This story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Mega-spec House developer Danny Fitzgerald is aggrieved. Notorious for renting four glass-and-steel mansions in the hills just below the Hollywood Reservoir to party-hard celebrities, reality show casts and Middle Eastern royalty, he has incurred the wrath of neighbors — as well as Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who last summer sent Fitzgerald a nuisance letter notifying him that he’d be held criminally liable if one more tenant racked up a citation. The residents responsible for the 90-plus calls to law enforcement — eliciting complaints including public urination, an unpermitted lion and a suspect with a gun — likely would consider the word “Affliction” emblazoned on the T-shirt he’s wearing on a recent afternoon to be truth in advertising.
“They don’t want anyone building, they don’t want anyone having fun, they don’t want anyone filming,” says Fitzgerald, 56, his voice rising in the sprawling fourth-floor kitchen of his largest home on Weidlake Drive (which leases for $40,000 a month). “I call them a vigilante group. Tell them to buy my houses!” The collective 46,000-square-foot compound, which includes all four homes, with 32 bedrooms and 51 bathrooms, is on the market for $50 million.
He turns to address his opposition beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows in their far smaller cantilevered homes. “Go ahead, all you f—ing assholes out there that complain every day: You can have them. They make money. They’re a good return. Buy my homes, and I will leave.”
If he doesn’t cut his price — realtors suggest he needs to do so by tens of millions — the epic fight, which began in 2006, will persist. “It’s like a cancer,” says Hollywood Dell Civic Association head Patti Negri, describing the compound. “There’s drunken people throwing bottles, going to the bathroom on people’s lawns.”
But conflict doesn’t ruffle the developer, who may be the Hollywood Hills’ biggest pariah for his strikingly indulgent landlord relationships with everyone from Justin Bieber, Sean Kingston, Ne-Yo and Trey Songz to Nelly, T.I. and, currently, The Weeknd. Nor does he mind the repeated and breathless TMZ coverage of famous new tenants, out-of-control parties and public sex at the compound. (Neighbors were agog to see castmembers of Playboy’s Swing reality show doing the deed in plain view on the countertops and the patio. Castmembers told TMZ that the hot tub was a “no-bone zone.”) Fitzgerald will just remind you that he’s a defender of a certain American dream: lifestyle, libertarianism and the pursuit of happiness as defined by an in-home nightclub and a Jacuzzi with 70 jets that “will blow your mind.”
The son of a beer salesman and a BBQ pit waitress in unglamorous Granada Hills, 20 miles away at the north end of the San Fernando Valley, Fitzgerald grew up eager to escape his working-class roots: “I didn’t want to ever have a shitty car, a shitty house.” (He ticks off how far he’s come: “I have a turbo Porsche convertible, a Mercedes GL 63 AMG and a faithful Honda for work. I used to have even nicer cars — Ferraris, Bentleys, Rolls — but they kept breaking.”) He got his contractor’s license straight out of high school and has been developing and flipping dwellings ever since — first tract homes in the flats and later hillside mansions, which he designs in a brazen style he proudly characterizes as “bold” (think lights installed on each floor that rotate colors, a la Hollywood Squares) and others believe could be considered tasteful only by confirmed members of the doucheoisie.”Once I got smarter, I started building in Encino and Sherman Oaks,” says Fitzgerald. “When I got really smart, I began building in Marina del Rey, Malibu, Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills.”
Decades later, in 2006, just before the recession hit, he began to pursue what would turn out to be his coup de grace: The Weidlake complex, which features expansive neon lighting, club-style banks of urinals and “Hollywood” spelled out in tile above the pools. (“The Danny design philosophy is this: Every single home I do has to have a theater with surround sound.”) One of his current tenants — a German cosmetics entrepreneur named Bastian Yotta with a penchant for Instagramming pictures of himself, his blonde bombshell wife, Maria, and their exclusively buxom guests frolicking at home (on one occasion with that unpermitted lion) — believes Weidlake “is perfect, a paradise. We needed a property with 10 bedrooms and a nightclub and a gym. The only problem is the tour buses that have started coming up here just recently.”
