In 2016, Southern California real estate soared to new heights with the $100-million sale of the Playboy Mansion. The market-defining deal was the largest in L.A. County history at the time, and soon after, owners of iconic California estates brought them to market in hopes of securing similar fortunes.
One of those was attorney Leonard Ross, owner of the iconic Hearst estate in Beverly Hills. Weeks after the Playboy Mansion sold, he listed the trophy home for $195 million but couldn’t find a buyer.
Five years later, he faces a debt of more than $50 million on the estate. As a result, the famous residence with ties to William Randolph Hearst, John F. Kennedy and “The Godfather” will be auctioned off to the highest bidder Sept. 14, according to a court document obtained by The Times.
It’s a surprising turn for the prized property, which relisted in April for $89.75 million before a June price cut brought the tag down to about $69.95 million.
The dramatically reduced price was a success, and multiple offers poured in. According to the document, Ross just accepted an offer of $47 million from Berggruen Holdings Ltd., an investment company tied to billionaire Nicolas Berggruen.
The accepted offer means prospective buyers have from now until Sept. 14 to submit a bid of at least $1 million higher than $47 million. The auction is set for 11 a.m. at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown L.A.
It’s a Chapter 7 bankruptcy sale, meaning that proceeds will go toward paying off Ross’ debt on the property.
California’s most expensive estate currently on the market is a 22-acre oceanfront spread in Carpinteria listed at $160 million.
Built in 1926, the salmon-colored showplace boasts an Old Hollywood history as illustrious as any. It was designed by Gordon Kaufmann, the prolific architect behind the Hoover Dam, Greystone Mansion and the Hollywood Palladium. He designed it for local banker Milton Getz, and the compound was later acquired by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (whose castle in San Simeon is even more well-known).
President Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy honeymooned there in the 1950s, and more recently, it appeared in the films “The Godfather” and “The Bodyguard,” as well as Beyoncé’s 2020 visual album “Black Is King.”
Spanning 29,000 square feet, the Mediterranean mansion serves as a time capsule for Old Hollywood glitz and glamour with 22-foot hand-painted ceilings, a two-story paneled library, two screening rooms and an Art Deco nightclub with a bar salvaged from Hugh Hefner’s now-defunct nightclub Touch. In the billiards room is a stone fireplace moved down from Hearst Castle.
The compound covers 3.5 acres — by far the largest piece of land currently on the market in Beverly Hills proper.
“You can’t build a house this big in Beverly Hills anymore, and getting 3.5 acres is very rare,” said listing agent Gary Gold of Hilton & Hyland, who also sold the Playboy Mansion and Chartwell. He said compared with those trophy homes, the Hearst estate has received even more interest from qualified buyers over the last three months.
There are nine bedrooms, 15 bathrooms and grand public spaces with room for 1,000 guests. Other structures scattered across the grounds include two guest apartments, a pool house, tennis pavilion and five-bedroom gatehouse set among terraces, lawns, waterfalls and an Olympic-size pool lighted by vintage lampposts.
Gold shares the listing with Anthony Marguleas of Amalfi Estates and Zizi Pak and John Gould of Rodeo Realty.
Bankruptcy sales for such iconic estates are rare but not unheard of. The owners of the Mountain, a 157-acre parcel in Beverly Hills touted as the city’s finest piece of undeveloped land, racked up a $200-million debt on the property, which led to it being sold for $100,000 at a foreclosure auction in Pomona.
Another possible bankruptcy sale is looming in Bel-Air, where Nile Niami faces a debt of more than $110 million on “The One,” a 100,000-square-foot mega-mansion that he’s been trying to sell for $500 million.