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No place like this home

Times Staff Writer

NEAR the 18th hole of the Bighorn golf course in Palm Desert, publishing tycoon Duane Hagadone laid out his vision for a dream home to his architect. It would be set high on the bald mountain rising near the green yet be so inconspicuous that he’d have to point it out even to golf buddies.

Hagadone wanted “a residence that blends into the mountain, that is very subtle, not a pinnacle seen from all angles,” his assistants explained to Palm Desert officials as they sought the go-ahead for the subsequent design.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. April 28, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 28, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Palm Desert mansion: An article in the A Section on April 20 about a $30-million-plus mansion built in Palm Desert identified a Montana newspaper owned by the homeowner, Duane Hagadone, as the Hungry Horse. The newspaper is the Hungry Horse News.

The $30-million-plus home would feature a copper roof composed of “angles and curves” that mimicked the ridge of the mountain, while its rock walls would be molded from those on the hillside.

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The spectacular architectural plans and model so dazzled city officials that they granted Hagadone an exemption from a preservation ordinance that caps hillside homes at 4,000 square feet. Hagadone wanted his castle to be eight times that size -- 32,016 square feet.

Before that vote in 2004, one City Council member envisioned write-ups “in every architectural magazine around the world”; another said he’d already inquired about using this “jewel in our crown” as a venue for fundraising events for the local theater. “We’ll all be bragging about it,” a third council member said.

Instead, the home has brought a load of grief for this city now that it is just about complete. Visible from miles away and set on a prominent ridgeline, its frame resembles a wayward space station parked amid the picturesque foothills.

Hagadone and his representatives declined interview requests. But upset residents have flooded the city with e-mails, branding the house “an unsightly scar on the hill,” “a blight,” “a monstrosity,” “a pimple” and an “abortion” of city planning.

“We had an untouched ridgeline, untouched,” lamented resident Larry Sutter.

Residents complained that their views of the Santa Rosa Mountains, which enfold the city like a clamshell, had been ruined. The bare, unlit peaks are lovely at dusk, silhouetted against the desert’s twilight hues, and residents particularly dreaded how the house would look lighted up at night.

The outrage crescendoed last summer when city officials discovered that Hagadone had graded 64,000 square feet -- double what the city had approved -- to add unauthorized gardens, a sports court, koi pond and sidewalks.

Some residents demanded that Hagadone rip out unauthorized additions.

“The natural beauty of the desert and the mountains should be there for everyone ... not just the few super rich,” wrote James C. Owens. “Have the guts to tell Mr. Hagadone NO! NO! NO!”

WHEN it comes to golf and water -- and most everything else -- Hagadone, 74, lives large.

Take Lady Lola, the 205-foot yacht Hagadone had custom-built with what he called the world’s only floating 18-hole golf course -- so he could play while cruising around the world with the boat’s namesake, wife Lola. Golf tees sprouted from the deck for Hagadone and friends to hack toward 18 buoys his crews anchored at various distances. A supply vessel followed behind toting other toys: a helicopter and landing pad, several speed boats (for crew members to retrieve the floating golf balls), sailboats, kayaks and a three-man submarine.

“We’re a very active family. We love water sports,” Hagadone told Showboats International yachting magazine in 2004. “No yacht really gives you the opportunity to carry a full complement of toys.”

His extensive holdings in his Idaho hometown, Coeur d’Alene, which include restaurants, condominiums and a golf resort, have led some critics to dub the town “Coeur Duane.” Hagadone raised hackles there a few years ago by proposing to replace two blocks of its busiest downtown street with a $20-million garden honoring his parents, but he dropped the controversial idea.

Hagadone wasn’t always rich, according to his biography on the Horatio Alger Assn. of Distinguished Americans website. He dropped out of college to sell advertising for the eight-page daily Coeur d’Alene Press, where his father had risen to publisher. After his father died at age 49, Hagadone became publisher, and later owner, of the Press and 18 colorfully named dailies and weeklies in Idaho and Montana such as the Hungry Horse and Whitefish Pilot.

For more than 30 years, Hagadone -- like thousands of other snowbirds -- has traded frigid winters for the Coachella Valley’s sun and more than 100 golf courses. His most recent base was in Indian Wells at the Vintage, a country club development that once made news for reprimanding one of its best-known homeowners, Bill Gates, for teeing off in a T-shirt rather than the requisite collar or turtleneck.

In 2004, Hagadone sold his boats for a reported $90 million and bought a plot at the Bighorn club.

The original design comprised five wings interspersed with interior streams and built-in aquariums. It featured his-and-her lap pools, an infinity-edge pool and several patios and terraces. Natural light would flood in from more than 110 glass windows and doors -- some as large as 80 square feet, arced like half-moons, or opening at the touch of a button to let the outdoors in.

On the lower, entrance level: a huge garage for cars and golf carts, servants quarters, an elevator and a food preparation kitchen that appears big enough for Emeril, the audience and the band.

As the frame of Hagadone’s home rose, residents of nearby gated communities and trailer parks dubbed Hagadone’s home “the flying saucer” and “Neverland Ranch.” Blinding glare from the desert sun glanced off the rounded, floor-to-ceiling glass windows of Hagadone’s office, a round building in front of the main home.

It is “like a lighthouse with one major difference -- there is no public benefit from its location,” Jane and Paul Mueller, who live nearby, wrote to city officials.

Only a handful of residents expressed support for the project. One, Bighorn resident Edward Burger, e-mailed city officials that it would be Palm Desert’s equivalent of the iconic home of Bob Hope, built three decades ago in nearby Palm Springs on a far less prominent peak. “I’m proud to have it in my community.”

