Wally Hansen is proud to be on top of the hill.
He lives in Friendly Hills Estates in what is one of the biggest and most expensive homes in Whittier, a 9,200-square-foot hilltop marvel of brick, Chinese slate and imported mahogany surrounded by a fence, a miniature moat and a drawbridge.
On occasion, Hansen overhears golfers on the Friendly Hills course who point to his mansion above and wonder aloud who lives there. That makes him feel pretty good.
"I worked very hard for this all my life," he said. "It is kind of an ego trip for me. I like to show it off."
Hansen, a towering, white-haired grandfather of 10 and the president of Angeles Steel Inc. of Santa Fe Springs, is held up by some as proof that friendly folks reside in Friendly Hills, despite the gates that separate them from the rest of Whittier.
He happily gives tours of his manor. Recently, he threw a benefit in his home for local Boy Scouts, and he is famous for his entertaining. "Last Christmas, he had a party and invited 400 of his closest friends," said John White, the real estate agent who handles Friendly Hills Estates.
Hansen lives in a Tudor manor on top of the hill that can be seen for miles around. "Anybody can put a lot of money into a house, but this is quality," Hansen said. "I designed it with the wife."
Growing up during the Depression, Hansen suffered the embarrassment of standing in free lunch lines. He watched his father, a stone and brick mason, work on wealthy people's homes. And he decided that he, too, wanted to live in a home with all the luxuries. "You see nice things, and eventually you get to the point where you want nice things," he said.
His home has a large foyer with balconies, custom-made Italian chandeliers, a spiral staircase, two mahogany bars, nine marble bathrooms, a pool table and a 72-inch television in what is called The Great Room, a Jacuzzi in the Sun Room, and his-and-her closets bigger than the average bedroom.
The rooms have been so painstakingly decorated that two leather-bound, antique books have been glued to an upstairs coffee table for the sake of appearance. Not ignoring comfort, however, Hansen has hot water flowing through the towel racks, to keep towels toasty.
"My father taught me that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. If I was to put a cheap cabinet and whatnot in the kitchen, it would haunt me for the rest of my life," he said.
Hansen said the Honduras mahogany cabinets that he installed in the kitchen and elsewhere in the house cost half of what it costs to buy "a nice-sized tract home."
With such an investment, Hansen said, fences and gates are essential to keep out criminals and gawkers.
Even prospective buyers are asked to leave their cars outside the gates and tour the grounds in a limousine that White, the real estate agent, rents for them. "We don't want to have people wandering around looking at our house and squealing their car wheels," Hansen said.
Hansen and his wife Pat frequently sail their yacht to Santa Catalina Island, and they want to feel that their home and belongings will be protected while they are gone. Some of Hansen's neighbors are doctors who want to know that their families will be safe when they are summoned to the hospital in the middle of the night. Others are retired people who take frequent vacations and do not want to have to worry about their homes while they are away.
Hansen said he and his neighbors are too busy to spend a lot of time socializing with each other, although they are required to belong to the homeowners' association. In Friendly Hills Estates, residents pay $180 in monthly dues to the association. Dues cover the costs of security, road maintenance and landscaping. The city is not responsible for maintaining the neighborhood's roads. Police and firefighters, however, have gate keys.
Hansen is active in the Friendly Hills Estates Homeowners' Assn. and heads an architectural committee that approves plans for new homes.
There has been tension between newcomers who want to erect their own version of San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst's legendary castle, and established residents like Hansen who have complained that proposals for some new homes are tacky.
"We don't let everyone go their own directions," Hansen said. "Before the rules, we let things go too far. That's why we got so many ugly houses instead of a thing of beauty."
Hansen said he got many ideas for his own house from television, travel magazines and advertisements.
One of the embellishments he is most proud of is his moat. In Medieval Europe, the moat and drawbridge protected inhabitants from invading armies. But Hansen's moat is purely decorative: it has never been filled with water or, for that matter, with alligators.
The gates around Friendly Hills Estates do the job just fine.