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King of the spec houses

80 Beverly Park is a $20 million, 19,000-square-foot Tuscan fantasy. All it needs is a mogul.

November 02, 2003|Mimi Avins | Times Staff Writer

Security guards, electric gates and high stone walls shield Beverly Park from intruders. Yet from a plateau high above the Beverly Hills Hotel, it is possible to look down on it, to have an aerial view of one of the most exclusive residential developments in the world. There's Sylvester Stallone's huge hacienda, Denzel Washington's formal French chateau and the gargantuan showplace that octogenarian media mogul Sumner Redstone bought not long ago for his new bride.

Past Paul Reiser's beautifully landscaped tennis court, beyond the palace-in-progress Eddie Murphy's waiting to move into, and beside the guest house being added to billionaire Haim Saban's vast compound lies a grand Mediterranean villa. On the last day of September, 80 Beverly Park opened its 18-foot front doors, welcoming Realtors for the first time. While the neo-Tuscan mansion contains a media room with a screen that descends from the ceiling at the push of a button, a distressed marble kitchen island the size of a small bedroom, an elevator with a floor of Italian travertine, 11 bathrooms and seven bedrooms that open onto balconies tickled by vines of blooming bougainvillea, the cappuccino stucco house lacks the one thing that will make it a home. Number 80, built on spec and now on the market for $19,750,000, needs an owner.

How many house hunters are willing and able to adopt a nearly $20-million spec house? Well, this is L.A., so the answer is quite a few. According to the Wall Street Journal, sales in the Los Angeles luxury market, where the median home price is $1.25 million, were up 18.4 percent in the first half of this year. In the metaphoric neighborhood where prices are only a couple of digits shy of a telephone number, the platinum club of shoppers looking for homes priced above $10 million includes at least two dozen members, and they can choose from an inventory of 30 estates in Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills Post Office, Bel-Air, Holmby Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.

The morning of the new house's public debut, Realtors Brian Adler and Mauricio Umansky, wearing elegant dark suits and cheerful ties, stood under the barrel-vaulted ceiling in the entry hall, ready to greet any professionals who had seen the listing in the Caravan Express brokers' guide to Tuesday showings on the Westside. In 1979, Adler assembled a group of investors to buy the 325 virgin acres that became Beverly Park, and he's been involved in the development, where he lived for 17 years, ever since. With little prompting and a salesman's enthusiasm, he will extol the virtues of the enclave or the charms of Number 80. Visitors will have to imagine how the empty house will look once a decorator helps new owners spend $4 million to $8 million on furnishing and appointing the interiors. For now, Adler has borrowed one round antique wooden table to place in the foyer, and set a voluptuous orchid plant on it.

Umansky is a broad-shouldered, curly-haired man in his early 30s who dropped out of USC to start a clothing business, sold it eight years later, then looked for a new career. He found one in real estate and now concentrates on multimillion-dollar residential sales. In the last two years, 14 properties on the Westside went for more than $10 million; Umansky was involved with six of them. "I know who all the people are who are looking in the upper price range," he says, "and anyone would recognize their names." So he wasn't surprised that he and Adler, who share the listing for Number 80, were asked to sign nondisclosure agreements by some people who expressed interest in touring the house as it neared completion. "They don't want anyone to even know they're looking," Umansky says.

How the rich spend their money can arouse as much curiosity as their sex lives, so conglomerate chieftains, studio presidents and movie stars take some pains to keep their major purchases private. That effort can seem a tad disingenuous, however, because part of Beverly Park's appeal is the status of the address, the cachet that accrues because everyone who's anyone knows the price of admission. Tom Thompson of JLA Realty brought a couple he describes as "in the entertainment industry" to see Number 80. "They've been looking for six months in Holmby Hills and Bel-Air," he says, "but those areas don't have the prestige of Beverly Park. You tell someone you live in Holmby Hills, that doesn't say a whole lot. It's prestigious, but you could be in a $40-million home or a $2-million home. If you say you live in Beverly Park, everyone knows what that means."

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