Bighorn rivals the Vintage and a few other clubs as the desert’s toniest residential golf development. “Ultimately,” the club’s literature boasts, “it isn’t the club you carry, but the one where you belong.”

So many members drive $170,000-plus Bentley Continental GTs that it has its own Bentley Club. Bighorn also has an exclusive Starbucks, thanks to the chain’s former chief executive -- and Bighorn homeowner -- Orin Smith. Other residents include producer Jerry Weintraub and “Entertainment Tonight” host Mary Hart.

A few miles from El Paseo, the desert’s Rodeo Drive, Bighorn straddles Highway 74, the mountain route to Idyllwild and San Diego. A path under the highway allows golf carts to easily cruise between their homes and two world-class 18-hole courses, huge spa and boardroom-for-rent. Anteing up the $350,000 initiation fee, $25,000 annual charges, and $1,000 yearly “golf cart charge” gets a couple entry into those facilities and the Pour House restaurant.

Late last summer, Palm Desert associate city planner Tony Bagato discovered in an inspection that initial construction blueprints understated the home’s square-footage by nearly 13,000 square feet: It was actually 44,870 square feet. But Hagadone had built beyond even that, grading land for a koi pond, a sports court and gardens not approved by the city. Now, the home was 64,000, twice what had been approved.

Hagadone’s representatives called it a mistake and blamed their initial engineers -- since replaced -- for miscalculating the size. They submitted permit applications to cover the additions.

On Oct. 26, the day of the council showdown over the mansion, Hagadone got up at 4:30 a.m. to fly from Idaho. First stop: Ironwood, the gated community of more than 1,500 residents that lies in the shadow of his mansion, among his most vociferous opponents. He was met by four representatives from Ironwood in golf carts.

Hagadone “wasn’t lawyered up,” resident Larry Sutter recalled later, but came alone. He rode shotgun with Sutter, as the mini golf-cart parade cruised by modest two-bedroom condos and through the backyards of the million-dollar-plus estates that now look directly up at the colossal home. They pointed out how the infinity pool’s straight edge wildly contrasted with the ridgeline’s natural terrain.

They repaired to the fitness center to talk more. Hagadone said he would get his “rock guy” to soften the impact, Sutter recalled. Hagadone “certainly had opinions,” Sutter said, but was “open and engaging and willing to take these steps, and we appreciate that.”

HOURS later, the council hearing began, and members were quick to express frustration about their limited options.

“The first time I approved this, I didn’t think I was approving anything that could be seen over the ridgeline,” said Councilman Richard S. Kelly. “What’s my guarantee?” he asked, in regard to approving the additional square footage, “because I thought I had a guarantee once before.” Once something was built, he said, he couldn’t imagine the council demanding the applicant tear it down.

If Hagadone ignored the limits on his original permits, why should the city trust him to abide by the permits he wanted for the sports court and other extra additions? Kelly asked Hagadone.

Councilwoman Jean M. Benson questioned why Hagadone should be granted anything else, considering “all that stuff he’s done illegally already.”

“We take some poor guy that doesn’t have a nickel and make him tear down a house and rebuild it because he did it without a permit,” she said. Hagadone’s representatives “stood up there and blatantly lied to us.”

City Atty. David Irwin said the original permits contained no provisions specifying that the house wouldn’t be visible. With or without the new permits, Irwin said, “we have very limited ability to impose conditions on the original permit that was issued.” If they granted new permits, however, they could attach conditions that he must modify what had already been built.

Hagadone then addressed the council, telling members that “we are very proud of the home” and hadn’t broken any promises.

“I certainly have not ever proposed or commented that the building would not be seen at all,” Hagadone said.

He said he had “worked hard” to make the property as “environmentally positive-looking as I possibly could,” investing $360,000 in modifications, “all to become a better neighbor,” and getting up before dawn that morning to address the concerns of Ironwood residents.

Hagadone urged the council to approve the sports court and other additions immediately, saying he now had large crews working to finish the house within a few months. He promised to work with a special aesthetics committee appointed by the council if they gave the go-ahead.

“When you’re my age, you don’t want to miss another winter in the desert,” he said.

Jim Ferguson, the mayor, sided with Hagadone. “You seem like an honorable guy,” Ferguson told the publisher. “You’ve worked well with us, and you didn’t do anything that we didn’t tell you you couldn’t do.”

With Benson dissenting, contending they were being “blackmailed,” the council voted 3 to 1 to issue the additional permits.

Some residents now say the home is much less offensive with the total $700,000 that Hagadone says he has spent trying to make it less noticeable, including improvements to the home’s rock walls and changes to the “Batman’s ears,” as some referred to the stonework around the office. Others think the faux rocks make it look worse.

Gloria Petitto, 80, whose home was built in 1956, said she remembered when Bing Crosby, Randolph Scott and other celebrities lived just down the street and “everybody was family, whether you were a ditch digger, a teacher or an entertainer.”

Instead of the “majesty” of “God’s nature” she could see from every room, she sees the Hagadone mansion.

They have “no consideration, no care for anybody else; they just want to be high up and look down,” Petitto said. “I’ll tell you,” she said, that’s “what money does for you.”

Last week, the City Council approved an ordinance to prohibit building on or across ridgelines for new lots. In addition, residents living within 4,000 feet of any proposed hillside homes must be informed while city officials consider approval. But it appears that exceptions could still be made, just as was done in Hagadone’s case.

Since selling his Vintage Club residence for about $5 million two weeks ago, Hagadone has begun moving into his dream castle. The lights have kicked on for the first time on the mountain, pouring from all the glass walls. The sight fills Ironwood resident Waldo H. Shank with fury “to look up on that ridge all lit up like a carnival each night and know that it was all accomplished by their pushing and shoving and ignoring all the rules.”

valerie.reitman@latimes.com


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