Mansions keep rising

June 22, 2008|By Jessica Garrison | Jessica Garrison,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES - In Beverly Hills, a 32,000-square-foot beaux-arts mansion that will be sheathed in Portuguese limestone and adorned with gold-plated doorknobs fashioned in France is rising on Sunset Boulevard.

A few miles away in Bel-Air, businessman Eri Kroh has requested permits to lop off the top of a hill, fill in a canyon and then, after moving 68,000 cubic yards of dirt, replace the chaparral-covered lot with a 30,000-plus square-foot single-family home with Pacific Ocean views.

Just down the hill, workers recently were building retaining walls for a giant lot that real estate experts say could soon feature one or two giant palacelike homes.

Anyone who assumed that the construction of mega-mansions would grind to a halt as the economy worsens must not be familiar with the customs of the very rich.

"Does anybody need 40,000 square feet?" asks real estate agent Stephen Shapiro of the Westside Estate Agency. "No, [but] these are our current-day aristocrats and feudal leaders ... and this is what they want."

Builder John Finton, who is overseeing construction of the 32,000-square-foot house on Sunset Boulevard for businessman C. Frederick Wehba Sr. and his wife, Susan, said he knows of at least 20 20,000-plus square-foot homes under construction or about to break ground in what he called the "platinum triangle" of wealthy areas in Los Angeles County: Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and Holmby Hills.

Real estate experts give various explanations for the continuing popularity of mega-mansions.

"People are spending much more time at home," Finton said.

Real estate agent Drew Fenton said that no one sets out to build a mega-house; it just happens.

"You keep adding the rooms you think you need. The ballroom. The screening room. Masters with his and hers and a beauty salon and a massage room. And the house keeps growing." Added Fenton: "I can't explain why someone needs a gift-wrapping room or a florist room."

Others had another explanation: ego.

"Each year it seems there are more extremely rich people with ever larger egos that have to be right on top of the mountainside ... so everyone will know - aha - there is the richest person on the hill," said Joe Edmiston, director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which has fought to preserve open space.

Spurred by complaints from homeowners that "mansionization" is ruining the character of many neighborhoods, the Los Angeles City Council last month approved new limits on the sizes of many Los Angeles houses.

That is little comfort to homeowners who say an influx of giant homes has already hurt their neighborhoods.

Jessica Garrison writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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