Liberace was having lunch with Mae West in the late '50s when the actress told him about a property she sold for several million dollars.
"That was when he saw gold in real estate," said Jamie James, who handled Liberace's public relations for 20 years before the musician-showman died last February.
And when he died, Liberace owned quite a lot of real estate. He had a mansion and shopping center in Las Vegas, a house in Palm Springs, another house at Lake Tahoe, a five-story office building with a residential penthouse in Los Angeles, and two adjacent co-ops in Malibu.
Neither an exact value of Liberace's properties nor a value of his total estate, which is still being settled, was available, but they were estimated to be in the "multi-millions."
"He especially loved his homes," James said, "and when he was not working, he enjoyed his properties as he did all things he collected."
In his collections were pianos and piano-related things. In his Malibu co-op, there was a piano-shaped bar, piano-shaped couch, bath towels and ice bucket with keyboard designs, drinking glasses with swizzle sticks in the shape of musical notes, a black baby grand and candelabra, his trademark.
He also collected antiques, cars, Christmas ornaments, jewelry and art. Some of his collectibles are elegant, like the baccarat crystal table dating from 1850. Others are unusual, like the 1960 red and silver Cadillac limo with a diamond-studded candelabrum.
Auction Catalogue Due
These and many other treasures that belonged to Liberace will be auctioned April 10-13 at the Los Angeles Convention Center by Christie's and Butterfield & Butterfield. The catalogue, listing auction items, is expected to be out in January.
However, it does not include Liberace's properties. And several of his properties are for sale, being readied for sale or in the process of being sold.
In the past few weeks, one of his Malibu co-ops and his office building with the penthouse entered escrow. Both were listed by Bill Weatherby of Santa Monica, who also has the $695,000 listing on Liberace's other, larger co-op.
Liberace combined two units to make the larger co-op after he bought three one-bedroom co-ops in the six-unit, 25-year-old building in 1984. He kept his smaller, one-bedroom unit for guests.
It's being purchased by Charles Stubbs, a retired TWA pilot, and his wife of 45 years. "It was one of Mrs. Stubbs' big dreams to sit in her home and watch the waves," said Richard Mark of Fred Sands Realtors, who represented the buyers. "It was a dream Mr. Stubbs wanted to fulfill for her."
Furnishing to Be Removed
The couple already owns a home in Brentwood, so they will not live in Malibu full time, but they should be able to move in after Christie's moves Liberace's furnishings the first week of December, Mark added.
The furnishings will also be removed then from the two-bedroom unit, which will be rented out, unless it is sold first, at $4,500 a month until the co-op is turned into a condominium. It will be converted to a condo to facilitate financing, Weatherby explained.
The Stubbses purchased their unit for $285,000, $10,000 less than its asking price, to cover minor maintenance and conversion costs.
"I think they got a good deal, because you can't get much on the sand in Malibu for $300,000," Mark noted, "and it was appraised at $295,000."
Tested Positive to AIDS
It was a good buy but not the bargain some people looking at the unit might have expected.
"I showed the unit a lot," Mark said, "and I had people who thought they could steal it because Liberace had AIDS." Liberace tested positive to the AIDS virus eight months before his death, according to a report of the Riverside County Coroner, though there was no mention of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome on his death report.
Some home shoppers have voiced concern about the AIDS connection, he said, "but Mr. Stubbs just said it was a shame such a nice young man died so early." Liberace was 67.
More people have reacted negatively to the furnishings in the larger unit than to Liberace's connection with AIDS, Mark observed. He figures that removing the furnishings will make the unit more salable. Glitz and glamour were Liberace's signature at home as well as on the stage.
Like Color Black
One client didn't like what Mark describes as Liberace's "black theme."
Liberace liked the color black. In his Malibu co-op, there is a steam shower with black tile; a black sink with brass fittings; black lacquered cabinets, a black sable bedspread, a black refrigerator, a black oven, black bar stools on brass legs, and lamps that are life-size statues of black figures holding gold chandelier-type lights.
Liberace liked mirrors. In Malibu, there are mirror-topped tables, a piano-shaped mirror over the bar, and a mirrored wall to reflect the ocean. Liberace also had a couple of mirrored grand pianos, but one is in his Los Angeles penthouse, the other in his Las Vegas home.
Chandelier Over Bathtub