Real Estate newsletter: Lavish mansions and hidden ADUs

A 1920s house with manicured gardens and an outdoor swimming pool.
Paul Allen’s 3-acre spread includes a 1920s main house, guesthouse, recording studio, movie theater and glass funicular that runs from the pool to the tennis court.
(Anthony Barcelo)

Welcome back to the Real Estate newsletter. As the summer gets hotter, the deals get bigger, and this week’s headlines were dominated by some of the largest and most expensive mansions on the market in Southern California.

Two of the most intriguing listings were tied to two big names. The pricier of the pair came in Beverly Hills Post Office, where the lavish compound of late Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen came to market for a cool $55.5 million. The house itself is fine and all, but the amenities are the selling point; it comes with a standalone cinema building, a 9,200-square-foot recording studio and a glass funicular that carries guests from the scenic swimming pool to the tennis court.

A few miles east in Hancock Park, Shonda Rhimes is hoping to keep the momentum going. Fresh off her lucrative Netflix deal, the prolific producer listed her century-old home for $25 million, which she remodeled with the help of Barack Obama’s interior designer Michael Smith.


Hidden Hills saw some action as well, with Sixers star Ben Simmons picking up a bold black farmhouse for $17.5 million. There’s no basketball court, but there is a guesthouse, two pools and a floating staircase that wraps around a bonsai tree.

If mansions aren’t your thing, check out something smaller: a 740-square-foot accessory dwelling unit hidden behind an Echo Park home that blends Craftsman and Scandinavian styles. A lively concoction of glass and greenery, the ADU somehow saves enough space for the owner’s Peloton.

Good news on the commercial front: L.A. County’s office rental market is slowly stabilizing after the pandemic left the market in its worst state since the Great Recession. Businesses are still shedding space but at a slower pace than a year ago.

While catching up on the latest, visit and like our Facebook page, where you can find real estate stories and updates throughout the week.

Billionaire’s home has plenty of toys

The 3-acre spread includes a 1920s main house, guesthouse, recording studio, movie theater and glass funicular.
The 3-acre spread includes a 1920s main house, guesthouse, recording studio, movie theater and glass funicular that runs from the pool to the tennis court.
(Anthony Barcelo)

When Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen died in 2018, he left behind a country-spanning collection of prized real estate including an expansive ranch in Idaho, a Manhattan penthouse, a Bay Area mansion and a glut of waterfront homes near his native city of Seattle. His latest home surfaced for sale in Beverly Hills Post Office: a lavish hilltop residence that’s up for grabs at $55.5 million.

The dramatic Spanish-style retreat is Allen’s second property currently available in the 90210. A few miles west, his legendary piece of land known as Enchanted Hill — a 120-acre undeveloped parcel overlooking the city — is listed at $95 million.

The $55.5-million offering is more move-in ready, with five structures occupying a leafy, gated compound that covers more than 3 acres. There’s a 9,500-square-foot hacienda built in the 1920s, a 1,900-square-foot cinema building, a 1,700-square-foot guesthouse, an 1,100-square-foot staff quarters and a steel-and-glass recording studio that spans nearly 9,200 square feet.


Another highlight is the funicular, a glass-lined box that runs from the pool deck to the tennis court at the bottom of the property.

Rhimes eyes another blockbuster deal

Built in 1923 by Elmer Grey, the dramatic villa also comes with a guesthouse, pool, spa, cabana and secret garden.
Built in 1923 by Elmer Grey, the dramatic villa also comes with a guesthouse, pool, spa, cabana and secret garden across over an acre.
(Cameron Carothers / Carothers Photo)

Days after inking a massive deal with Netflix that will keep her working with the streaming service for five more years, Shonda Rhimes is looking to ink another in Hancock Park. The prolific producer behind “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” listed her 12,000-square-foot villa for $25 million.

If she gets her price, it’ll be the most expensive sale in the affluent neighborhood so far this year.

Records show Rhimes picked up the historic estate for $8.8 million in 2014. She’s not the only notable name tied to the property: It was built nearly a century ago by Elmer Grey, the Pasadena architect behind the Beverly Hills Hotel and Huntington Art Gallery. More recently, it was owned by actress Patricia Heaton, who starred in the sitcoms “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle.”

