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New Bel-Air mansion reflects resurgence of behemoth L.A. homes

At 60,000 square feet, Chateau des Fleurs is not even the city's largest. 'It's no question' houses are getting bigger, says one high-end real estate agent.

December 20, 2013|By Martha Groves

Buzz Yudell, a Santa Monica architect, said "an inflation of expectations" is driving the big-home trend. "You start saying, 'Shouldn't I have an entertainment room and a gym and fill-in-the-blank because that's what everybody's doing?'" he said. "When does it cross over into being a pure statement — edifice complex?"

Sarah Susanka, a North Carolina architect and author of the "Not So Big House" and "Not So Big Life" book series, said she attempts to avoid judging people who live large.

"For most of us [these are] so far from what we can conceive of as a house that we automatically see it as gauche or grotesque," she said. "But, in fact, some of these very large houses can in the long haul become something more than a house."

The Pritzkers, for example, use their Angelo Drive residence to raise money to benefit the environment, UCLA and other causes. In the two years they've occupied the house, with its children's wing and soaring hotel-scale atrium, they have held scores of events. At a November gathering for foster youth, Gov. Jerry Brown and former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were among the guests.

"We've raised about $15 million in two years," Pritzker said. "Jeanne and I are very proud of the charitable work we do. It is part of our civic duty."

It remains to be seen how Chateau des Fleurs will be used. It was designed with husband-and-wife wings, with communal rooms where the couple will meet in the middle, said Hyland, who toured the house several months ago.

Permits list the owner as Jeffrey A. Kaplan.

Kaplan is a media-shy Los Angeles lawyer turned real estate maverick who, with business partner Thomas T. Tatum, owns about 18 mobile home parks. Kaplan was the architect of a failed 1996 state initiative to bar all California communities from adopting new rent-control ordinances for mobile home parks.

Calls to Kaplan were returned by his attorney, who said Kaplan holds the property with "a number of others with substantial financial interests in the house."

Paulette DuBey, executive director of the Bel-Air Assn., a homeowners group, said Kaplan has been a generous supporter of Keep Bel-Air Beautiful, a program funded by volunteer contributions, and has paid the cost of maintaining two traffic islands near the chateau.

Some blogs have guessed that the chateau was built on spec (one blog floated a price of more than $100 million) — and real estate sources say it was shown months ago — but DuBey said Kaplan intends to occupy it.

"The home was built for the family," she said. "He is not going to sell the home."

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