Indeed, from the start the properties’ flash has stood out from their prominent perch atop the otherwise quiet, cozy Dell neighborhood — one ridgeline west of higher-profile Beachwood Canyon, which sits directly beneath the Hollywood sign — a mostly under-the-radar haven long popular with below-the-line industry types who still can snag a modest three-bedroom cottage there for a mere $1 million (a relative steal in the hills’ current market). But since completion, Fitzgerald has been renting his places out with only rare vacancies. His clients have included Bieber, whom Fitzgerald calls “so mellow — he loved the gym and worked out every day.” (By contrast, a friend of Bieber’s told Radar that the purpose of the Weidlake house was to “throw parties” because the singer didn’t want “random people” causing trouble where he actually lived.) Others have ranged from Zendaya (“She had her sweet 16 here”) to Mark Zuckerberg. (“He had a birthday here. That was a party we couldn’t turn down because it wasn’t going to be out of control.”) While Fitzgerald, who interfaces with clients directly, claims he makes his tenants sign leases explicitly prohibiting large parties and regularly rebuffs lucrative one-off event requests — “I mean, every weekend we could have a party for $50,000” — massive after-midnight bashes sometimes “just end up happening,” often intimate get-togethers that blow up thanks to social media.
This brings no comfort to neighbors like Cynthia Martinez, a greens coordinator for films (Hitchcock) who lives around the corner. “When the cars start coming up at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, it’s really a drag,” she says. “I wake up at 4 to be on set at 6, so if people are partying through the night, I don’t get to sleep. And I don’t want to ‘move to Palmdale’ ” — a high-desert exurb 60 miles to the north — “as Danny likes to tell us.”
When pressed, the unmarried Fitzgerald — who for years was co-owner of Century City’s massive Century Club, which closed in 2007 (in its heyday it played host to Dr. Dre, Jamie Foxx, Ice Cube and Brandy) — freely admits these mansions were built to be bacchanalian, a by-product of his years throwing high-head-count lingerie parties attended by the likes of Wilt Chamberlain. His biggest Weidlake house boasts “a club-style bathroom with a makeup area,” he says. “The disco itself holds 200 or 300 people.” (Materials were selected with high traffic in mind, from Venetian plaster — “You can patch it after people mess it up” — to the same “indestructible” industrial-grade porcelain-and-ceramic floor tiles used at Hyatt Hotels.)
“His idea of living is parties, so he creates living spaces that are party spaces,” says his old Century Club partner Mark Fleischman (previously an owner of Studio 54), founder of local fitness studio The Bar Method. “Those lingerie parties were a way of attracting rich men to come to his houses to look at buying them.”
Fitzgerald muses that the tenants who often cause the most damage are productions. Now he conducts video walkthroughs before anyone arrives. Weidlake alums range from Fox’s American Idol to various porn shoots. Fitzgerald — who has been a frequent presence in L.A.’s civil court both as plaintiff and defendant, netting at least 77 filings in the past three decades — is in the midst of a lawsuit with MTV’s House of Food because, among other alleged damages, “They blew up the stove and refused to pay.” (Show creator T Group Productions’ attorney responds: “The lawsuit has absolutely no merit. The house was left in vastly better condition than it was in when T Group arrived.”)
Fitzgerald sees himself not as a nuisance neighbor but a persecuted one. He acknowledges the more than 90 calls made regarding his homes — THR independently reviewed call data amassed by the LAPD — but notes that they’ve led to only a few actual citations (and even those he disputes). “Sean Kingston, a sweetheart, lived there two years,” he says. “He had one complaint, for amplified music. That ticket’s bullshit. I was at the party two years ago. Seven o’clock at night, OK? Sean was singing on the f—ing speakers outside!”
Jeff Dowden, a retired owner of a postproduction facility who lives on a ridge facing Weidlake, counters that “the reason so few citations have been given out is that police are so slow to respond,” with sirens and lights often giving offenders plenty of warning to scram. (Even when they do arrive in time, say neighbors, law enforcement’s M.O. is to provide warnings to individual guests.)
