This story first appeared in the Oct. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Just as the summer was winding down, the Pacific Palisades real estate market plateaued in a way that area observers say they've never seen. For a stretch of September, every single-family residence for sale in the seaside community, home to the likes of Bradley Cooper, Kate Hudson, Hilary Swank and Billy Crystal, was listed at more than $1 million -- a feat rarely achieved in Los Angeles.
By Sept. 21, two properties were priced at less than $1 million, though the remaining 116 houses for sale were above that benchmark price. According to Realtor.com, only one Santa Monica and two Beverly Hills ZIP codes are currently members of L.A.'s million-dollar-listing club. That the Palisades -- a once-sleepy hamlet founded in the 1920s as a Methodist Episcopal enclave -- was part of this group says a lot about how things have changed for the area now favored by Hollywood. Indeed, everyone from showrunners (Chuck Lorre) to agents (Jeff Berg) to managers (Matt Lichtenberg, Larry Rudolph) to directors (J.J. Abrams, Ed Zwick, Nancy Meyers -- whose daughter Annie was recently wed in the property's garden) reside there.
Partners Trust agent Melanie Sommers says she isn't surprised that the area reached this seven-figure floor. "Inventory is low, there are a lot of buyers out there, and people are pulling the trigger," she says. Brokers note the community of about 23,000 -- whose prestige streets just northwest of Riviera Country Club bear La Dolce Vita names like Napoli, Spoleto, Amalfi and Capri -- has become increasingly popular because of its proximity to the Pacific and its secluded, small-town feel, complete with a long-running July 4th parade.
"The key thing is that it's charming," says 2012 THR Power Lawyer Michael Gendler, a resident who points to the hilly neighborhood's historic network of stairs as Exhibit A. "Some are well-known, with people running up and down them for exercise. But most aren't. They take you all over -- down to the beach, into town. It's this wrinkle in time."
Adam Sandler lives across the street from Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Steven Spielberg has a 3-acre-plus compound previously home to David O. Selznick and Cary Grant. A few blocks away, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson bought their $26 million, 14,500-square-foot contemporary residence in 2010 from producer Frank Marshall and Lucasfilm co-chair Kathleen Kennedy.
The quaint retail zone known as The Village is the sort of place where you'll see Julia Louis-Dreyfus with her guard down, grabbing a casual bite or running an errand like any other middle-aged neighborhood mom. "From a shopping perspective, we rarely have paparazzi -- unlike on Robertson," says Elyse Walker, proprietor of an eponymous boutique in The Village. "It's very much under the radar."
The community, a frequent setting for Palisadian Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, was where silent-film director Thomas Ince set up his Western backlot "Inceville" in 1911. Two decades later, it became known as something of a pastoral Weimar on the Pacific, home to expatriate German intellectuals like Thomas Mann, though Santa Monica resident Bertolt Brecht complained that it was too "far away from civilization." Even now, it's a grievance that some in the business -- who can face two-hour-long rush-hour commutes to Hollywood premieres -- certainly appreciate, especially when it comes to a gastrosphere best known for the divorced-dads-with-kids scene at Steve & Lenny's Sports Bar on Wednesday nights. At least, that is, until noted chef Alain Giraud, previously of the acclaimed Bastide, opened his Maison Giraud in 2011, followed by the already-jammed Chez Mimi, which opened in mid-September. "We were the desert of deprivation when it came to quality eats," says TV producer Tamara Rawitt. "I mean, how much Gelson's take-out can you survive on?"
While prices have been going up in the Palisades, so have sales. According to Trulia, 101 properties sold in August, up 10 percent from a year earlier. In the past six months, Diane Keaton bought a 7,800-square-foot Cape Cod built in 2009 for $5.6 million, and Matt Damon picked up an 8,890-square-foot modern manse for $15 million. Nearby are his friends Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, who purchased a Cliff May-designed, 8,800-square-foot ranch house from Brian Grazer for $17.5 million in 2009. Affleck recently said he and Damon live closer in the Palisades than they did in Cambridge, Mass.: "We've got the kids back and forth in the yards."
Of course, the boldface crowd comes and goes. Judd Apatow headed inland to Brentwood once he sold a traditional-style house for $2.6 million in 2010, and Dennis Quaid unloaded a $9.5 million equestrian estate in January. Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne has put his English manor-style house on the market for $13 million. And top entertainment attorney Gary Stiffelman is selling a Case Study House built in 1950 by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. The property, which now also includes a three-story contemporary residence, is listed at $15 million.
Observers say prices have been on the rise partly because the Palisades is a haven for tear-downs replaced by bigger, more expensive build-outs. The community has an abundance of post-World War II bungalows situated on lots in the 7,000-square-foot range -- making them ideal candidates for razing.
Residents are concerned with "getting the most out of their lot. It's a strong phenomenon," says homebuilder David Carlin of White Picket Fence Inc., who's erecting two spec houses on De Pauw Street. To wit, Carlin's traditional residences will both be about 5,775 square feet; one is in place of a 1,100-square-foot house.
The only looming danger is landslides. In 1996, two sunbathers on a neighborhood beach were covered in rocks and dirt -- but not seriously injured -- after a 20-foot-high cliff fell; in 1958, a landslide covered PCH with 30 feet of rubble and carried cars out to sea. Thus, the opening of the 46-acre Potrero Canyon Park, which broke ground in 2011, is expected to be a boon for the area when it is completed in roughly four years. The project, which could cost as much as $40 million, will stabilize properties impacted by a 2005 slide. It also will include trails leading to the ocean, giving some houses beach access.
To that end, the residences Carlin is building will include backyard steps that lead into the canyon. "You could go out your door, down your steps and walk to the ocean -- you can't do that anywhere else in the Palisades." While his two houses won't be completed for another year, "I've gotten a call from a guy who wants to get his name in early given the market conditions," says Carlin. "Any agent I talk to says, 'Tell me what you've got -- I've got tons of buyers.' "
When the Palisades Was Reagan Country
Like the rest of the Westside, Pacific Palisades ranks as one of the most liberal bastions in the country, but back in 1980, it was “Reagan Country” -- or at least that’s what the T-shirts and buttons sold at local stores proclaimed when former actor and Palisades resident Ronald Reagan was elected U.S. president. From 1957 until 1981, Reagan and wife Nancy (who were known for settling in Bel-Air after he left office) lived in a 5,000-square-foot, three-bedroom ranch house in the Riviera section with a view of Santa Monica Bay. When they had it built in 1956, the couple had been married for four years, and Ronald, then a spokesman for GE, took TV audiences on tours of the house as host of General Electric Theater. “I can’t tell you how many refrigerators, ovens and fancy lights GE gave us,” Nancy later said. “They even put in a garbage disposal, which was unique for the time.” According to the Palisadian-Post, the Reagans sold it for $1.9 million when they went to Washington -- there are photos of a tearful Patti Davis and her parents saying goodbye to the place. The current owners didn’t answer the door when a THR reporter went by, but a sign on the gate read: “Beware of Cat.” -- Degen Pener
Email: Gary.Baum@THR.com; Daniel.Miller@THR.com