New Jersey.
More recently, he became interested in hotels. He made an unsuccessful bid earlier this month for the Beverly Hilton but lost out, he said, to a Japanese partnership.
"I love the Hilton and its showroom, but when the Japanese come along with money that is more valuable than ours, they don't care what the returns are," he lamented.
He was also interested in buying the Beverly Hills Hotel, which recently sold to the Sultan of Brunei. "If another hotel came along that I really liked, I'd think about it," he said.
He terms real estate "a nice complement to show business."
The former band singer taped his last show in his 24-year career as a TV talk-show host in September, 1986, but he still goes on camera. You can see him in his own NBC Special sometime in November and in a CBS "Circus of the Stars" the first week of December.
Speaking of his Special, he said, "It's called 'Secrets Women Never Share,' and I won't tell what they are, but I'll have Lauren Bacall, Carol Burnett, Brigitte Nielsen, Shelley Long and Raquel Welch on the show."
Griffin owned a whole block in Hollywood, four acres including the northwest corner at Sunset and Vine, until he sold Merv Griffin Enterprises to Coca-Cola in 1986 for $250 million.
"They also took the real estate," he said. "My office is still there, but it's owned by Coca-Cola."
Hollywood and Vine, a few blocks north, got a shot in the arm--er intersection--last Thursday when the reborn Brown Derby held its grand opening on the northwest corner.
On another subject, a Beverly Hills home built in the '20s on Beverly Drive for actress Pola Negri, who died in August, and later bought by producer Hal Roach Jr., has been sold to Beverly Hills entrepreneur Jack Hansen.
The handsome colonial estate, designed by the late architect Paul Williams, was sold for $4 million. Kay Pick of Mike Silverman & Associates represented Roach, and Julie Udem of the Jon Douglas Co. represented Hansen.