Fighting Child Abuse 'Inside the Gates' of Bel-Air Estate

Times Staff Writer

The halcyon days of the Kirkeby Mansion aren't necessarily over: The glorious mansion, Los Angeles' finest, some say, has been on the market for $27 million for four months. People in the know have been dying to see it for years.

Thus, when invitations were sent for the CHIPS' (Colleague Helpers in Philanthropic Service) "Inside the Gates" afternoon tea party, 100 reservations were in by the next day. Four hundred were expected; 850 were accepted, and people were messengering frantic responses to reservations chairman Pat Ryan, who turned away hundreds.

Said Justine Bloomingdale, president, "We made a dreadful miscalculation. We charged only $40 for tickets; we should have charged $100 and held the event several days." Athos Pratesi, chairman of the prestigious linen/lingerie firm, was "molto felice" (very happy). The Milan resident plans an annual major charity event in the United States. In fact, he donated "up towards $100,000" to underwrite the benefit (proceeds from the Thursday benefit will go toward fighting child abuse, while a party the next night raised funds to combat AIDS). Said Mary Rose Redd, event chairman, introducing him at the Bel-Air mansion last week: "We could all learn something about noblesse oblige from this gentleman."

Ascot Afternoon

Hats, linens, wonderful whites on guests made the Kirkeby Mansion look like an Ascot afternoon. Guests parked at UCLA, then wended their way in vans past the nasturtiums, the tall pines and blue morning glories, past millefleurs to the Bel-Air mansion. Much-sought after there were both Carla Kirkeby and Arnold C. Kirkeby, the daughter and son of Arnold and Carlotta Kirkeby. The late Mr. Kirkeby owned 27 hotels, including the Gotham and Sherry-Netherland in New York, the Drake in Chicago, the Beverly Wilshire here and the Nationale in Havana. At one time he owned most of Westwood; he built Kirkeby Center.

He did not secure the Kirkeby estate payment for a gambling debt, as benefit press releases stated. Rather, previous owner Lynn Atkinson, the engineer who built Boulder Dam, devoted five years to constructing the French neo-classical mansion and its extraordinary grounds, took a loan from Kirkeby, spending $2 million on the house. A source, who helped draw up the sale, claims the house was sold for $1 million.

Finance the House

Said Carla Kirkeby, "My father and Mr. Atkinson were friends. My father made a loan to Mr. Atkinson to finance the house, and he couldn't pay it back, so my father took back the house. Also, his wife was too ill to move in. He loved the house; it was his dream house, and it's sort of a sad story." She says Atkinson eventually "committed suicide by jumping off the top of Park La Brea Towers." Now, she adds, "It's time to sell. I will miss it. We loved this house."

The Kirkebys (he died in the La Guardia air crash in the 1960s; she died six months ago) are the only family ever to live in the house. Carla's son, Bret Duffy, a senior at the University of Colorado at Boulder, will have his 21st birthday party there Saturday. About 200 of his friends will converge in the ballroom for a final blast. "He wants it black-tie," said his mother.

For last week's affairs, Southern California designers decorated mansion rooms, using not Pratesi fabric in bolts but fabric in sheets. The results were sensational. Don Robinson did Kirkeby's bedroom, not for the first time but the second, using Pratesi striped silk sheets. Hal Maguire, whose mother was a friend of Carlotta Kirkeby's and gave the "last great gala" there, decorated the billiards room with its accompanying "fainting room." Barbara Lockhart, who coordinated the decorators, paid tribute to Diego Giacometti using her own Giacometti furnishings.

Elevator Access

Former CHIPS President Lyn Vandegrift had practically grown up there, attending Westlake School with Carla. Looking out over the Los Angeles skyscrapers, she reminisced about parties and talked of the elevator access to the two tunnels that go underground from the house to the pool on the 6 1/2-acre ground.

New man in town, Claude Soujet, head of the House of Harry Winston, opening in the fall at the Beverly Hills Hotel, presented rare jewels as a party adjunct. Every room had the Pratesi touch; even David Jones used a Pratesi linen pillow cover for the bird cage in his garden room.

Enjoyment, Feasting

Group members including Bonnie Baker and Nancy Wibbelsman modeled the prettiest of Dede Pratesi's lingerie. Bob Wibbelsman wandered the house as Kirkeby; Eric Small, Carla Kirkeby's friend, represented the chauffeur (though he has his own).

Enjoying every minute, including the feast Ray Henderson and Rococo prepared were many of Carlotta's friends including Joey Smith and Cynthia Palette. Coming to see, too, were Arnold's wife, Jane, Lotsie Giersch, Onalee Doheny, Kay Paschall, Katie Kline, Frances Skipsey, Dorothy Clark, Eve Illig, Judy Joyce, Erlenne Sprague, Ann Petroni, Lynne Ashforth, Rhonda Fleming, Laura Mako, Vanya Rohmer, Mary Carol Rudin (remodeling a house down the street), Joanna Carson, Kacey and Peter McCoy, Wendy Stark Gorsuch, Bobbie Forman, Vevie Reynolds, Elin Vanderlip, Betty Field.

And mother-daughter teams: Lynn Evans brought Erin, Merelyn O'Donnell brought Clare and Gege, Muriel Cameron brought Diane Mogan, Lois Linkletter was with daughter Sharon Melchor, Elinore Pagliuso brought Linda Fareed from Santa Barbara.

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