Brown Derby Site in in Beverly Hills Sold

Times Staff Writer

"The best retail site in the U. S. outside of Manhattan"?

It's probably an exaggeration--Douglas Stitzel's description of the Beverly Hills corner he just bought with Berisford Capital Corp.--but there's no doubt that it is one of the most famous commercial sites in the city.

And it has been lying dormant for several years!

It was the site of the Beverly Hills Brown Derby, which opened in the 1930s. The restaurant was closed in 1982, two years after the original Derby, famed since 1926 for its derby-like shape, was closed across from the Ambassador on Wilshire Boulevard.

The Hollywood Brown Derby on Vine Street near Hollywood Boulevard shut its doors after 59 years last April.

The Derbys, created by Herbert K. Somborn (one of five husbands of actress Gloria Swanson) and Robert Cobb (whose surname is still used for a type of salad originated in his restaurants), were symbols of Hollywood, whether or not they were in Hollywood itself, and lured millions of tourists anxious to get a glimpse of the stars.

Now Stitzel expects to lure millions of shoppers to a two-story retail building he plans to start constructing within three months and have completed by the end of the year on the site where the Beverly Hills Derby was demolished soon after it was closed.

After all, he reasons, what better location than 1 Rodeo Drive? That's the address he uses, although the Derby was at 9537 Wilshire Blvd., "because the entrance was on Wilshire," Stitzel said.

The site is on the northwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive, known for years as one of the most popular, high-class shopping streets in the world. It is across the street from the Beverly Wilshire, next door to the well-known Giorgio boutique and immediately west of the bank building and parking lot where the Four Seasons Hotel was proposed. (See story on Page 1.) The structure housing the Derby was torn down by another developer who was stymied in his plans.

Stitzel, who has already developed a major retail project off San Francisco's Union Square and is now converting a bank building there to retail space, says he spent two years negotiating for the Beverly Hills site, which he considers prime because each store in his building will have its own frontage along Rodeo Drive.

"The most valuable commodity a retailer can have is street frontage," he noted.

He wouldn't divulge the purchase price, but public records indicated that it was $3.1 million. He intends to spend several million more on construction.

Eugene Klein--former owner of the San Diego Chargers and now one of the top thoroughbred owners in the world--has received the go-ahead from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to develop a 420-acre master-planned community in Rancho Santa Fe, five miles east of Del Mar in the San Dieguito Valley. It will be Klein's first venture into real estate development.

Known as Del Rayo, the community will include 21 exclusive estate parcels, a 65-parcel custom single-family home community, a 60,000-square-foot specialty retail center and Klein's thoroughbred horse-racing training and development facilities. Del Rayo Properties, a real estate development company that Klein recently established, is the developer, and construction is expected to begin in March or April.

Interested in buying a parcel? Be prepared to shell out $650,000 to $2 million. Custom homes will be priced from $500,000 to $750,000.

Before he bought the Chargers, Klein owned National General Corp., a theater chain that he turned into a massive outfit once controlling Bantam Books, a group of insurance companies and savings and loans, Mission Pak Candies and vast real estate holdings. He purchased the Rancho Santa Fe property only recently, however, and the "main reason," a spokesman for him said, "was for his thoroughbreds' activities."

As reported in this column on Jan. 12, the Kirkeby Estate (in Bel-Air) has come on the market but not at the $25 million expected price.

It has been listed at $27 million!

That is believed to be the most expensive single-family home in the world! (Only Montsorrel, a mansion in Palm Beach, Fla., is reported to come close. It's priced at $25 million.)

The Kirkeby Estate, featured weekly from 1962 to 1971 on the CBS program "The Beverly Hillbillies," was owned for years by Carlotta Kirkeby, who died last fall. Her heirs listed it with Willis M. Allen Co. of La Jolla in cooperation with Jon Douglas Co. of Beverly Hills.

The 20,000-square-foot home was built for millionaire engineer/contractor Lynn Atkinson (known for his work on Hoover Dam and numerous bridges and tunnels throughout the West) in 1938. It was designed by Sumner Spaulding, who had by then already designed actor Harold Lloyd's Beverly Hills estate, the casino on Catalina Island and the men's campus at Pomona College.

Spaulding designed Atkinson's residence in a lavish 18th-Century French neoclassical style, which Atkinson's wife didn't like. The Atkinsons reportedly never lived in the house. However, Atkinson didn't intend to sell it as he did in 1945 to hotel chain owner Arnold Kirkeby. Through some business dealings that were unfortunate for Spaulding, Kirkeby acquired the estate for $225,000. That per Jeff Hyland, who researched the property with Charles Lockwood for their book "The Great Estates." The home was constructed at a cost of $2 million.

Among its features: a silver vault; fur vault; billiard room; card room; two 250-foot tunnels leading to different parts of the garden, which has an electrically operated, 150-foot waterfall; a ballroom with marble and mirrored walls, marble fireplace and raised orchestra platform; a dining room that seats 24 people and has two Baccarat crystal chandeliers and a fresco in the middle of the 18-foot-high ceiling; gold-plated doorknobs and hinges, and a paneled library with hidden bookshelves.

Some amenities! But the house, on 6.3 acres, has little privacy. Unlike most Bel-Air estates that are hidden from view, the Kirkeby mansion is, its promoters acknowledge, "highly visible from the street (Bel-Air Road)" and is "one of the most recognizable landmarks in the area."

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