Sheik’s Mansion Will Be Demolished

Times Staff Writer

Beverly Hills residents may not have to grimace much longer as they pass the Sunset Boulevard eyesore that once housed a young Saudi Arabian sheik’s curious collection of nude statuary.

Cesar Lopez Jr.'s Beverly Hills development firm, Custom Space Builders, has finally gotten the go-ahead to demolish the 68-year-old mansion, which was gutted by fire in 1980, and build two large homes in its place on the northwest corner of Alpine Drive and Sunset Boulevard.

“We got the approval from the City Council, but I just got a letter in the mail today that there was another appeal, but it was denied,” he said. “So it’s final.”

He’s expecting to have a demolition party within the next 60 days, saying, “I don’t think we can take that thing down without some hullabaloo.”


The once-stately white, Italian-style residence owned first by Beverly Hills founder M.H. Whittier and then by Arden Farms founder Samuel Berch and his wife, Rose, has caused some hullabaloo ever since it was purchased in 1978 by Sheik Mohammed al-Fassi, then 24, and his wife, Dena, who was 19.

Al-Fassi painted the white stucco exterior of the 38-room main house a shade of green once described as “the color of rotting limes,” filled the outdoor urns lining the property’s stone and wrought-iron fence with colorful plastic flowers, and painted the classic, white plaster nude statues on the front veranda in natural skin and hair tones. Not long after that, a spectacular fire blamed on arson destroyed the mansion’s interior. Dena al-Fassi received the 3.58-acre property, which is very visible at the corner of Alpine Drive and Sunset Boulevard, as part of an $81.5-million divorce settlement.

Lopez’s purchase of the site, listed at $10 million, was contingent on approval of a subdivision plan. He had hoped to split the parcel into three lots but philosophically said, “Half a loaf is better than no loaf.”

Anyway, he’s already gotten a commitment from a celebrity, who he wouldn’t name, to buy a 15,000-square-foot house that Lopez will build first. “It will have its own gym, something like the one I built for Magic Johnson,” he elaborated. He’s planning to build a house on the other lot that will sell for $10 million.


First, the demolition, though, and Mary Duvan of Beverly Realty Enterprises, who is selling Lopez’s houses, said she hopes to interest a movie studio in filming it.

A couple of timely items this week:

--Frank Lloyd Wright’s 118th birthday will be celebrated on Friday at Hollyhock House, the first Los Angeles residence designed by the famous architect, who died in 1959. Tapestry, a vocal ensemble, will make its debut at 8 p.m. in the house, completed in 1921. (Tickets at $3 each will be available an hour before the performance at the door or earlier from Friends of Hollyhock House at the house at 4808 Hollywood Blvd. in Barnsdall Art Park. The city’s Cultural Affairs Department is co-sponsor.)

--The American Automobile Assn.'s Four Diamond Award--one of the highest ratings for a hotel, motel or resort--will be presented at an 8:30 a.m. press conference on Tuesday to executives of 19 L. A.-area hotels. Among them: the Beverly Hills, Beverly Wilshire and Beverly Hilton hotels--all in Beverly Hills. Also, the Burbank Airport Hilton, Industry Hills & Sheraton Resort, Gateway Plaza/Holiday Inn in La Mirada, Hyatt Regency Long Beach, Century Plaza, Hotel Bel-Air, Hyatt Regency Los Angeles, Los Angeles Airport Hilton, Los Angeles Hilton, Marriott, Sheraton Grande, Sheraton Plaza La Reina, Sheraton Premiere, Biltmore, Westin Bonaventure and Westwood Marquis. The presentation will be made in the L. A. County Hall of Administration.


Now that we’re into June, Shirley Crook is preparing her wonderful Redlands mansion, built in 1902 for William F. Holt--known as “the Emperor of the Imperial Valley,” for weddings and receptions.

She just got the city’s nod to host such events for no more than 50 people, but she’s also leasing an Odd Fellows Hall, built nearby in 1920, which can accommodate up to 250. So the wedding could be held in the house and the reception in the hall or vice versa. The house is ready now, and the hall will be ready at the end of the month. And the fees? Nothing fixed, but about $35 a person for a reception with live music, flowers and a buffet.

Crook’s husband, Bill, had the idea to help pay for maintenance on the 14-room, 5,600-square-foot house, which is one of the few remaining Mission Revival-style buildings still standing, but he died a year ago this Wednesday. “We had so many hurdles, trying to get city approval,” she said, “and we’d just about given up, but now I’ve booked a reception in October.”

Known as “Fanny’s Dream House” for Holt’s wife, the mansion has arches like Spencerian script and moldings like coloring-book outlines, and the shape, designed by F. T. Harris, looks, appropriately, to Crook “like a fanciful wedding cake.”


Looking for an opulent bath? Royal Splash out of London opened its first U. S. showroom at 135 N. Robertson Blvd. in West Hollywood with a champagne-and-caviar reception last week.

The showroom has 12 complete baths, including one that sells for $30,000.

Tubs and showers come in more than 5,500 colors and 18 different shapes. Said Anne Elwood, a spokeswoman for the company:

“We can provide the ultimate in elegant bath surroundings and consider it a challenge to make people’s fantasies (about what they want for a bath) come true.”


The Chemosphere House, written up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1961 as “the most modern home built in the world,” is on the market again.

“It will also be put up for lease if it isn’t sold, because it can be rented out to film companies,” Joy Hudson with Fred Sands Realtors, which has the $1.05-million listing, said. “It was rented a few months ago to Columbia Pictures for $30,000 for four days, and that was tax free.” It was rented then to director Brian De Palma to make “Body Double.”

The house was built for Leonard Malin, now a Yucca Valley real estate broker who was a mechanical engineer when he asked renowned Hollywood architect John Lautner to design a house for the difficult steep slope, overlooking Universal Studios and Studio City. Its second owner, Dr. Richard F. Kuhn, was stabbed to death in it during a 1976 robbery by his homosexual lover and another man.

Also known as “the Flying Saucer” and “the Mushroom House” because of the unusual shape designed by Lautner, the house is currently owned by attorney John Phillips and his wife, who have lived there for eight years. “They’re considering expanding their family. They already have a 2-year-old daughter, and the house is fine for two or three people but not for more,” Hudson explained.