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Fate of Bob Hope estate pits the family against an L.A. councilman

Fading memories might be all that remain of a 1939 Toluca Lake estate that Bob and Dolores Hope owned for six decades.

That would suit the late couple just fine, according to daughter Linda Hope.

In a familiar fight between property owners and preservationists, Linda Hope is pitched against Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, who in September introduced emergency legislation to declare the property a historic-cultural monument — after a buyer in escrow obtained a demolition inspection permit for the property’s outlying buildings.

Ryu argues that the estate — which lies within his District 4 and is owned by the Dolores Hope Trust — harbors deep cultural import, given that the Hope name is synonymous with the area: “He was pretty much known as the unofficial mayor of Toluca Lake.”

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Hope, however, contends that her parents wanted the five-acre property to be sold expediently, with proceeds going to the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation. “It was to be their living legacy,” the producer and writer said.

Residential monuments are largely bought and sold like other homes but require review for proposed alterations, which Hope said is a headache and narrows the field of buyers who desire to make more unrestrained decisions. Even monuments can be razed, but it’s difficult because the city can initiate an up to 360-day review stay on issued demolition permits.

The L.A. City Council is scheduled to vote on monument status Feb. 28, although the vote has previously been delayed.
 

The ensuing historic review of the 14,876-square foot property has tanked one sale and scared off potential buyers, Hope said.  The house and nearly 3 acres are listed for $12 million, with the remaining 2 acres priced at $10 million. The estate was put on the market in 2013 for an original asking price of $27.5 million.

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In a setback to Ryu, the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission voted against granting monument status in November, after Hope stated her parents’ desire to use estate proceeds to fund the foundation, which serves the underprivileged and veterans. The decision reverted back to the City Council.

Ryu said he was “dumbfounded” by the decision, noting that the city’s Office of Historic Resources said the property meets a “high bar” for landmark status.

He has since offered a compromise, proposing that only the exterior of the main house and two of surrounding 5 acres be deemed a landmark, which the City Council will also consider on Feb. 28. The Greater Toluca Lake Neighborhood Council also voted against the historic designation Feb. 21.

Hope’s response: “Why does he want to preserve the house when his own commission felt it’s not worthy to be preserved? Is it fair for the city to do as they see fit with my family’s property, and disregard my dad’s wishes?”

All parties seem to agree that the English traditional-style home has limited architectural significance, despite being designed by Robert Finkelhor, with a 1950s remodel mastered by John Elgin Woolf. Decades of design changes have largely erased the native look.

“My mom would tear down this wall or the other, add a room here or there,” Hope said. ”My dad used to joke that when he would go away, he needed a road map when he returned, just to find the bedroom.”

Over the years, the Hope home hosted Hollywood luminaries and at least one president: Richard Nixon, who landed Marine One on the back lawn. The only public view of the estate is of an 8-foot fence fronted by bushes, Hope said.

Hope said she believes the numerous places and programs named for her father in the region are sufficient to preserving his memory.

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Bob Hope’s lengthy career in theater, radio and film produced scores of films and television specials; he also entertained military troops via hundreds of USO shows. Hope died in 2003 at 100, and his wife, Dolores, died in six years ago at 102.

hotproperty@latimes.com

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