Cal State Panel Moves to Sell Bel-Air House : Education: Trustee committee votes to hire appraiser to determine price for the controversial property. It may be worth more than $5 million.


The California State University system took its first step Tuesday toward sale of the Bel-Air house that was its chief executive's residence and became a controversial symbol of extravagance contributing to the forced resignation last spring of Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds.

A Cal State trustees committee unanimously voted to hire an appraiser to determine a sale price for the lushly landscaped two-acre property which includes a 4,600-square-foot house with three bedrooms, a tennis court, a swimming pool and guest cottage on a hillside along Stone Canyon Road just south of the Bel-Air Hotel. A businessman donated the estate to the university in 1972.

Bel-Air area real estate dealers say the property may be worth more than $5 million and that a buyer probably would tear down the 38-year-old house and build a much larger one.

A recent tour by a Times reporter showed the one-story house--which mixes styles of a Los Angeles ranch house with a French chateau--is neither as grand as critics charged nor as modest as some officials contended. The living and dining rooms are large and elegantly appointed with marble fireplaces and chandeliers. The pool, tennis court and gardens bespeak of a luxurious lifestyle. However, the small kitchen needs remodeling and the bedroom wing would fit in a simpler, suburban house.

Many trustees want to use part of the sale money to buy a less expensive house closer to the system's Long Beach headquarters, possibly on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and keep the rest for maintenance and entertaining. The headquarters used to be on Wilshire Boulevard, not far from Bel-Air.

"I think everybody recognizes that, while it's a great asset, it's probably a great asset in the wrong location," said Trustee James H. Gray, chairman of the committee studying the future of the house.

A new house for the still unchosen new chancellor also would symbolize a break with Reynolds' administration. She was forced out in April amid disputes over large, secretive pay raises and other spending, including $65,000 to repave the very long driveway and parking area at the gated Bel-Air residence. Reynolds recently became head of the City University of New York.

Cal State's acting chancellor, Ellis E. McCune, is not living at the Bel-Air house, although gardening work and security service continue there. Some furniture, rugs and artwork owned by a Cal State foundation remain but two valuable paintings have been removed for storage at a gallery, officials said.

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