A Sheik Affair : Beverly Hills Party Marks Mansion's End

Times Staff Writer

The Beverly Hills socialite who received a souvenir plastic hard hat at the ceremony marking the destruction of Sheik Mohammed al Fassi's former Sunset Boulevard estate was concerned about the headgear clashing with her dress.

"You look great," a friend assured her, cocking the hat stylishly to the side.

"Thanks," the woman replied. "I call this my demolition outfit."

Like most of the guests who assembled on the dying lawn at 9561 Sunset Blvd. this week, the socialite had come to celebrate the end of an eyesore. There were few regrets as bulldozers plowed through the estate that had gained international notoriety for its garish facade and gaudy nude statues.

"Here We Go!"

Cesar Lopez Jr., the developer who plans to subdivide the property, invited about 500 guests to join in the demolition celebration. The neighbors, politicians and real estate agents who attended dutifully donned their hard hats and raised their wine glasses when Lopez stood on the veranda Monday and signaled the wrecking crew by screaming, "Here we go!"

Nearly a dozen television cameras recorded the scene as a worker wearing a real hard hat plowed his bulldozer into the western end of the estate--and toppled a large tree. On the second try a piece of the balcony tumbled to the ground. On the third smash of the steel claw a column crumbled in a cloud of dust. Several minutes later, the entire side collapsed to the sound of polite applause--leaving the worker with a puzzled look.

Standing nearby was Brett Hodges, the great-grandson of Max Whittier, the original occupant of the 68-year-old estate. The 30-year-old Hodges said his family favored the demolition because of the property's deterioration. "Now it's just rubble," he said. "It deserves to be demolished."

The final occupants of the 56-room Italian Renaissance-style estate that included a guest house, tennis court, swimming pool, movie theater and ballroom were not in attendance. At last report, Sheik al Fassi was in South America and the sheika was said to be traveling through Europe.

The couple purchased the estate for $2.4 million in cash in 1978. Shortly afterward, Al Fassi put an additional $5 million into the home, adding a copper roof, a mosque and a beacon to ward off low-flying planes. In addition, he had the exterior painted a shade of green likened to the color of rotting limes, put plastic flowers on the veranda and had the classic nude statues surrounding the property painted to accurately represent the genital areas.

Tourists gawked and neighbors complained. And in 1980, while Al Fassi and his wife were away, the estate was gutted in a spectacular arson fire. Three years later the couple divorced, and the sheika received the property as part of an $81.5-million divorce settlement.

The charred estate was put on the market for $10 million. Developer Lopez, who refused to disclose how much he paid, originally applied for permission to build three homes on the site, but neighbors complained that a trio of homes on one lot would cheapen the neighborhood.

Now Lopez said he plans to divide the property in half. He said a "Hollywood celebrity" has agreed to purchase a $10-million French-style mansion that he plans to build on one half of the site. The undeveloped half will be sold for about $4 million, according to Lopez.

Lopez said he "felt great" as he walked to the back of the estate to join a post-demolition party. "It has been a long time coming," he said, adding that he hopes to start construction by January.

As Lopez entered the party area, he was greeted by people yelling "Hail Cesar." Nearby, a trio played soothing music and guests relaxed under a large tent and at nearby tables. Wine and soft drinks were served from a bar, while a company called "Picnics 'R Us" served barbecued hot dogs to bejewelled guests who also were offered Brie, salads and crackers.

Paul Setzer, a public relations executive who planned the party, said the idea was to give the old estate a stylish send-off.

"We had the hoopla because there has been a lot of anxiety about the house," Setzer said. "We felt that this was a nice way to get rid of the site. Cesar wanted to clear away the old and celebrate the new."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World