Mansions make resurgence in market but not always as primary homes

Chateau des Fleurs, at bottom, is nearing completion in Bel-Air, already home to the rich and famous. At 60,000 square feet, it is still not the biggest home in Los Angeles, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.
Chateau des Fleurs, at bottom, is nearing completion in Bel-Air, already home to the rich and famous. At 60,000 square feet, it is still not the biggest home in Los Angeles, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.

LOS ANGELES — Nearing completion after five years of construction in the hills of Bel-Air, Chateau des Fleurs looms like some super-sized Hollywood notion of dynastic France.

From the street, the two-story mansion on three acres — across from the fourth fairway of the Bel-Air Country Club — is largely obscured by fences, trees, and equipment.

A better view is available from a nearby ungated lawn, where an observer can peer down on the palatial, U-shaped residence with its Versailles-inspired mansard roof and dormer windows and ponder: Just how much house does a family need?

In an era when urban hipsters in New York and Tokyo are embracing 300-square-foot micro living quarters, and regular folks typically occupy 2,500 square feet, Chateau des Fleurs shows the enduring appeal of behemoth homes for the uber-rich who can afford them — or at least think they can.

The downturn put a damper on the ultra-high-end market for a time, but aspirations are once again surging.

“It’s no question [houses are] getting bigger and being used less often, not as primary residences,” said Jeffrey Hyland, a well-known high-end real estate agent. He said he expects to see 20 houses of 20,000 square feet or more coming on the market in the next year. “They’re all asking over $20 million and were all built by speculators to flip,” he said.

Sumptuous living has been de rigueur in Bel-Air since the 1920s, when founder Alphonzo E. Bell bought a ranch and subdivided it into parcels for prominent Angelenos.

The neighborhood has attracted VIPs from entertainment and business. Jennifer Aniston has a home there. Entrepreneur Elon Musk paid $17 million for a 20,000-square-foot manse, then bought the former Gene Wilder estate across the street for $6.75 million. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch recently paid $28.8 million for a 13-acre winery and mansion.

Chateau des Fleurs, meaning the chateau of the flowers, was designed by architect William Hefner. The mansion features a ballroom, three elevators, a pool, a paddle tennis court pavilion, a guardhouse, and a guesthouse.

Of Chateau des Fleurs’ 60,000 square feet, the city considers only about 40,000 as habitable. The rest consists of underground parking and storage space, said Luke Zamperini, chief inspector for the city’s Building and Safety Department.

That appears to leave the former Spelling Manor in Holmby Hills, with 56,000 habitable square feet and a 14-vehicle carport atop the throne of residential gigantism in Los Angeles County. The manor, another French-style citadel, is now owned by Petra Ecclestone, daughter of Formula One mogul Bernie Ecclestone. She paid $85 million in cash for the place, then spent millions more remodeling.

Nearby is the contemporary colossus where Tony Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, lives with his wife and seven children in nearly 40,000 square feet, including a seven-car garage, according to the city. Real estate blogs have put the Pritzker manse at closer to 50,000 square feet.

Buyers from Singapore, Thailand, Russia, and the Middle East who use L.A. as a crash pad are helping to drive the mega-house phenomenon, Mr. Hyland said.

Chateau des Fleurs was designed with husband-and-wife wings with communal rooms, said Mr. Hyland.

Permits list the owner as Jeffrey A. Kaplan, a Los Angeles lawyer-turned-real estate maverick who, with partner Thomas T. Tatum, owns about 18 mobile home parks. Mr. Kaplan was the architect of a failed 1996 state initiative to bar all California communities from adopting rent-control ordinances for mobile-home parks.

Mr. Kaplan’s attorney said Mr. Kaplan holds the property with “a number of others with substantial financial interests in the house.”

One blog floated a price of more than $100 million.

Paulette DuBey, executive director of the Bel-Air Association, a homeowners group, said Mr. Kaplan intends to occupy it. “The home was built for the family,” she said. “He is not going to sell the home.”