Actress Jane Fonda bought a home in Beverly Hills last year with a feature that might seem counterintuitive for a fitness guru: an elevator.


The Holmby Hills house that pop icon Michael Jackson leased has one within its 17,200 square feet of living space. So does the nearby 56,500-square-foot mansion heiress Petra Ecclestone bought from socialite Candy Spelling two years ago for $85 million.

But home elevators aren't just for the super-rich anymore. Baby boomers looking to age in place are installing them to ease the burden of bad knees and growing girth. So are families juggling children, pets and groceries. Builders say lifts increasingly are showing up in house renovations, custom homes and high-end spec properties.

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McKinley Elevator Corp., one of Southern California's leading installers of home elevators, has opened an Irvine showroom "to meet the explosion in demand," said Mike Burke, vice president of sales. So far this year, he said, they've seen a huge architect-driven push for home elevators.

Like other companies, privately owned McKinley wouldn't divulge sales figures. And there is no central repository of home elevator stats nationwide. Still, figures support the notion that elevator sales are going up.

In the city of Los Angeles, 93 permits for home elevators were issued last year. That's up 6% from a decade earlier, when the real estate market was healthier. A recent survey by the National Assn. of Home Builders said that 25% of homeowners listed elevators as a desirable or essential feature, compared with just 8% in 2001.

Glass elevators are in vogue in contemporary houses, while mahogany-paneled designs are popular in traditional-style homes, said Gary Drake, chief executive of Drake Construction in Hancock Park. He has seen all sorts of customized models during his 30 years in construction.

He once installed an elevator behind a den bookshelf. "It was totally hidden from view," Drake said, "and above it was a working bell tower."

Home elevators and their uses are as varied as the families that have them.

For Hancock Park resident Jennifer Katz, the home elevator gets a workout hauling strollers and small children.

Two years ago, her mother bought a Spanish Revival duplex and transformed it into a multigenerational family home by connecting the levels with an elevator.

Katz, an editor at Fox News, likes the security of having her 5-year-old daughter visit Grandmother within the safety of their home.

"I can just send her down by herself," Katz said. To reach the buttons, "she stands on a step stool."

Jane Angelich had a custom home built in the Marin County town of Tiburon a decade ago with an elevator in it. The contemporary house was designed with the front door and foyer at garage level and the main living areas up a circular staircase.

"I wanted to anticipate what would we do if we couldn't climb the stairs someday," said Angelich, who was 50 at the time. "But it was also cool."

Soon after moving in, Angelich discovered uses for the elevator besides carrying groceries from the garage to the kitchen. It proved handy for hauling the Christmas tree and for entertaining.

But perhaps the most unexpected use for the elevator surfaced when she and her husband, Mark, became a breeder family for Guide Dogs for the Blind. They had no experience with pregnant dogs and had not anticipated how a pregnancy would affect a dog's ability to climb stairs.

"That elevator was just like a godsend," said Angelich, chief executive of Supercollar, which invented and markets a dog collar with a built-in retractable leash. "You would find her sitting in front of the door waiting for her ride."