Beverly Hills Takes Dim View of Emigres’ Dream House

Times Staff Writer

When they lived in Kiev, Natalia and Leonid Glosman felt lucky to have an apartment of their own.

“In Russia, nobody has a house,” said Leonid Glosman, a dentist.

But after they moved to America 15 years ago, the former Soviets prospered. Between dentistry and real estate holdings, they did well enough to dream of building a French Baroque mansion in the heights above Sunset Boulevard, a house inspired by one of Italian architect Giovanni Bernini’s early designs for the east wing of the Louvre.

They even bought the lot last year, paying $2.2 million for a steep, 30,145-square-foot hilltop site at the upper end of Laurel Way in Beverly Hills.

And they hired an architect to translate the majestic lines meant for the palace of French kings into a 10,000-square-foot abode with a view of Century City.


But their dream collided with neighbors’ views--not only views of the city but views of what houses should look like and how big they should be.

The neighbors found an audience at City Hall, where the case offered an opportunity to test the city’s new hillside development ordinance.

Application Review

The ordinance requires that the Beverly Hills Planning Commission take note of neighbors’ views and the scale and integrity of the hillside area when it reviews applications for development permits.

The commission has considered the Glosmans’ house almost monthly since last August, devoting more time to it than to any other case. On Thursday, the commission voted down the Glosmans’ plans. It was a 4-0 decision, a message to anyone contemplating ambitious projects in the high-priced suburb.

The Glosmans’ dream house is “awfully big,” declared MeraLee Goldman, chairman of the Planning Commission. “It’s looming. It’s dominating. It’s wrong.”

Remembering her own early days in Beverly Hills, when horse paths still followed the curves of Sunset Boulevard, Goldman said the time has come to stop the trend toward building bigger houses.

One of them, a three-story Greco-Roman pile that rises above a hillside full of low-slung California ranch homes, looms next door to the Glosmans’ lot. Two more big new houses, approved before the city enacted the special ordinance to limit the bulk of hillside construction, are being built across the street.

“We’re coming up to the wire on this issue. We have lost many of the amenities but we have kept the greenery,” Goldman said. “These hillsides are a tremendous resource. They are the ‘hills’ of Beverly Hills. We are not going to rape the hillsides.”

Pool, Tennis Court

The commission devoted two full hours to the Glosmans’ case. It was a testy, sometimes emotional exchange as rival lawyers goaded each other with nasty remarks.

Natalia Glosman, who helps in her husband’s dental office, said she is a working mother and needs a swimming pool and a tennis court so that her children will not have to play in the street.

Resident Francine Browner responded passionately: “It may be a big shock to Mrs. Glosman, but not every working mother in America needs a tennis court and all these sporting facilities. I’m tired of hearing about her children. I have children too.”

Goldman told her to stick to the issues.

Residents of the Laurel Way neighborhood said that grading work to lower the house’s profile and to make room for a tennis court would undermine the hillside. They said French Baroque would clash with their California ranch houses. And they accused the Glosmans’ architect of cheating on his drawings to make the house look smaller. He denied it.

Dropped Waterfall

The Glosmans said they gave up their dreams of a waterfall and a pool house. They said they turned the house to reduce its bulk when seen from the street. And they said they picked the site for the tennis court at the suggestion of neighbors so as not to block the neighbors’ view.

“We were tricked,” Natalia Glosman said. “This is worse than Russia. This is a dictatorship of the neighbors.”

Commented Planning Commissioner Jerry Magnin: “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of good faith on either side.”

Although she came down against the proposal in the end, Goldman said she was personally disappointed that the opponents were unable to reach a compromise.

“We do not want the neighbors to dictate how a house will look. It’s not fair,” she said. But she added: “It’s also not fair to come in and change the neighborhood.”

Next Step Uncertain

The Glosmans, who own a house not far from Laurel Way, said they have not decided what to do next.

Their case may go to the City Council for review, but only if the City Council wants to review it. They can turn to the courts, but the time and money needed may be prohibitive, said their attorney, Joseph N. Tillem.

For now, the residents around Laurel Way can enjoy their view, Tillem said. But if no one can build a big, new, stylish house there, maybe no one will want to buy into the neighborhood at all.

“The ultimate irony is that someday these very neighbors are going to want to sell their home for the best price they can get, and this will hurt their chance to get full value for their home,” Tillem said.