Castillo del Lago, the Hollywood-inspired refuge of filmmaker and prolific commercial director Joe Pytka, is a one-of-a-kind house that over the years has become part of the local folklore.
"It's a magical house, almost like a fairy-tale place," said Pytka, who spent 15 years restoring the Spanish Colonial Revival on about 3 acres of hillside above Lake Hollywood.
Recently listed for sale at $14.95 million, the fortress-like estate has 300-degree views encompassing the L.A. basin, downtown L.A., the mid-Wilshire area and the ocean. "It's an isolated and a huge property in the middle of Hollywood," he said.
There are nine bedrooms and six bathrooms in 7,783 square feet of living space and such amenities as 25-foot-high beamed and coffered ceilings, a wine cellar, an elevator, a swimming pool, rose gardens, fountains and even a tower.
The uncompromising John DeLario-designed structure -- built in 1926 for an oilman who invested $250,000 in the project -- "very much reflects the times of the original architecture," Pytka said.
Under a succession of owners, the place was leased to Bugsy Siegel for use as a speak-easy, damaged in a fire and sold for back taxes; it alternately deteriorated and underwent multiple restoration efforts.
When Pytka bought the mansion from Madonna in the mid-'90s for roughly $5 million, he considered it a standout compared with what else was on the market. "Nothing was remotely close."
Under her ownership, the house gained its notable red-and-yellow exterior. Although Pytka researched the home's history and looked at the original color, he opted to keep Madonna's color scheme.
"If you go to Portofino, [Italy,] there are houses like this all over the place," he said. "It's fabulous."
Things he didn't like about the property, however, he changed. The master bathroom, for example, had been done in fake Moroccan tile. He redid it with authentic tile, taking five years to do it.
He relandscaped all the gardens, replaced flooring and upgraded tile in other areas.
Madonna had cut off a third of the master bedroom for a shoe closet. Pytka had other ideas.
"I made the whole floor into one big gallery that leads up to the tower," he said. Last year, he finished restoring the kitchen. Not wanting to alter it or put in a modern kitchen, he changed out the appliances with a classic Aga line that fit the architecture.
He replaced some of the lighting with 19th century Venetian chandeliers and Tiffany fixtures and kept the best California fittings.
Now that the Castillo del Lago restoration is complete, he'll be moving into Taggart House, a 1922 Lloyd Wright-designed residence he has spent five years restoring.
His daughters are grown up, and he finds the castle too large for someone living alone. "I feel like the beast in 'Beauty and the Beast' in the house," he said.
"As much as I love it, I've kind of grown out of it," he explained. "It's a house that has to be full of people."
Plus, "it's finally as about as perfect as it will be," said Pytka, who also has plans to sail around the world. "I don't care to take it any further."
Although Pytka is known for directing thousands of commercials and many memorable branding campaigns -- "This Is Your Brain on Drugs," "Nothing but Net" -- he said the most rewarding piece of work he has ever done was a video called "Free as a Bird" for a mid-'90s Beatles anthology. He had access to all the Beatles material and got to see "their genius up close."
Barry Peele of Sotheby's International Realty, Beverly Hills, has the listing.