This story originally appeared in the June 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The enclaves of Calabasas and Hidden Hills -- located just beyond the Los Angeles border at the southwestern corner of the San Fernando Valley -- recently got even more star-studded. The newest kid in town is Justin Bieber, who made headlines in late March when he purchased a $6.5 million, five-bedroom pad that includes a movie theater with stadium seating. It's in a rarefied Calabasas enclave-within-an-enclave of less than 50 properties called the Estates at the Oaks, which is behind two sets of paparazzi-proof gates. Bieber, whose house was owned by Eddie Murphy's ex-wife Nicole, counts as his Oaks neighbors Tommy Lee, Gary Sinise and Community's Ken Jeong, plus Katherine Jackson, who is sheltering the late King of Pop's children there. Bieber lately has become something of a fixture in the city, which also counts the likes of Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O'Connell, Brandy and Kendra Wilkinson as residents. He regularly is seen tooling down Parkway Calabasas in his electric Fisker Karma sports car; on May 27, he scuffled with a photographer while on a date to see Men in Black 3 at The Commons -- the chichi retail center that serves as Calabasas' town square -- prompting a police investigation.
Executives come for the same reasons. The likes of Academy of Arts and Sciences president Tom Sherak, UTA's Michael Camacho, Dick Clark Productions COO Francis La Maina and top music manager Jerry Heller all live in Calabasas. Hidden Hills dwellers include Miramax owner Ronald Tutor, CBS Television Studios chief David Stapf, former NBCUniversal TV chief Jeff Gaspin, Ziffren Brittenham partner Cliff Gilbert-Lurie, Fox Broadcasting chair Peter Rice and Fox CMO Oren Aviv.
A high-profile buy like Bieber's, though, can't mask the fact that house prices have been on the decline. For the period of February 2012 to April 2012, according to real estate website Trulia, the median sales prices reveal a tale of two cities. In Hidden Hills, the median was down just 1.2 percent compared with the same period in 2011, while Calabasas fell 15.4 percent. "We'd be lying if we said we're doing gangbusters, but the inventory is low right now," says Ewing & Associates Sotheby's International Realty agent Dana Olmes, who expects that the reduced supply will lead to an uptick in prices. (By comparison, according to Trulia, Santa Monica was down 2 percent, while Brentwood was up 1.6 percent.)
Calabasas -- population 23,000, many ensconced in tract mansions -- once was home to the 2,800-acre Warner Bros. Ranch, where everything from Casablanca to Sergeant York was filmed. The area incorporated in 1991 but found its place in the national consciousness beginning in 2003, when it served as the scenic backdrop to Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey's Newlyweds. Likewise, Keeping Up With the Kardashians supersized the Q Score of both towns when the show debuted in 2007. Bruce Jenner, wife Kris and youngest daughters Kendall and Kylie now live in a Hidden Hills abode, while Kourtney Kardashian, Scott Disick and son Mason reside in the Oaks. (The Kardashians' Dash boutique, long a Calabasas staple, recently moved 25 miles to West Hollywood.) The TV shows, along with media coverage of residents such as Nikki Sixx, Richie Sambora and Denise Richards, prompted TMZ to run a parodic riff comparing the scene to a suburban version of Melrose Place.
Immediately across the 101 freeway, in more under-the-radar, equestrian-oriented Hidden Hills -- where it appears prices are holding up because of the city's limited acreage, which curtails much new housing stock from being built -- residents include Nicollette Sheridan, Melissa Etheridge, Drake, Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Cibrian and LeAnn Rimes. "It's like a time warp," says David Stanley, a veteran TV producer, entertainment attorney and former mayor of Hidden Hills. "We have no sidewalks or street lights. People are out walking, the kids gather at the community center to swim and BBQ, and once a year we put on a parade to celebrate the founding of our city -- marching bands and all."
Jill Lieberman of Coldwell Banker, who lives and sells in Calabasas, notes that the media exposure has lured a hefty number of all-cash international buyers at the market's top end. "People who move here from out of state or out of the country would have never known the names 'Calabasas' or 'Hidden Hills' if it wasn't for these reality shows," she says. "It's glamorized it."
Given the down market, high-profile listings overshadow big-name sales. Among those listing in Calabasas is Kevin Costner's producing partner Jim Wilson, who's got his 190-acre Avalon Ranch -- which boasts a 7,500-square-foot Cape Cod-style house -- on the market for $24.99 million. In Hidden Hills, Dwayne Johnson just listed his seven-bedroom house at $4.99 million, Beau Bridges has price-chopped his formerly $3.25 million estate to $2.85 million, and Tutor's Hidden Hills estate, which features a lake and was rented by Britney Spears for $25,000 a month, is now available for $9.99 million. Meanwhile, Ozzy Osbourne and wife Sharon have been unsuccessfully attempting to unload their $13 million manor at the edge of Hidden Hills since 2011, but THR has learned that they recently took it off the market after becoming embroiled in a dispute with the neighboring Mountain View Estates homeowners association over the validity of their backyard property line.
Jeff Biebuyck, Olmes' partner at Ewing & Associates, says he believes the presence of celebrity names will continue to draw buyers. "They think, if it's good enough for them to live here," he says, "then it must be good enough for us."
BY THE NUMBERS
Calabasas Median Sales Prices
- Feb.-Airl 2011: $795,000
- Feb.-Airl 2012: $672,500 (-15.4%)
Hidden Hills Median Sales Prices
- Feb.-April 2011: $1.67 million
- Feb.-April 2012: $1.65 million (-1.2%)
FIVE SCANDALS THAT ROCKED THE TOWNS
Hometown Villian: Erik Menendez attended Calabasas High before graduating on to murdering his parents in Beverly Hills in 1989 with his older brother, Lyle. Mom Mary Louise ("Kitty") and dad Jose were planning to return to another house in the suburban town at the time of their deaths.
Teenage Wasteland: Most of the members of the infamous "Bling Ring," who vandalized celebrity homes in the Hollywood Hills between October 2008 and August 2009, were from Calabasas. Sofia Coppola began filming a movie about the crime spree, starring Emma Watson, in March 2012.
Suge Knight Shakedown: The rap mogul and a few loyalists visited local resident Steve Cantrock, his accountant, in Calabasas late one night in 1996 and forced him to sign a document admitting he embezzled $4.5 million from Death Row Records. Cantrock, who subsequently went into hiding with his family, later told federal investigators that the two-page confession was signed under duress.
Scientology School: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, who live near Calabasas in Monte Nido, funded the New Village Leadership Academy in 2008. In the past, they had denied ties to Scientology, but controversy erupted in the press when NVLA's curriculum and faculty were exposed as being based on the church's "study technology" teachings.
Seniors Stiffed: In 2009, the 138 people living in the Motion Picture & Television Home Fund's long-term care facility -- located mere yards outside the Calabasas border -- were notified that, because of a lack of funds, it would be closed. MPTF CEO David Tillman resigned, and the care facility was saved with stop-gap funds. Foundation board chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, pilloried at the time by activists, in February spearheaded a $350 million campaign to ensure its future.