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PICKFAIR : Famed Hollywood Mansion Will Get an Italian Look

Times Staff Writer

Pickfair, that most glamorous of Beverly Hills movieland estates, is about to be transformed into a Renaissance-style Venetian palazzo by its celebrity owners, Pia Zadora and her multimillionaire husband, Meshulam Riklis.

The name will stay the same, but little else apparently will.

No one seems to mind, however, that the famed estate of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford will hardly be recognizable once the couple has finished with planned renovations costing upwards of $2 million.

In fact, Beverly Hills Planning Commission officials who gave preliminary approval to the plans Wednesday night said no one raised objections to the project. Pickfair, everyone seems to agree, took its fame from its owners, not their architects.

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“The house has been changed through the years a number of times so that it no longer is the original Pickfair,” said Paul Selwyn, chairman of the Planning Commission. “It’s going to be made into much more of a special kind of property.”

Vacant for the last two years, Pickfair had become dusty and run down. Zadora and her husband, who have at least four other residences, bought it last year for $6.675 million from Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

Plans presented to the Planning Commission called for extensive exterior and interior renovation that would add approximately 2,754 square feet to the existing 13,421 square-foot structure. There will also be a formal terraced garden, fountains and reflecting pools, a dog run and other amenities.

Winston Millet, past president of the Beverly Hills Historical Society, said he saw no reason to object to the changes.

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“Pickfair was a product of the p.r. firms of Hollywood,” he said. Even the name, which evokes images of beautiful people playing croquet on the rolling lawn, was the invention of the popular press.

“The grounds are kind of fun because of the name, but otherwise it’s nothing spectacular,” Millet said. “It’s just a house. And it wasn’t a spectacular house to begin with. I’m sorry it doesn’t give you the angle that we’re angry about it, but we’re not,” he told a reporter.

Zadora was not available for comment. She is busy at the Disney studios making “The Mother Goose Rock ‘n’ Rhyme,” a TV movie in which she plays the part of Little Miss Muffet.

But Tino Barzie, her manager, said that the Riklises plan to hold onto Pickfair, poised atop a knoll on a three-acre site near the corner of Summit Drive and Pickfair Way.

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Construction is expected to last two years, but the Riklises and their two young children, have several other residences to stay at in the meantime.

They are now living at a home in the Truesdale section of Beverly Hills, but they also have a beach house in Malibu, an apartment in New York and a penthouse at the Riviera, their hotel in Las Vegas.

No one knows yet just how many rooms the new Pickfair will contain, although a decorator for a previous owner estimated the estate had space for anywhere from 25 to 40.

A New Face

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The redone mansion will have tile roofs, leaded windows, balconies, verandas and a new, Italian-style front entrance, made up of two tiers of flanking stairs ascending from a driveway at the eastern end of the property.

And it will be private.

“You won’t be able to see the house much,” Barzie said. “She’s in show business and he’s a successful businessman, but they’re quiet kind of people. There’s not going to be a neon sign saying ‘Pia and Rick live here.”’

The name will not be changed, according to Riklis. He sent word through a secretary that “Pickfair will be called Pickfair.”

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Built as a six-room hunting lodge in 1910, the estate came into the public eye when Douglas Fairbanks bought it for $35,000 in 1919.

The dashing star of early motion pictures soon married Mary Pickford, the most famous actress of the day and they lived together in their house on the hill.

“It was the first of the showplace movie star estates, where actors and actresses could be themselves and entertain their friends, safe from the prying eyes of unwanted fans. Yet Pickfair was also a stage set where Doug and Mary acted out their well-publicized private-life roles for millions of their fans,” wrote Charles Lockwood and Jeffrey Hyland in their book, “The Estates of Beverly Hills,” republished this year.

The guests were as famous as their hosts. Charlie Chaplin lived next door and often came over for dinner and a movie.

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Famous Guests

So did Lilian Gish, Pickford’s friend from childhood, and Jack Dempsey, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Ford, Babe Ruth and H.G. Wells.

The hunting lodge had grown over the years, but the additions did little for the looks of the place, and Fairbanks and Pickford called in Wallace Neff, a prominent architect.

“Neff recounted in later years that he urged the famous couple to pull the building down and start all over again, but they did not go along with this idea. The residence was transformed as much as possible into an English Regencyhouse,” according to “Wallace Neff, Architect of California’s Golden Age,” a study edited by Neff’s son, Wallace Jr.

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This was in 1932, but Fairbanks did not stay long long to enjoy the new look.

The couple divorced in 1936, and Pickford stayed on at Pickfair with Buddy Rogers, the singer and actor who was her third husband, until her death at age 76 in 1979.

Although Pickford became a recluse in later years, Rogers frequently hosted charity events at the mansion. So did the next owner, sports mogul Buss, who bought Pickfair for $5.4 million in 1980.


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