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Byline: David J. Morrow The New York Times

Talk about frustration. You've been shopping for a new home, and despite having serious money to spend, you have yet to see the house of your dreams. Is it too much to ask for something special? Something with bragging rights, something that would make friends oooh and aaah?

Well, then, consider these gems now on the market here:

A 30-room pleasure palace in Beverly Hills built to please Cher herself and rivaling the pyramids of Egypt, yours for $9.9 million. Cleopatra may have lived in more understated digs. Among Cher's toys still in residence: a retractable living room roof and a moat filled with footlong Japanese carp.

Too costly? Eva Gabor's $2.9 million estate in Beverly Hills may better fit your budget. The house has Hollywood necessities like a screening room, and heated towel racks, but it may take some getting used to.

The place has not been aired out in a while and has the musty smell of an attic. If friends ask about the odor, change the subject; tell them Frank Sinatra once lived there.

Still out of your price range? For a mere $569,000, about what you'd pay for a center-hall Colonial in Scarsdale, you could have Mike Farrell's cottage in the San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately, Farrell, the former ``M-A-S-H'' star, bought a house near two busy freeways, but the perks more than make up for the noise. Liberace's former home - complete with a piano-shape pool out back - is right next door.

For people who have always wanted to own a celebrity home, now may be the time to snap one up. The selection of celebrity estates - luxury homes that entertainment or sports icons have either owned or lived in - has rarely been broader.

Sales of celebrity homes in Los Angeles County are increasing - up 4 percent through April, compared with the period a year earlier, according to TRW Redi Property Data - prompting more stars to put their homes on the market.

Best yet, many buyers are discovering that they can afford to buy a celebrity home. ``It's a myth that all celebrities live on multimillion estates,'' said Sonny Fox, a real estate agent with Prudential/Jon Douglas in the Encino area of Los Angeles. ``Some celebrity homes are simple three-bedroom houses. And that's good for the buyer because celebrity homes really do come in all price ranges.''

Sure enough, a survey of six top celebrity home brokers in Southern California found that each had at least three celebrity listings, including some that might be seen as bargains. To take one example, Kirk Cameron, known in earlier years as the star of ``Growing Pains,'' recently dropped the price on his three-bedroom bungalow near Beverly Hills to about $1 million, from $1.5 million.

Much of the momentum can be traced to the health of the Hollywood machine. There are more celebrities than ever before, thanks to the flowering of new media from cable television to the Internet. All that has created a large number of people who trade houses like stocks, moving into large estates when their careers rise and scaling back when their fortunes fall.

For many stars, only Beverly Hills or Bel-Air will do once they become truly successful, said Fred Sands, president of Fred Sands Realty in the Brentwood district. ``Most celebrities start out small and then work their way up,'' he said.

Fortunately for buyers, celebrities are not immune to life's upsets. Many stars, for instance, sell their homes after a divorce to raise money. Roseanne, who no longer uses the name Barr, recently sold one of her two Brentwood homes for around $3.5 million after she and her current husband, Ben Thomas, decided they did not want to raise their 16-month-old son in a big city like Los Angeles.

The other house is still on the market for $2.8 million, down from $3.2 million. The comedian declined to comment.

For other stars, home swapping is a lucrative hobby. The grand champion is Cher, whose knack at parlaying mortar into money puts her peers to shame. Over the past 20 years, she has built or renovated 16 homes, had six of them featured in Architectural Digest and then parceled them off to the highest bidder. The deals turned more heads in Hollywood than any of her Bob Mackie gowns.

``Cher has a way of revamping a house, doing something creative that suits her,'' said Jeff Hyland, president of Hilton & Hyland, a real estate brokerage firm in Beverly Hills, who has the listing. ``She'll sell that and move on to another house and another architectural style.''

That said, fan beware. Buying a celebrity estate is no easy chore. First, it's best to forget everything you know about the local real estate scene. For example, celebrities are not usually interested in square footage, so don't expect a broker to know the numbers either. And be prepared for the broker to check your finances thoroughly before leading you on any backstage tours of Tinseltown's finest.

Unlike a regular house, a celebrity estate must contain several posh accouterments to truly count. For example, it must sit on at least 1.5 acres, the minimum required for a tennis court, pool, gardens and guest house. Anything less is merely a large house.

And movie stars, by nature, tend to list three must-haves: closets the size of gymnasiums, a rambling master bedroom and adjoining his-and-her bathrooms, with sinks and mirrors in separate rooms.

``You generally assume that the house has a pool with it,'' Sands said. ``But the true status symbol for anyone is the size of their closet. That's what celebrities show off.''

Most prized are homes built by the stars themselves. That is because whoever might live there now, a part of the star will always remain with the palace. Only a wrecking ball could remove Cher from her Egyptian monolith.

Her presence is so apparent in the flamboyant design - from the stone palm trees that surround the trampoline-size master bed to the black-bottom pool - it is easy to forget that Eddie Murphy once lived there, too.

The estate, on five acres on Benedict Canyon Drive just north of Beverly Hills, was built in 1977 for about $3 million, with the land accounting for a scant $290,000 of the tab. Murphy bought it in 1988 for $5.9 million and sold it last year to Roberto Trouyet, a Mexican real estate developer, for $4 million.

After major interior and landscaping renovations, which included ripping up the less-than-lovely carpets Murphy had installed, Trouyet has put the house back on the market for more than three times its original cost. Murphy's press agent said he would not comment on his real estate dealings.