During her stay, Rhimes completely remodeled the Mediterranean-style mansion with the help of Michael Smith, the interior designer whom President Obama tapped to make over the Oval Office in 2010.

Another NBAer lands in Hidden Hills

Built in 2021, the bold black farmhouse includes a swimming pool and guesthouse.
Built in 2021, the bold black farmhouse includes a swimming pool and guesthouse that tacks on a pool of its own.
(Christopher Amitrano / CS8 Photo/Nobel Design)

Sixers star Ben Simmons plays basketball in Philadelphia, but he recently picked up a West Coast outpost, quietly dropping $17.5 million on a brand-new farmhouse in Hidden Hills, The Times has confirmed. The deal closed off market.

The Australian point guard joins a crop of NBA stars who’ve flocked to the gated community outside L.A. including Paul George, Tyson Chandler and Dwyane Wade, who paid $17.9 million for a 17,000-square-foot mansion in Hidden Hills last year.

Simmons’ place clocks in at 12,000 square feet and joins the trend of all-black farmhouses with a dramatic exterior of charcoal-colored brick along with glass and rustic wood. Tucked at the end of a cul-de-sac, the 1.5-acre grounds include two motor courts and a backyard with a swimming pool, spa, wood deck, patio and cabana — as well as a similarly styled guesthouse that tacks on a pool of its own.

A hidden ADU in Echo Park

Gail Otter's ADU, located behind her two-bedroom Craftsman home.
Gail Otter’s accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, blends in with the other Craftsman homes in the neighborhood.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

When Gail Otter purchased a charming Echo Park Craftsman in 2001 on a lot zoned for two dwellings, she knew that she wanted to add a second home at some point to the 5,000-square-foot lot, writes Lisa Boone.

In 2018, Otter reached out to Amy Shock, a designer with a residential practice who had experience designing and building small spaces, including her own modernist mobile home in Ojai. It was several years before the city’s ADU Standard Plan Program was unveiled to help streamline the permit process for accessory dwelling units, or secondary units in a larger property, as part of plans to alleviate the housing shortage.

Many ADUs are built as short-term rentals or office and guest rooms. Shock, however, designed the second home to do the very thing the new program intends: add to the badly needed housing stock.

In an effort to preserve the yard, Shock designed an elevated 740-square-foot ADU, which left 460 square feet of livable space between the two homes.

L.A.’s offices slowly return

Two people wearing masks walk past diners eating at umbrella-covered tables at Grand Central Market in downtown L.A.
The Los Angeles County office rental vacancy rate reached 17.6% in the second quarter, little changed from the first quarter, CBRE said.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County office rental market is showing early signs of stabilizing as businesses shed space at a slower pace in an apparent calculation that better times are ahead, writes commercial real estate reporter Roger Vincent.

Facing a shaky economy during the worst months of the pandemic, many companies pulled back on their office rentals by taking less space when their leases came up for renewal or attempting to sublease space they weren’t using. Office leasing in Los Angeles County fell to its lowest point since the Great Recession in the April-June quarter last year.

Vacancies rose again in the second quarter of 2021 from the year-earlier period, yet at a reduced pace as the number of leases being signed picked up while the economy began to rally, real estate brokers said.

What we’re reading (and listening to)

On the latest episode of L.A. Times’ “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” Liam Dillon talks about the status of California’s eviction protections, set to expire statewide Sept. 30, and how officials are trying to speed up the distribution of rental assistance dollars. His guest is Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), the chairman of the Assembly‘s Housing and Community Development Committee and one of the top lawmakers involved in the debate on housing protections.

In crime-thriller reading, the drama from a $1.3-billion real estate Ponzi scheme that stole from thousands of investors to fund the defendants’ luxury lifestyles continues to unfold years later, as the Associated Press reports that two more California men, Dane Roseman and Ivan Acevedo, pleaded guilty in Miami federal court for orchestrating the scheme. The full story is quite a web.