As a celluloid heartthrob, Robert Taylor donned western boots and jeans to portray a gunslinger in "Billy the Kid" and a lawman in "The Hangman." He dressed the same off-screen to ride horses on his 112-acre ranch in Mandeville Canyon.
Taylor died in 1969, but the Brentwood ranch, with its 12-bedroom house, guest quarters, rolling lawns and wooded hillsides, still bears his name. The estate, extensively remodeled in the 1980s by a rock-radio mogul who turned the stables into offices and apartments while leaving the horseshoe-studded stall doors intact, is slated to be sold at auction Nov. 30.
A number of parties have toured the Robert Taylor Ranch, one of the largest residential properties on the Westside and recently listed by Hilton & Hyland at just under $19 million. Among those expressing interest have been "royals from the Middle East," according to Aaron Kirman, a Hilton & Hyland agent working with Concierge Auctions of New York.
Each potential bidder who has seen the property has had a different vision, it seems. "A few love it the way it is," said Marcie Hartley, also with Hilton & Hyland. "Others want to tear it down and start over." A few, she said, view the eight parcels as ripe for subdivision and development.
That prospect rattles neighbors in the hillside zone, which is prone to floods and mudslides. During big storms, mud, debris and torrents of water gush off the hillsides. Residents argue that developing the ranch further could heighten risks to those downstream.
In 1969, heavy rain turned Mandeville Canyon Road into an impassable river; a massive mudslide trapped film director Robert Altman in his home and killed Michael Riordan, brother of former Mayor Richard J. Riordan. In January 2005, runoff during a severe storm "was like a rushing river pushing through the ranch's brick and fence frontage onto Mandeville Canyon Road," said Wendy-Sue Rosen, former president of the Upper Mandeville Canyon Assn.
Fires are also a threat. In November 1961, Taylor and his family fled when the devastating Bel-Air/Brentwood wildfire threatened the property. Two cowboys evacuated the family's 11 horses. "I grabbed my passport and shaving kit," Taylor said at the time. "We drove to Ronnie Reagan's house." The ranch survived unscathed.
Listed over the years for as much as $65 million, the property will sell Nov. 30 to the highest bidder —"without reserve," in auction parlance. The auction will take place on the grounds; pounding the gavel will be auctioneer Frank Trunzo of Tampa, Fla.
The existing structures, white with green trim, were built in 1950 for Waite Phillips, an American petroleum executive. The architect was Robert Byrd, who designed tract and custom houses and "was definitely known for ranch style," said Alan Hess, author of "Rancho Deluxe: Rustic Dreams and Real Western Living."
In the 1970s, Ken Roberts, founder of Los Angeles radio station KROQ, bought and remodeled the property into what he termed the "ultimate estate." The property became known for parties and the occasional fundraiser for Bill Clinton.
Roberts put it on the market in 1990, for $45 million, then $35 million, but no serious buyers emerged. Roberts later took a short-term, high-interest loan from New Stream Capital, a Connecticut hedge fund. In 2010, when Roberts could not repay New Stream a court-ordered $27.5 million, the fund seized the ranch.
New Stream had its own troubles. One of its executives was arrested in 2010 after police said they found 203 marijuana plants in her home, and the fund filed for bankruptcy protection the next year. The ranch is now owned by a trust.
The Western-inspired, 11,700-square-foot house on the property has 34 rooms, including a bar and casino room with spinning, colored lights. The plumbing needs work. The compound includes a pool, a faded tennis court and the stables-turned-living quarters and offices. The structures take up just seven acres of the rugged hillside property.
Although some stables remain, the key reminder of the property's equestrian past is a fake, life-size horse on the front lawn.
"We really need to get it to the next owner who will live there and enjoy it and bring the property back," said Laura Brady, president of Concierge Auctions.