Feuer spokesman Frank Mateljan notes that the City Attorney’s Office and LAPD “continue to monitor the situation and are in constant contact with the neighbors and with Daniel Fitzgerald’s lawyer.” For his part, Fitzgerald says of the standoff: “My lawyers laughed at them. They said, ‘They have nothing.’ “
Indeed, civic authorities often find themselves playing catchup with Fitzgerald in other ways, such as his ruthless maximization of every square inch of each lot, a practice which predates L.A.’s new anti-mansionization limits passed by the City Council this year to curb steroidal developments like his own. “I just build as big as I can,” he shrugs. The Weidlake complex towers 60 feet high; now, he could build less than half that height. Says Fitzgerald: “[Neighbors] call them ‘the Kmart homes.’ ” (Actually, clarifies Hollywood United Neighborhood Council representative George Skarpelos, who lives nearby, “We call them ‘the abortion on the hill’ — they are that wildly out of character.”)
“It’s unfair to landowners,” argues Fitzgerald, musing that residential home values have been straitjacketed by these new requirements. He believes that huge structures should be encouraged, even if only for public interest: “I pay crazy property taxes. Most people here, it’s probably $3,000. Mine’s about $50,000 — per home.” (According to tax data published by Redfin, Fitzgerald paid between $23,391 and $46,039 per house in 2014.) He goes on, with a sigh: “[The city’s] not letting anyone build these monsters anymore. The lots are worthless.”
It’s for this reason that Fitzgerald says he’s now looking to get out of the game. Well, this and what the vociferously anti-union builder fulminates is the constant hassle of dealing with city employees — and the sustained assault by what he perceives to be his NIMBY neighbors, “where they just nonstop f—ing pester you.”
Fitzgerald notes that “my whole life, I’ve lived in what I was building, lived in the dirt” and that, on the Weidlake effort alone, “I almost lost everything four or five times.” (Indeed, he was so “broke” for stretches that he lived with his adult son in the in-progress edifices without power, at times operating the backhoe, tractors and jackhammers he’d bought to push his project forward.) At this point, he insists he’d rather be riding waves on his 8-footer just steps from his $5 million home near Venice Beach or at Malibu’s Point Dume. “I quit. I’m tired,” he says. “How much longer can I surf well and have all these young girlfriends?”
would be enraged” says friend Merrill Markoe, as Simon’s estate sits at the center of a bizarre fight surrounding his beloved-yet-volatile pooch Columbo and the trust that’s stopped paying for his care and hasn’t kept the money flowing to the animal-rights organizations to whom Simon had dedicated his life (and fortune): “He would never cut off funds to his own f—ing dog!””]
Real estate agent Ivan Estrada of Keller Williams thinks he needs to drop his price if he wants to retire soon: “Someone who’s going to pay $50 million isn’t going to live in that part of town. They’re going to buy in Bel Air near other large estates. I would put it in the 20s.” Concurs JB Fung of John Aaroe Group: “It’s going to take a special kind of buyer.”
These days, Fitzgerald ruefully sees his kind as an endangered species in L.A., observing that fellow swashbuckling, big-ticket spec builder Mohamed Hadid — ex-husband of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Foster, father of supermodel Gigi Hadid — also has gotten an unfair rap from the city over unpermitted work on a Bel Air mansion project. “Again, it’s because of the neighbors — every single neighbor says, ‘Everyone else, get out.’ ” Fitzgerald shakes his head. “He’s done so many great things. Amazing homes. Gorgeous daughter.”
Soon, though, his mood brightens. Fitzgerald is confident that history will redeem him and his exuberance, just as it has so many other first-condemned-then-celebrated L.A. landmarks. “This thing will be 50 years old, and it’ll still be cool,” he says of his Weidlake acropolis. “It’ll be a statement. It’ll be like, ‘Wow, how’d they ever get to build that? How’d they ever get 45 feet of solid glass walls?’ ” He grins, taking in his accomplishment and his impending legend. “It’s because it was done and then those assholes made a scene and then the city changed the building codes and now no one can ever do it!”
And why shouldn’t he be sanguine? He built it, and those with fame came, just as he knew they would. His neighbors may think he and those he attracts are gratingly gauche, but Fitzgerald believes in L.A.’s green light, in which something as killjoy as taste is never sacrosanct, and his orgastic future will not recede — tomorrow he will simply party harder, stretch out his arms farther and embrace another young girlfriend.
“This wasn’t cookie-cutter,” he concludes. “It wasn’t Pleasantville. It was Hollywood.”