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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | JAUNTS

Streisand's Hideaway Goes Public

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy gives a tour of the grounds twice monthly, but it's not cheap.

August 01, 1996|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Barbra Streisand moved to a remote Malibu canyon in 1974, like any new home owner she made a few improvements.

She planted more than 1,000 trees, adding to the huge, sprawling sycamores already there. She rerouted a creek, which made way for a grassy meadow. For an entire year, she employed a crew of 30 to 50 stone masons who laid fancy brick walkways and built stone walls.

The end result is a lavishly landscaped compound that includes, among other residences, a rustic barn-like home and a formal Art Deco house. Three years ago, Streisand donated her 24-acre estate to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and since April, the place has been open for public tours.

But before you start humming "People, people who need people . . ." get out your checkbook. The one-hour tour (followed by tea and another hour of browsing) is a pricey $30. Nonetheless, people are lining up to take the tours, and you'll likely have to wait until mid-October.

Now called the Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies, the complex ultimately is to become sort of an ecological think tank, a place where environmentalists can gather to ponder land use. But from the outset, plans for the center have been beset with problems, especially how to get people into this remote location without disturbing neighbors.

The property is situated deep in Ramirez Canyon, at the end of a narrow, winding, bumpy road off Pacific Coast Highway. Behind it is parkland. A gate prevents people from wandering onto the site for a look around. This is a by-appointment-only place. For the tours, visitors are asked to carpool in from a spot near the highway to reduce traffic.

Once inside the lush grounds, the tour starts at what is called the "barn." It's the house that Streisand and Jon Peters, the then-man in her life, originally bought in 1974. It was nothing fancy--a modest three-bedroom stucco house. But Streisand's passion for decorating--a side of her generally not well known--turned it into a rustic hideaway. Of the four homes on the property, this was her favorite.

"She really misses the barn," said Lisa Soghor, the center's environmental restoration and program coordinator, as well as tour guide. (She isn't too far away; she has since bought another property in Malibu.)

There is no trace of the original stucco. Streisand and Peters brought in some toy makers from Northern California who covered the house inside and out with rough wood paneling. Once in place, they singed it to give it a dark, older feel.

The house has whimsical touches. Streisand apparently loved lofts and little nooks. For the stone fireplace she used rock embedded with prehistoric shells and fish fossils. Outside, a huge bird house is tucked into the roof line.

If you take the tour, don't expect to see Streisand's furnishings or little traces of her presence. For one, she never actually lived in the Art Deco house, and she took all her personal effects out of the others.

Nor is there much about how she lived here for 20 years, at times with Peters, her son and his son. Soghor does offer that it took a crew of five full-time gardeners to maintain the spread. Since taking over the property, the conservancy has whittled that down to two and slashed the $1,200 monthly water bill to $450.

"We're taking out some of the water-guzzling plants," Soghor said, and experimenting with native plants. It's all in keeping with the center's environmental focus and goal of educating people about water conservation. But the grounds won't be returned to their natural state, nor will the creek be channeled back to its original course, she said.

"The creek is stable," she said. "To try to pull that out would create far bigger problems."

The meadow, with the creek burbling nearby, is where Streisand performed for a Democratic fund-raising concert in 1986. Deer lope through here, coyotes dart out occasionally. On a hillside nearby are the avocado, citrus and peach trees she planted on seven levels of terracing.

Over the years, Streisand bought neighboring property. One was a stable that she converted into a Mediterranean-style villa, now known as the Peach House. The bottom level was a guest apartment and the upper a plush screening room with a marble fireplace. Another house now serves as offices for the center.

But the most amazing--perhaps because of its unlikely setting--is the Art Deco house. Streisand spent five years turning this California ranch house into a 1920s and '30s period-piece shrine. But she never moved in.

"She was fascinated by the Art Deco period," Soghor said. "She had a collection of Art Deco furniture and sculpture." Everything is authentic, down to the light fixtures and ashtrays.

Streisand restricted the color scheme in the house to shades of black to gray and burgundy to rose. Into the design, she incorporated stainless steel panels from the Atlantic Richfield building in Los Angeles. Outside, an angular black-bottom pool nestles against the house. Palm trees surround it.

"It looks like Hollywood," mused Stephanie Leavitt of Van Nuys, during a recent tour. The place oozes with class and sophistication, she said.

"We play her music," she said. "She's a real legend."

DETAILS

* WHAT: Tours of the Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies.

* WHERE: 5750 Ramirez Canyon Road, Malibu.

* WHEN: Tours are twice monthly at 2 p.m. Wednesdays, by reservation only. After January, tours are planned for every week.

* HOW MUCH: $30.

* FYI: (310) 589-2850.

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