Book Review: Unreal Estate

After much anticipation amongst real estate-o-philes in Los Angeles and no doubt around the world author and journalist Michael Gross' latest exposé Unreal Estate finally hits the bookstores and online retailers tomorrow.

We are a fan. And not, mind y'all, just because a substantial quote by yours truly appears on the book jacket and not either because we are also referenced and quoted repeatedly in chapter three. It's because, for better and worse, we love a thick and juicy real estate tale of the rich and famous and at that Mister Gross is a master.

Many of the children surely already know–and all of the children who care a whit about such trivial matters should–Mister Gross penned 740 Park, a delectably hair-raising history of 740 Park Avenue–one of the most exclusive and enigmatic buildings in New York City–and its parade of improbably wealthy residents.

Your Mama spent a good portion of the unusually warm weekend tucked into a butterfly chair in our shaded back yard with an advanced copy of Unreal Estate, a 500-page tome that exhaustively unravels the hidden histories of more than a dozen of Los Angeles' greatest and most storied estates in what's commonly called the Platinum Triangle, the high-priced nexus of Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills and Bel Air. The rarefied high maintenance real estate, as delish as it is to read about, acts primarily as the lubricant for Mister Gross' real subject(s): the astonishingly luxurious, weirdly insular, sometimes sordid, often unsavory and frequently tragic palace intrigues of their (usually) well-heeled and (always) high-living residents.

Take for instance the extreme decadence and rather sordid melodrama that has surrounded Grayhall, a vast, 20-bathroom Beverly Hills pile built by a Boston banker and later owned by a laundry list of Tinseltown legends like silent film superstar Douglas Fairbanks, too-tan actor/gadabout George Hamilton who lived in unhappy ickiness in the posh mansion with his brother and mother, a high-flying (and shady-seeming) international financier named Bernie Cornfeld who, like Hugh Hefner, housed a bevy young women in dorm-like bedrooms, and Herbalife's multi-level marketing master Mark Hughes and two of his wives.

Tabloid-inclined readers will enjoy the scads of scandalicious morsels about about west coast movers and shakers like now deceased Holmby Hills resident Alfred Bloomingdale, heir to the eponymous department store fortune, Ronald Reagan kitchen cabinet member, and enjoyer of kinky sex who kept a much younger mistress on retainer for a dozen years. His long-time wife and widow Betsy remains ensconced in the couple's grand Delfern Drive mansion and a prominent and powerful force amongst the hoitiest of the toitiest in Los Angeles' haute society.

Then there's poor Dolly Green, the privileged daughter of Burton Green, a co-founder of Beverly Hills. The grande dame, sometimes portrayed by Mister Gross as rather crass and course, lived large and fast but ultimately died alone but for and at the mercy of her domestic staff and legal advisers. Miz Green lived lavishly in a spectacular Wallace Neff-designed mansion on Bellagio Road in Bel Air now owned by soap opera tycoon Bill Bell and his philanthropically-minded wife Maria.

We recommend Unreal Estate be read in close proximity to an internet-abled computer because it's good fun to key in the (often provided) addresses of the discussed estates for a delicious aerial peep of the very real unreality of real estate in the Platinum Triangle.

Late last week the Deadline Hollywood blog announced that Mister Gross' book has been optioned by the folks at HBO for a Joel Silver-produced series. Mavel tov Mister Gross!

Mister Gross will be reading from Unreal Estate in New York Wednesday (Barnes and Noble on East 86th Street at 7pm) and at Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles on November 10 at 7pm.

photo: Broadway Books