Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Man's Home Is His Castle

Most journalists, at least the print variety, believe it is their sworn duty to comfort the afflicted, represent the under represeted, give voice to the voiceless.

But sometimes you just have to say what the heck and extend a hand to the rich.

It is in that spirit that I stand ready today to assist Candy Spelling, who finds herself in a spot of bother.

It seems Mrs. Spelling, widow of legendary television producer Aaron Spelling, is having trouble selling her 4.7-acre estate in Holmby Hills.

She is the process of downsizing to a a 16,500-square-foot condo in Century City which will set her back $47 million. So unloading the Holmby place would probably help her bottom line.

It certainly has everything you'd want in a home: a kitchen that serve 800, five fireplaces and four wet bars. There are seven bedrooms in the servants' quarters alone.

The main house features a bowling alley, a wine storage and tasting room, gift-wrapping room, a humidity-controlled silver storage room, China room, library, gym and media room. And, of couse, a screening room with a wall-to-wall video theater setup that rises from the floor.

Nobody quite knows how many rooms are in the place. "You're really asking the wrong person," Spelling once joked. "There's a lot. (The house) has evolved and I actually haven't gone around and counted."

Outside, you'll find a tennis court, fountains, a waterfall, a pool and spa, a reflection pool and a pool house with a kitchen, and 16 car ports.

Asking price: $150 million which makes it the most expensive residential real estate listing in the United States.

It also makes it hard to sell. Let's face it, this isn't the place for the 10 per cent down, 30-year mortgage set.

Indeed, you have to be prescreened and prequalified. After that, all you need is a fortune to buy someone else's view of paradise.

So this could take awhile.

We recently visited a home owned by a family that once faced a similar problem.

The master of the house had died unexpectedly, leaving his widow and daughter alone in a home that makes the Spelling spread look like a San Bernardino County fixer upper.

It's called Biltmore House and it rises like a fairy tale castle in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Ashville, North Carolina.

Constructed by George Washington Vanderbilt, grandson of the family patriarch, between 1888 and 1895, it gives ostentatiousness a bad name.

Built in a French Renaissance style, its 175,000 square feet (the Spelling house is 53,000
square feet) contains 250 rooms. The architect was Richard Morris Hunt and the grounds, all 175,000 acres, were under the care of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City.

It had a 70,000 gallon indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, two-story library, and other 19th-century novelties such as electric lights, elevators, forced-air heating, centrally-controlled clocks, fire alarms and an intenal intercom

Remember: It was occupied by just three people: Vanderbilt, his wife and daughter, joined from time to time by guests. He called it his "little mountain escape."

It's no wonder the Gilded Age led some common folks to grab their pitchforks and join the Communist Party.

In 1930, faced with a Depression, Vanderbilt's only child, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, and her husband, John Amherst Cecil, opened Biltmore House to the public. Family members continued to live there until 1956, when it was permanently opened to the pulic although it is still owned by the Vanderbilt heirs.

If nothing else, the Vanderbilts know how to make a buck. According to the Biltmore website, the estate draws approximately 1 million visitors a year. At about $50 a pop, the tourist income alone would buy you, say, a Century City condo.

So here's a suggestion for Candy Spelling. Open your place for tours. Oh sure, the neighbors might complain about tour buses lurching and belching their way through Holmby

But the Spellings threw a lot of parties in their day so trafficis nothing new in the neighborhood.

Throw open the doors, Candy. We'd all like to see the place. And you can make a few bucks while you're waiting for that certain someone with a checkbook to show up.

That advice comes free of charge. Now, back to the afflicted.

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