Part of the property's enduring value can be traced to Cher's insistence on star treatment. Determined to make the house a showcase, she showed up at the construction site every day, according to Ron Wilson, her longtime interior designer, to make changes in the design and otherwise torment the architect.

So, after seeing the finished living room, Cher decided it was too small and demanded an extra 20 feet in length. Eventually, the architect, Ted Grensbach, quit, leaving his colleagues to deal with Cher's tinkerings. Always one to enjoy the sun, Cher also insisted that the living-room roof be made of glass and that it retract with the push of a button.

That item was added, even though it took six months to make it operational. And then there was the small problem with the kitchen. For a woman who lets it all hang out at work, Cher did not want to see any exposed appliances at home - no refrigerator door, no burners on the stove.

``I had no idea what to do about the kitchen, especially the stove,'' said Wilson, the designer. ``What we wound up doing was putting a small sheet of granite over the burners so they'd heat up for cooking. But the granite kept cracking, and we'd have to come in and replace it. But that was fine with her. She knows what she likes.''

Cher could not be reached for comment.

Unfortunately, few houses are built by celebrities. The next best are mansions that were owned by stars long enough to leave their imprint in the home's design. One such morsel is the roomy Bel-Air mansion of Eva Gabor, just off Sunset Boulevard, across the street from Bloomingdale's and a short stroll from Barbra Streisand's.

Not only is the mansion pristine - polished wood floors and mirrored walls line the first-floor interior and a pool and tennis courts grace the back yard - it comes with a rich provenance. David Niven, Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow and Audrey Hepburn all lived there before Gabor, making the mansion a five-star deal.

That said, it is very much Gabor's home. In her 21 years in the house, Gabor, who died last summer, gave it all the comforts she was accustomed to, from crystal chandeliers to a sprawling sun room.

The mansion is also rich in Hollywood memories - not all of which are included in the deal. An oil painting of Gabor in the sitting room, which the estate plans to keep, evokes her days as the bubble-headed Lisa on the 1960s television series ``Green Acres.''

And in case buyers doubt Gabor's place in Hollywood history, an autographed picture from Lucille Ball, also excluded from the sale, sits on the bar with the inscription, ``Eva, girl, you're too much.''

Some could say the same of the house. Nonetheless, a $2.5 million offer was accepted by her estate late last month.

Most celebrity homes, however, are merely houses where stars once lived, however temporarily. One such find is Clara Bow's hulking mansion in Bel-Air, currently on the market for $3.5 million.

Built in the 1920s - for the King of Spain, according to local lore - it was later owned by the film producer Louis Lewyn and his wife, the actress Marion Mack. The couple lent the 13-room abode, with its high doorways, Gothic arches and broad windows, to Bow in the early 30s. She is said to have lived there several years.

The estate looks to be a fitting home for Hollywood's ``It'' girl. The mansion itself is nothing short of stunning. The front, which faces a side street off Sunset Boulevard, towers over the estate's narrow front lawn. The pool, off to the side, is slender but elegant and abuts a broad gallery with a working stone fountain.

Roaming the premises, it is easy to imagine Bow gliding about, entertaining Hollywood's early elite. Besides starring in several hit movies including ``Wings,'' which won the first Oscar for Best Picture in 1927, she had several notorious affairs with leading men, notably Gary Cooper, providing enough titillation to keep guests at Hollywood parties preoccupied for years.

Shortly after Bow left the house, her life began to unravel. Born in Brooklyn, she carried an accent so thick that it stifled her stardom in the talkies. She suffered a series of mental collapses and eventually married Rex Bell, a cowboy actor, who became the Lieutenant Governor of Nevada. The two separated but never divorced and Bow, a recluse for much of her life, spent her last two decades under the nearly constant supervision of a nurse.

A dash of notoriety has not dampened the appeal of the house, which is listed with Fred Sands Estates of Beverly Hills. As it happens, the Clara Bow mansion is also an infamous landmark with the Los Angeles Police Department. Thirteen years ago, the mansion belonged to a Texas multimillionaire, Henry Harrison Kyle, who was president of Four Star International Inc., a television and movie production firm.

Kyle's son, Ricky, 21, woke up his father on July 22, 1983, saying he had heard a prowler, according to the police. When the elder Kyle, 60, walked downstairs, the police said, his son shot and killed him. Ricky Kyle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served three years of a five-year sentence, his lawyer, Steve Sumner, said.

In 1991, the house was purchased by a Burbank eye surgeon and his wife for about $2.5 million. The couple have it on the market again for $3.5 million, a sum that they may nab, realtors say, if they are patient. In general, however, such homes sell better if a celebrity has recently been in residence.

How much more buyers should expect to pay for such trophies depends largely on the popularity of the star. ``The buyer may deny it, but he wants to brag,'' Sands said. ``We'll run a listing and say it's a celebrity and get 10 times more calls than regular properties.''

Mike Farrell's house in the San Fernando Valley, for example, was reappraised only six months ago at $569,082 by the Los Angeles County tax assessor, a whisker more than its $569,000 asking price.

Compare that with Liberace's former home next door. Similar in size to Farrell's, it was assessed at the same time at $555,066, but is priced at $695,000, a 25 percent markup.


3 Photos

Photo: (1) A shift in the housing market has made homes, such as the one once owned by Marilyn Monroe, more affordable than ever.

(2) Excessive opulence is one of the trademark attractions for buyers when considering celebrity abodes.

(3) The former Beverly Hills of ``It'' girl Clara Bow may lack some of the garishness of other star houses, but is on the market for $3.5 million.

The New York Times
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 9, 1996

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