He didn't set out to erect a new landmark on the Westside. In fact, those who know him say that rocket scientist-turned financial wizard Dennis A. Tito is not the flamboyant type.
But there it is, a 30,000-square-foot mansion alone on a hilltop in Pacific Palisades that overlooks, well, just about everything, from Santa Monica Bay to the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains.
Even among local residents somewhat used to seeing mega-homes being built by the rich and famous, the place turns heads.
It will have a 5,600-square-foot master bedroom suite, eight-car garage, 50 telephones, 20 televisions, a clothes closet larger than most mobile homes and a drawing room with a 23-foot-high ceiling that construction workers have sometimes used as a basketball court.
Yet, the house--which won't be finished for another six months--is drawing mixed reviews in the exclusive enclave above Sullivan Canyon whose residents include director Steven Spielberg and TV producer Norman Lear. Actress Goldie Hawn is also building a home nearby.
"It makes everybody else's house look like a serf's cottage," complained one neighbor, who spoke on the condition that she not be identified. "These are all multimillion-dollar homes."
Another longtime resident said that although her soon-to-be new neighbors "did all the right things" in notifying the neighbors about their plans for the house, "that doesn't mean we have to like it."
"I'm sure they're very nice people," she added, "but who needs a house that big?"
Atop a 900-foot hill and surrounded by a guest house, swimming pool, pool house, tennis court and a private pond, the house that Dennis and Suzanne Tito are building for themselves and their three children is visible for miles around.
Some neighbors grumble privately that, because of its high visibility, the house will cause the neighborhood to be overrun by tourists and the curious.
Even its owner acknowledges that the house may occupy the most high-profile location on the Westside.
"When we chose the property, we just thought of it as a spot with a great view," Dennis Tito said. "It wasn't until the house started to go up that we realized the people down below would also be able to look back at us."
Tito is clearly uncomfortable with the attention the house has attracted.
"Dennis and Suzanne are not ostentatious people," said Ted Grenzbach, the house's architect, who has designed homes for Barbra Streisand, Gregory Peck and Rod Stewart. "They're not celebrities. They're very modest people, really, who aren't interested in publicity for themselves or for the house they're building."
When he was 23, Dennis Tito designed the flight paths to Mars and Venus for two of the Mariner spacecraft. Later, after discovering that the same methodology used to project a spacecraft's trajectory could be applied to stocks and bonds, he invented the Wilshire Index, a broad-based stock index. Now 49, he is president of Wilshire Associates, a financial consulting firm based in Santa Monica. Suzanne Tito is the company's chief financial officer.
"The house is designed very much with the family's life style in mind," interior designer Tom Allardyce said. He likes to design model airplanes. She paints and sculpts. So there are his and hers hobby rooms. Theirs is an athletic family. Besides a pool, there is an indoor gym and a quarter-mile running track around the perimeter of the property.
When the couple decided to build their dream home three years ago, they placed a premium on finding a private hilltop location with an ocean view.
"The day I drove up that hill, I was sold," Tito said of the eight-acre hilltop, with its view of the ocean, Century City and downtown Los Angeles and, to the north and west, the undeveloped mountains within Topanga State Park.
The couple were not the first to appreciate the merits of building a home there.
For years owned by the late home designer Cliff May, whose house was nearby, the hilltop was bought by two Saudi brothers in the early 1980s, who drew up plans to build twin exotic villas to match ones they owned in France. The plans called for hanging gardens and a moat.
Some of the neighbors referred to the design as "early circus." Others said the plan resembled an airport terminal.
"Most of the neighbors found it quite alarming," said Paul Hoag, who lived in the neighborhood for 17 years before moving to an island in Washington's Puget Sound two years ago.
But after winning the approval of the appropriate city agencies, the Saudis decided not to build there. Three years ago, they sold the property to Tito.
Now, despite renewed complaints from some in the neighborhood that the soon-to-be-finished mansion threatens to dwarf other expensive homes there, others are more circumspect.
"A few people grumble about the size (of the Tito house)," said one resident, who, like others willing to be interviewed, did not want to be identified. "But after the previous scare, it's almost as if he's doing us a favor by building it."