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Beverly Hills Debates Whether Bigger Is Always Better in Mansions

May 19, 1988|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Last fall, Robert and Jeri Housman moved from a 3,500-square-foot house on South Linden Drive in Beverly Hills to a 6,000-square-foot "total fixer" on a corner lot on North Bedford.

"We wanted to provide more space for our children," said Jeri Housman. For the four children, ages 1 to 7, the Housmans got a fifth bedroom, eight bathrooms and bigger rooms throughout. For themselves, they plan to add a 2,000-square-foot, second-story master suite.

The Housmans are among a growing number of Beverly Hills home buyers who think bigger is better. Some, like the Housmans, are buying older houses and adding to them. Others, mostly developers speculating that they will find buyers, are tearing down homes and replacing them with larger models.

But apparently even in Beverly Hills, where mansions have always been part of the city's mystique, a house can be TOO big. The 3,500- to 5,000-square-foot homes that once were considered palaces now seem like servants' quarters, overshadowed by new houses double or even quadruple their size.

Some longtime residents don't like it.

Considered an Intrusion

Joseph T. Zoline, who has lived in his 3,500-square-foot home on North Canon Drive for 30 years, contends that the character of his quiet neighborhood is being ruined by the intrusion of larger dwellings. On his street, two houses have been built recently. One is 7,500 square feet, the other 8,500 square feet. A 10,500-square-foot house is under construction across an alley behind his home.

Zoline gets upset when he sees lush lawns replaced by concrete driveways that lead to multiple-car garages. And he thinks the brick and stone facades and flat roofs on the new houses make the neighborhood look as if it is sprinkled with apartment buildings.

"They're monstrosities," Zoline said. "We must stop right now this overbuilding that is overtaking our beautiful city."

The conflict has put Beverly Hills city officials in a quandary: How, they wonder, do you establish building controls to maintain some characteristics of the older neighborhoods while still allowing for a demand for larger homes?

Larger Than Life

"The key is to be fair," said Meralee Goldman, chairwoman of the Planning Commission. "The greatest danger is in polarizing this. The question we have to ask is, how do we see the future of our city?"

While city officials ponder the question, the trend toward larger homes continues. And in Beverly Hills and its environs, large can mean larger than life.

National statistics define as large a home of more than 2,500 square feet, said Rick McAlexander, vice president of Landmark Designs Inc., a Eugene, Ore.-based home design firm that surveys home buyer attitudes every two years. A small house is defined as having less than 1,500 square feet, he said, and a medium house has between 1,500 and 2,500 square feet.

In the glamorous northern part of Beverly Hills, an average-size home is about 5,000 square feet and costs about $2.5 million, according to real estate experts. Generally, the new homes are far bigger.

Real estate broker Jeff Hyland once sold an 8-year-old, 8,000-square-foot house to a client who planned to tear it down and build a 10,000-to-12,000-square-foot house.

Two adjoining 25,000-square-foot houses with cantilevered tennis courts being built on a hillside overlooking Beverly Drive and Coldwater Canyon drew a flurry of complaints from neighbors.

In nearby Holmby Hills, television producer Aaron Spelling stirred up his new neighbors by building a 56,500-square-foot house on a 6-acre lot.

Various Reasons

Why such big houses?

City planners, real estate brokers and builders say an increase in personal income, a rise in property values, a change in life style that is keeping more people at home and, of course, egos that require keeping up with the Joneses work together to create the demand for palatial living quarters.

Landmark Designs' most recent national survey, taken this year, which drew 1,500 respondents from across the country, found that people want more amenities in their homes, including guest cottages, wine cellars, libraries, offices and entertainment rooms. They also want larger kitchens, family rooms, garages and master suites.

"The master suites nowadays can take up to 25% of the entire house," said Hyland, president of Alvarez, Hyland & Young, a real estate firm in Beverly Hills since 1976. "His and hers wardrobes, his and her bathrooms, a gym and then perhaps a den and library just off the master bedroom."

But McAlexander said the dream houses described by respondents to his company's survey could easily fit into 3,500 square feet.

Waste of Space

"It would be a challenge to me to design a 10,000-square-foot house and not feel that I was wasting space," he said. "To have an entry that takes up a thousand square feet would mean walking 20 feet from the front door to any room. That makes for a grand entrance and impression, but as far as being usable, it's beyond my conception as a designer.

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