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Looking for a New Place to Live? This Is What $165 Million Buys

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 4 days ago Katherine Clarke, Katy McLaughlin
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L.A.’s optimistic home developers spent the last few years constructing over-the-top glass compounds with candy rooms, helipads and bowling alleys on spec—assuming ultrarich buyers would bite. But a recent spate of $100-million-plus deals shows that buyers at the very top of L.A.’s market are looking for something different: history.

Amazon.com Inc. chief executive Jeff Bezos paid $165 million, a record for the area, to purchase a 9.4-acre quintessential old Hollywood estate—a Georgian-style compound built by Jack Warner, the enigmatic onetime president of Warner Bros.

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The property was last owned by retired entertainment impresario David Geffen. Mr. Geffen paid $47.5 million for it in 1990, setting a record back then. 

No brokers were involved in the recent sale of the Warner estate, according to a person familiar with the deal.

In addition to the Warner estate, Bezos Expeditions, an umbrella company that includes Mr. Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post and his charitable foundation, also paid $90 million for a plot of undeveloped Los Angeles land owned by the estate of Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder who died in 2018.

So what exactly does $165 million buy in 2020?

Built in the 1930s, the roughly 13,600-square-foot Warner mansion is dotted with paintings by famed American artists, and includes a floor once owned by Napoleon. It has a pool and a 9-hole golf course. (It’s unclear if the art is included.)

“No studio czar’s residence, before or since, has ever surpassed in size, grandeur, or sheer glamour the Jack Warner Estate on Angelo Drive in Benedict Canyon,” wrote veteran Los Angeles real-estate agent Jeff Hyland in his book, “The Legendary Estates of Beverly Hills.” “It was not a home. It was a private museum.”

Mr. Geffen spent $45 million renovating the home, including $20 million on landscaping, he told The Wall Street Journal in 2006.

There have been a handful of enormous real-estate deals over the last year, but they bear little resemblance to the overall U.S. luxury real estate market, which has gone through a slowdown.

Mr. Bezos’ new home is one of four that have sold for $100 million or more in the Los Angeles area since the beginning of 2019, records show. Of those four, three are legacy Hollywood estates.

First, there was Spelling Manor, a 14-bedroom, 27-bathroom Holmby Hills estate built by television producer Aaron Spelling and his wife Candy Spelling. Listed by Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone, the property sold for $119.75 million last July, setting the then-record for a Los Angeles area home.

Ms. Ecclestone, who bought the property just a week after she saw it, spent millions on an extensive 12-week renovation that required 500 workers. Set on nearly 5 acres, the roughly 56,500-square-foot mansion is larger than the White House and includes a two-lane bowling alley, a wine cellar and tasting room, a catering kitchen, a gym and a beauty salon. The property includes a swimming pool, tennis court, formal gardens and a circular motor court with a fountain and space to park 100 cars.

The property was purchased by a buyer from Saudi Arabia, according to people familiar with the deal.

Late last year, media executive Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, grabbed his own slice of Los Angeles history in the form of a giant chateau-style home that had been featured as the Clampett residence in the television show “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Mr. Murdoch is co-chairman of News Corp, which owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

Known as Chartwell, the more than 10-acre property was owned by the estate of late media billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio and was designed by architect Sumner Spaulding in the 1930s in French Neoclassical style. Among the most elaborate features of the property is a large ballroom, a tennis court and a custom wine vault that can hold 12,000 bottles.

The only other deal for more than $100 million since the beginning of last year in the L.A. area was a Malibu home owned by NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer. That property is valuable for its Charles Gwathmey design and for its location on the beach, according to agents familiar with the market.

It also had a library, a home theater and a gym.

The trend of nine-figure sales kicked off in Los Angeles with the sale of the Playboy Mansion, Hugh Hefner’s party palace, for $100 million in 2016.

That property was purchased by Twinkies heir Daren Metropoulos, who lived in a house next door to the mansion and dreamed of combining the two properties.

Despite its reputation, the mansion was widely seen in the real-estate community as a historic home in need of renovation. Built in the 1920s, it’s Gothic Tudor in style and spans 29 rooms, with a tennis court and a swimming pool.

It also came with a zoo license and Mr. Hefner himself, who stipulated in the contract of sale that he must be allowed to live out the rest of his life in the home.

Mr. Hefner died in 2017.

Despite the slew of big ticket deals, L.A.’s spec home developers have yet to crack the $100 million mark with the new compounds.

“Billionaire,” a spec home built by handbag entrepreneur Bruce Makowsky, sold for $94 million in October. It had a crocodile skin-clad elevator, $30 million worth of cars and motorcycles, a candy wall, a helicopter on the roof (purely decorative) and a massive outdoor movie screen that rose up from behind the 85-foot-long infinity pool.

“If you have a candy wall it can be replicated. Land cannot be replicated,” said Mauricio Umansky, founder of the Agency, a local luxury firm.

Write to Katy McLaughlin at katy.mclaughlin@wsj.com and Katherine Clarke at katherine.clarke@wsj.com 

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