"Even the people who don't live in Beverly Hills convince themselves that they live in Beverly Hills. Everybody in Hollywood tells you the same thing. 'I live just outside of Beverly Hills.' . . . They all live in a town called adjacent. They all tell you 'I live just adjacent, adjacent.' About how far? 'About 90 miles."
--Comedian Jackie Mason
Mulholland Estates in Sherman Oaks is a luxury subdivision under construction northeast of the intersection of Beverly Glen Boulevard and Mulholland Drive, an area that is just outside of Beverly Hills--adjacent, in fact.
The 95 houses slated for construction inside the gated confines of Mulholland Estates will sell for $2.3 million to $5.1 million each. Complete with servants' quarters, the homes will range from 6,500 to 7,500 square feet with plenty of mountaintop views of the San Fernando Valley, smog permitting. Three typically sized Los Angeles houses could fit into a Mulholland Estates home with enough space left over for several walk-in closets.
Even the subdivision's streets are monster size. The typical suburb has streets 44 feet wide; Mulholland Estates' roads are 76 feet wide. The developer and architect of this project, Kenneth Kai Chang, said the median strips will be used to accommodate some of the more than 5,000 trees being trucked into the subdivision.
It's one of the Valley's biggest and most brash housing developments, and the houses are selling in a hurry. In phase one, 70 luxury houses are to be built. Chang and his associates are holding 19 of them; of the other 51 for sale to the public, 49 have been sold, and the first families will move in next June. In phase two, another 25 houses will be built.
Real estate agents and fellow developers say Chang's 188-acre project is worthy of a Beverly Hills address, even if it is in Sherman Oaks. Chang thought so, too, and has swung a deal to have the Beverly Hills post office deliver the mail there.
"We're able to give people their nighttime city lights and yet we have a gated community with a Beverly Hills address," said Chang, 42.
818 Area Code
However, friends of the physicians, attorneys, businessmen and celebrities buying homes at Mulholland Estates may wonder why phone numbers in this exclusive section begin with the 818 area code and not the 213 area code that Beverly Hills uses.
Chang explained, with noticeable disappointment: "We will not necessarily have the 213 area code phone numbers because, as you know, lately the telephone company has gotten smart and what they do is they charge you."
Chang is elusive about the cost of the land, which has changed hands several times, and he also declines to say how much money he has invested himself. But Mulholland Estates has not been an easy deal to put together. In fact, it has been a 9-year-long series of compromises for Harvard-educated Chang.
Originally backed by a group of investors from Hong Kong, Chang wanted to build a restaurant along with 100 condominiums and 29 single-family houses on the site. But the Mulholland Scenic Parkway Citizens Advisory Committee nixed the restaurant, nearby homeowners sued to prevent condominium construction and environmentalists opposed development of the area altogether because they said it was loaded with 10-million-year-old fish fossils.
Eventually, Chang and a different group of investors--all from Los Angeles--hammered out a solution: they would donate a 56-acre ridge and $600,000 to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which will run a paleontological field station on the site, called Fossil Ridge. On the remaining 132 acres, only luxury homes would be built.
"There were many, many compromises," said Chang, whose architectural company, Chang Price Associates, is based in Westwood.
Fred Sands Estates is the agency selling Mulholland Estates, and Sands agents report that the buyers make at least $300,000 a year and particularly like the project's location.
"This is property with a great view and a great location that is only 20 minutes from Century City and 20 minutes from Warner Center," said Paul Zahler, of Zahler Construction in Santa Monica, which also builds upscale subdivisions.
"We have had a number of buyers come through where the husband is at Cedars-Sinai or works in Century City and the wife is actively pursuing her own career or her charity activities and she finds she is down in the Valley more than on the other side," Chang said.
Mulholland Estates' three primary investors are Chang, Sylmar pacemaker manufacturer Alfred E. Mann and Century City attorney Robert A. Sandler. All three plan to live at Mulholland Estates.
It will be the latest of many address changes for Chang. He was born in Hunan, China. His father was an architect who worked for an American engineering firm there. When Chang was 12, his father moved the family to Hawaii and eventually started his own design firm, Sam Chang Architect & Associates, which is still in business. Sam Chang Associates designed a string of hotels, the Kahului Airport on Maui and the major portion of Honolulu International Airport.
But while Sam Chang was busy developing Hawaii, his son was busy exploring it. "I cannot imagine a better place to grow up as a teen-ager," Chang said. "You run around in your bathing suit and zoris. I would say my introduction to the United States was certainly staged because life in Hawaii is not typical."
After high school, Chang went to Harvard and earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and visual studies and a graduate degree in architecture. While still in graduate school, he started his own firm. "I used to commute up to Vermont and Maine doing farmhouse renovations, small inns and some ski lodge work. It was fabulous."
Returned to Hawaii
After graduate school, he returned to Hawaii to work for his father. "I was a little bit of a third thumb," he said. So he began entering architectural contests and won the chance to build a ski resort in Iran in the late 1970s.
But he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the project was never completed. "We were just going in when the Revolution took place," Chang recalled. "We were up on our rooftop just being curious bystanders and had several rounds of bullets pass over our heads and hit the wall behind us. A clear case of misguided naivete."
Chang hurried back to the United States and opened a branch office of his father's firm in Los Angeles and worked on airports, hotels and high-rises. But Mulholland Estates is his first major housing project in California.