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Q&A : The Mansion Fight's Leading Man : He describes it as 'Jurassic Park II.' It's a 46,000-square-foot estate, and it looms large in the minds of many in a Beverly Hills neighborhood who have banded together to fight the development.

July 29, 1993|G. Jeanette Avent | Times correspondent

* Jack Lemmon, 68, actor and Beverly Hills community activist.

* Claim to fame: Where to start? Oscars for best actor ("Save the Tiger") and best supporting actor ("Mister Roberts"); eight Academy Award nominations; a career in movies, theater and television career that began in earnest soon after he graduated from Harvard in 1947. The Boston-born actor is known for his comedic and dramatic roles in 48 films, including "The China Syndrome" and "Missing," both of which earned him the Cannes Film Festival award for best actor. Other credits include "Some Like It Hot," "The Apartment," "The Odd Couple," "Tribute" and last year's "Glengarry Glen Ross."

* Background: Lemmon and his family have lived in a 6,000-square-foot home in the hills of Beverly Hills for more than 30 years, generally shunning publicity. But last year, he and three other residents banded together to fight a 59,000-square-foot estate complex proposed on their narrow, winding street, Tower Road. The property owner, a low-profile London financier named Robert Manoukian, has since scaled back the project to about 46,000 square feet (with 18 bedrooms) to get city approval, and the city Planning Commission has imposed 81 conditions governing construction and use. But Lemmon and his neighbors insist the project is still much too big. They have filed an appeal with the City Council, which will be heard next Tuesday. * Interviewer: Times correspondent G. Jeanette Avent.

Question: You've described this project as "Jurassic Park II" because of its size. Why is your group opposed to this one, which will be built on almost four acres of land, when there are other very large houses in the city that sit on less than an acre?

Answer: I think that being human and like everybody else, you wait sometimes (before saying anything), even when things are going on that you don't like. Then it finally hits you right in the face.

When I first came out here over 35 years ago we bought a little house in Brentwood. All the

neighbors kept saying, there really ought to be a stop sign or a light at the corner. Somebody kept saying, "No, they won't put a light in until somebody's killed." I complained once or twice, and we sent a petition to the appropriate officials. Nothing happened. Then somebody was killed, and one week later there was a light. I thought to myself, why did you just say, "OK, I don't like it"? I should have been screaming.

For years now I have been screaming about (what happens to an established neighborhood), with homes that have been here for 40 years or more, when suddenly there's a tear-down and they rebuild with a thing that looks like it could house 100 people.

When you have these fortresses stuck in among the neighborhood, the whole quality of life is diminished. There's a kind of aesthetic pollution. If someone puts a horrible, huge, ugly building right next to your home, your whole feeling when you're out on your lawn is affected. This damn thing is looming up there, and in some cases, blocking the sun out. You can hardly walk through Beverly Hills without seeing one or two of these things, and nobody stops it.

Q I gather you think it's gotten worse lately?

A When I moved into Beverly Hills over 30 years ago, I thought this is one of the most beautiful small towns that I'd ever been in, including Europe. It has done nothing but become uglier and uglier, thanks to the government of Beverly Hills, which has been concerned with everything except the needs and the desires of the citizens. And that I firmly believe. If it puts some noses out of joint, I'm sorry.

They've been obsessed with making money and building up the business sector. In the residential areas, they have been allowing bigger and bigger, inappropriate bulk buildings. Now the citizens are really teed off about it.

I admit I was remiss before, like with the stoplight. Then when this project came up, I got really teed off. Enough is enough! That's when a group of four families got together--Sidney Sheinberg (MCA president), Fred Rosen (Ticketmaster chairman), Stuart Ketchum (developer) and myself.

Q Wasn't the scale model that Ketchum presented to the Planning Commission unfair? It showed the size of the buildings, but not the landscaping that will surround them. According to the plans, not much will be visible from the street.

A I don't care whether you can see the house, it's what's happening to us by the very existence of it. I'm worried about the danger on Tower Road. It's a dead-end street that is a former bridle path paved over.

The other day, our garbage wasn't picked up because there were three little trucks (that belonged to people working on a house there) parked on one of the hairpin-turn curbs. The entrance was gated, and the garbage collectors couldn't get the attention of the people inside. After about 40 minutes of waiting, they went away and never picked up the garbage. They couldn't get up as far as Manoukian's property.

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