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Planning queue pits new against old in upscale US ZIP code

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Beverly Hills (United States) (AFP) – It’s a feud playing out in cities around the world: a new property owner wants to alter a much-loved landmark against the wishes of the locals. It’s his money. It is your community.

So far so familiar.

But this is Beverly Hills, where the manicured mansions of celebrities and socialites populate one of the world’s most desirable zip codes. Oh, and the property in question is worth $40 million.

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“It’s extremely beautiful,” said conservationist Alison Martino, who grew up four blocks from the North Roxbury Drive home bought in 2020 by Eric Baker, co-founder of the internet ticketing empire StubHub.

“It’s on a double lot, which makes it very stately and set back from the street. It almost looks like a park. It’s the most beloved house in Beverly Hills.”

To the visitor, the entire city looks a bit like a park; Luxurious homes nestle in tree-lined streets that are populated primarily by Lululemon runners and the occasional household staff.

-Elvis, Sinatra, Madonna-

The Beverly Hills enclave was born just over a century ago and soon became synonymous with luxury; an oasis for the wealthy who made their money in the newly burgeoning film industry, but found the vicinity of Hollywood a bit tawdry.

Over the years, it has been home to a Who’s Who of entertainment, counting Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Madonna and Jennifer Aniston as residents.

Today, minibuses carrying star-seeking tourists criss-cross the neighborhood, with guides pointing out the current and former homes of celebrities.

In addition to its 9,000-square-foot floor plan, the property features a full-size tennis court, pool, and pavilion. Robyn Beck AFP

Roxbury Drive is a particularly rich seam, with lots once owned by Lucille Ball, Peter Faulk, Jack Benny, Jimmy Stewart and Rosemary Clooney.

“When Lucille Ball moved to Beverly Hills, she wanted that house, but it wasn’t for sale, so she bought the house across the street so she could see it,” Martino said.

$39.1 million

Ball’s object of desire is a Regency Revival home built 80 years ago by Beverly Hills master builder Carleton Burgess.

The 9,000 square foot expanse is set amongst fabulous gardens and boasts its own full size tennis court, pavilion and swimming pool.

Previous owners decked out the house annually with Christmas decorations, says Martino, welcoming neighbors to come and see it.

But in 2020, Baker shelled out $39.1 million, nearly double his previous asking price, adding a gleaming centerpiece to a property portfolio that reportedly already included two posh Beverly Hills venues.

Actress Diane Keaton is among those seeking to preserve the 80-year-old house.
Actress Diane Keaton is among those seeking to preserve the 80-year-old house. Frazer Harrison GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

Now, he seems determined to make changes to his North Roxbury Drive platform, despite what neighbors think.

Last year he applied for a “certificate of ineligibility,” a pass that would allow major work to be done on the house without the need to get a green light from the city’s cultural heritage commission.

His exact plans for the property are unknown, and his Los Angeles-based lawyer did not respond to AFP requests for comment, but locals fear he wants to bring a wrecking ball to the site.

“They want to tear it down so they can build a bigger, more modern house with the latest architecture,” one commenter wrote on Martino’s Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page.

“The thought of this immaculately well-maintained historic building and its grounds being demolished makes me sick.”

Others mutter darkly about not wanting something that “looks like an embassy compound” with a building that reaches down to the street.

“Even with all the money in the world, you can’t do what you want,” said Rebecca Pynoos, a lifelong Beverly Hills resident. “Our cultural heritage should not be sold to the highest bidder.”

2 a.m. meeting

Feelings are so high that a recent planning meeting dragged on until 2 am.

After seven hours of back and forth, much of which depended on whether the house was well-known enough to merit preservation, councilors voted to reconsider the matter on June 21.

Tuesday night’s discussion looks set to be a long one: Council members received a 727-page document that includes a letter from actress Diane Keaton.

Lucille Ball, whose statue is seen here alongside Ben Stiller, loved the house so much she bought the property across the street so she could see it every day, locals say.
Lucille Ball, whose statue is seen here alongside Ben Stiller, loved the house so much she bought the property across the street so she could see it every day, locals say. KEVIN WINTER GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

“I beg you… This charming and historic home needs to be preserved for us and future generations,” he writes.

For activist Jill Tavelman Collins, the argument over the North Roxbury Drive house is emblematic of a larger problem in Beverly Hills.

“We lost Lucille Ball’s house, we lost Jimmy Stewart’s house… there’s so little left in Roxbury that’s from that era and I think it’s touching everyone’s heart,” he said.

“I think it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

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