Christie’s Inc., the international auction house, is expanding its West Coast operation, opening an 8,800-square-foot space in Beverly Hills for on-site auctions. The new facility, which will open in spring 1997, reinforces the ongoing evolution of Beverly Hills as a high-end art center, following on the heels of last year’s similar expansion of Sotheby’s auction house, as well as the openings of New York’s blue-chip PaceWildenstein and Gagosian galleries.
Christie’s, which has had limited offices locally since the late 1970s, will occupy a new space at 360 Camden Drive, housing auctions, offices, special events and seminars. The move will turn the shopping street into an art corridor, capped on either end by Gagosian near Little Santa Monica and PaceWildenstein on Wilshire.
“With Pace and Gagosian, that reinforces that this is a really valid art center,” says Catherine Elkies, vice president and director of Christie’s Los Angeles. “There is a new confidence in the West Coast market.”
Christie’s has been watching Sotheby’s expansion, which has succeeded “way ahead of what our projections were,” according to Andrea Van de Kamp, Sotheby’s senior vice president and managing director of West Coast operations.
Van de Kamp said she welcomed Christie’s entry into the L.A. market. “I’m glad to hear my competition recognizes the importance of Los Angeles and the importance of Los Angeles collectors,” said Van de Kamp, who oversaw Sotheby’s move to a 13,000-square-foot storefront space on Wilshire opened in October 1995. “The more activity that exists in the art world, the better it is for all of us.”
Like Sotheby’s, the London-based Christie’s will initially focus on sales of jewelry, considered a popular draw for would-be collectors. Christie’s also plans to showcase sales of Hollywood memorabilia--a new area for Sotheby’s in Los Angeles and one Christie’s has had great success with in New York for the past five years.
Since Los Angeles not only produces memorabilia but buys most of it back, Christie’s officials say they may move some or all of those lucrative sales here. In the past couple of years, anonymous buyers spent as much as $398,500 for a Maltese falcon as well as $211,000 for the car from “Casablanca.”
In the past year, Christie’s tested the waters here with two successful jewelry auctions at the Peninsula Hotel, which included pieces from the estates of Lana Turner and Eva Gabor. Elkies said Christie’s will hold its first sale of Hollywood memorabilia here in December, but she declined to provide details.
“The last two auctions had a celebrity cornerstone. The response was so terrific, we knew this was a great place for more activity,” said Elkies, formerly managing director of New York’s Christie’s East, the auction house’s salesroom for more moderately priced items.
Sotheby’s is also dipping into celebrity memorabilia sales with an Oct. 10 sale that will include furniture, photographs and jewelry from the estate of George Burns. The estate was brought in by Sarah Blanchard, a recently hired vice president of trusts and estates.
“This is an area we would very much like to expand,” says Sotheby’s spokesperson Laura Maslon.
Christie’s is planning six to eight auctions in its first full year of operation--including sales of jewelry, regional paintings, photography and possibly wine. Sales of such major work as high-level Impressionist paintings will continue to be headquartered in New York and London, Elkies said, but she said Los Angeles was being watched as a backdrop for other important sales.
“Over time the West Coast will prove itself as a viable market,” Elkies said. “We’re trying to validate that this is a critical market.”
Like its New York competitors, the auction house is eyeing the well-heeled Hollywood market, but it hopes to cast a much wider net of existing and potential collectors.
Christie’s is spending more than $1 million to renovate the new building in the early California Regionalism style that favors a red-tiled roof and muted facade. The Santa Monica architectural firm Kirkpatrick Associates, which has created shops for Nicole Miller and Banana Republic, is designing the storefront space.
In addition to anchoring Christie’s local buying activities, the current Los Angeles office on Rodeo Drive has housed Christie’s global headquarters for its car department, which will continue to hold annual August sales in Pebble Beach.