The Mountain — a stunning 157-acre property touted as the city’s finest undeveloped piece of land — is barely keeping its peak above water in Beverly Hills.
The prized property burst onto the market last summer boasting a potentially record-breaking price tag of $1 billion with a snazzy branding strategy and a marketing budget of $1 million. On Thursday, however, it was nearly auctioned off outside a Pomona courthouse before the owners took drastic measures to delay the sale.
It was a new low for the coveted acreage set at the highest point of the so-called Beverly Hills Post Office area.
The foreclosure auction was announced after the now-former owner, a limited liability company called Secured Capital Partners, failed to secure Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month. Court records show Secured Capital owes about $200 million on the property.
Two days before it would belong to the highest bidder, however, the owner strategically transferred the deed to a limited liability company called Tower Park Properties.
Both companies are controlled by Victor Franco Noval, son of convicted felon Victorino Noval, who pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion in 1997 and was sentenced to federal prison in 2003.
The transfer of ownership makes the foreclosure auction — which was initiated by the lender and not ordered by a court — “legal suicide” for the lender, according to Ronald Richards, attorney for Secured Capital Partners.
Richards said the new owner, Tower Park Properties, has an open bankruptcy plan and requires three weeks notice of default before a foreclosure — which he said the lender never gave.
Should they proceed with the auction, the process would be greatly delayed and the lender would be exposed to $400 million in punitive damages, Richards said.
“They will need to get the appropriate orders from the court to avoid this,” he said in an email.
The auction was rescheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 20, behind the fountain in Pomona’s Civic Center Plaza. According to Richards, a five-day delay still wouldn’t satisfy the 21-day notice requirement.
There’s a reason that celebrities, moguls, investors and even royals have been tussling over the mountaintop parcel for nearly half a century.
Views stretch from downtown Los Angeles to Catalina Island, and the closest neighbor is half a mile away. Disneyland, at roughly 85 acres, measures merely half the size of the property.
The grounds are divided into 17 parcels. Six of them, ranging from 2.5 acres to 12.2 acres, are zoned for residential development.
The mountaintop was once owned by a sister of the late shah of Iran, the Princess Shams Pahlavi, who had planned to build a lavish palace there. It didn’t happen.
The property was later acquired by talk show host-turned-TV-producer Merv Griffin, who commissioned prominent designer Waldo Fernandez to create a marble-and-limestone mansion. It was never built.
After falling into financial trouble, Griffin sold the mountaintop for more than $8 million in 1997 to Mark Hughes, the founder of Herbalife, in a deal that reportedly set a price record at that time for Southern California.
Hughes died in 2000, and his estate sold the property four years later to investor Chip Dickens, who controls Tower Park Properties along with Noval.
The deal was mostly financed by Hughes’ estate, however, and that debt has grown over the years into roughly $200 million, which caused the recent bankruptcy attempt by Secured Capital Partners.
When the property surfaced for sale at $1 billion, listing agent Aaron Kirman told The Times he envisioned a single buyer, perhaps a royal family from the Middle East or a Chinese billionaire. Of the approximately 2,800 billionaires in the world, he said there are 100 that could and would want to buy the property.
The listing then languished on the market for the latter half of the year before the price was chopped to $650 million.
Los Angeles County’s most expensive house is the Manor, which Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone sold to a mystery buyer in July for $119.75 million.
Once dubbed Candyland for former owner Candy Spelling, widow of producer Aaron Spelling, the sprawling residence measures 56,500 square feet, or about 1,500 square feet larger than the White House, with 14 bedrooms and 27 bathrooms.