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From Modest to Grand, They're on the Block : Real Estate: Among the scores of properties on the government's auction list are an equestrian center and an upscale tennis resort. Others are not as pricey.

January 03, 1990|ROBERT W. STEWART and TOM FURLONG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — A $4-million "windmill" nestled in Malibu's verdant Ramirez Canyon. A sprawling equestrian center in Griffith Park. A small office building in Orange built by a defunct thrift whose former owners are now convicted swindlers.

These properties are among scores in California that were built, acquired or repossessed by savings and loan associations that went under.

On Tuesday, they found their place on the first comprehensive list of real estate put on the auction block by the Resolution Trust Corp., the federal agency that is seeking to recover some of the scores of billions of dollars that S&L failures will cost taxpayers.

Much of the roster of California properties is unassuming. A vacant auto park in Oxnard. Condominiums in central Los Angeles. Time-share vacation properties in Carlsbad and Lake Tahoe.

But at least two pieces of real estate have acquired a degree of fame.

The Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells, whose tennis courts have hosted the likes of Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, is the site of the $700,000 Newsweek Champions Cup, played in the spring.

Built in 1986, the 336-room hotel is "awash with lagoons, swimming pools, fountains and waterfalls," according to at least one travel writer, and offers guests books in their bathrooms and robes in their closets.

But Simi Valley-based Gibraltar Savings is now in "exclusive negotiations" to sell the resort to a buyer whom Richard Post, a Gibraltar senior vice president, declined to identify. Like many other troubled S&Ls, Gibraltar has been taken over by federal regulators and its asset sales are being run by the RTC.

The resort, which cost about $120 million to build and opened in 1986, is 87% owned by Gibraltar. The other stockholders are three insurance companies, Post said. Resolution Trust listed the property's current appraised value at $75 million.

Another financially troubled property is the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, built on land leased from the City of Los Angeles, and Gibraltar is involved in that deal as well.

The $15-million center was an albatross around Gibraltar's neck for most of the 1980s. The financial institution assumed ownership of the property through foreclosure in 1988.

Built in 1981 on 70 acres of property in Griffith Park, the center has lost more than $27 million and been controversial from the time it opened. At one time, the property's operators wanted to convert the rented horse stalls into condominiums, but the idea was turned down by the city.

Gibraltar Savings has agreed to sell the center for an undisclosed amount to a group of private investors led by Gene Harmon, a semi-retired banker from Burbank. The sale still needs the approval of the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department.

For sale in Malibu is one of the most expensive of thousands of single-family homes on the RTC list. The 19-room, windmill-shaped estate is tucked away in Ramirez Canyon, where singer and actress Barbra Streisand owns property. One of the windmill's recent residents has identified himself as Sir John Fairchild, although reporters were unable to verify his claim to knighthood.

According to real estate records, the owner of record is Pacific Savings & Loan Assn., the insolvent Costa Mesa thrift that was taken over by federal regulators last February.

Pacific Savings was one of the first targets of the Bush Administration's effort to clean up the nation's troubled savings and loan industry. Pacific Savings was acquired in October by Royal Trustco of Toronto with $550 million in federal assistance.

Even though a few of the listed properties come complete with high price tags and fancy addresses, most are less glamorous.

In Orange County, the former headquarters of Ramona Savings & Loan Assn. is an unassuming garden-style office building in the city of Orange. A modest 8,000 square feet, it was built in 1981 by the then high-flying S&L.

But Ramona collapsed in 1986, after owners John L. Molinaro and Donald P. Mangano, in the words of one federal regulator, began using it as a "personal piggy bank."

Molinaro was found guilty on Oct. 5 of 33 counts of bank fraud, conspiracy and causing false information to be entered on Ramona's books. Mangano, 52, was convicted of 31 counts of bank fraud and conspiracy. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 8 in federal court in Los Angeles.

After Ramona's collapse, the building in Orange was acquired by Midwest Savings Assn. of Minneapolis. In February, 1989, after an expansion binge that saw it acquire two other failed thrifts in Iowa and Oklahoma, Midwest itself was declared in jeopardy and was seized by federal regulators.

Some of the stories have a happier ending. The sale of an 18,000-square-foot commercial lot in Napa that is home to a historic Victorian structure is expected to close by the end of the month, according to the agent who listed the property.

At various times home to a bed and breakfast inn, a restaurant and a delicatessen, the property had been repossessed by Washington Savings & Loan of Stockton. Washington Savings, in turn, was taken over by federal regulators.

The buyer, a Napa company, plans to convert the buildings into office space. But there has been one hitch. The former owner constructed his restaurant kitchen and a bathroom on neighboring property without seeking the benefit of an easement.

Negotiations are in progress.

Stewart reported from Washington and Furlong reported from Los Angeles. Times Staff Writers John O'Dell and Ruth Ryon contributed to this story.

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