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This story first appeared in the Aug. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
By key metrics, Manhattan Beach is one of the most on-fire real estate markets in the L.A. area right now. The small beach town of 35,000 residents located just south of LAX — known for its high-profile sports star residents and Manhattan Beach Studios — hit a peak median residential sales price of $1.8 million in May, surpassing the highest median price of the boom year of 2006 (and up 22 percent from the same month in 2012). The South Bay town had the most $1 million-plus home sales of any Southern California city in 2012. Look on the Multiple Listing Service, and, as of July 22, there are just five single-family houses for sale in the burg for less than $1 million.
“Once we hit the new year, all hell broke loose — multiple offers on everything. Here in July, we’re 17 percent higher than we were in March,” says local agent Rachel Ezra of Rachel Ezra Real Estate. Bidding wars are not uncommon. In June, one of Ezra’s listings, a four-bedroom, 3,100-square-foot traditional-style house in a “walk street” (car-free) area was put on the market for $3.5 million. Seven weeks and 10 offers (eight of them cash) later, the sale closed at $4.2 million.
The top sale of 2013 so far was in February: A modern five-bedroom on the desirable oceanfront Strand sold for $11 million, the second-highest price ever paid for residential real estate in the city. Says agent Lee LeGrande of LeGrande Beach Homes, “Buyers are a dime a dozen now.”
Among the highest-end properties on the market are a glass-box modern house on the Strand listed for $9.7 million and a jumbo 7,900-square-foot wood-and-stone residence in the walk streets for sale at $12.9 million.
So why the frenzy? A combination of factors has turned Manhattan Beach — originally named Manhattan by its New York developer around 1902 (the “Beach” part was added later) — into a posh paradise. No. 1, of course, is the big blue sea. “Well, it’s really about the ocean,” says Andre Jacquemetton, who has lived in the area with his wife, Maria, for a decade. (The two Emmy-winning Mad Men writer-producers recently left the show after six seasons to set up an overall production deal at Warner Bros. Television.) “When we moved to Southern California, we really wanted to take advantage of the ocean. What’s the point otherwise?” he adds.
Quality public schools also are a major selling point. The Manhattan Beach district as a whole ranks as the third-best performing in the state. Says Maria, “We have kids, and it’s been a really terrific place to raise your children sort of far from the craziness of a big city.”
For many, the city’s density — so unlike Malibu’s coastal sprawl — is key to its Mayberry appeal. Houses, even the biggest ones, sit nearly cheek by jowl. This means that walking anywhere, and particularly to the main commercial strips, is a jiff.
“Everyone knows everybody,” says writer Steve Maeda (The X-Files, Lost). “You don’t have a choice. Everything is packed in so tight.” Adds WME agent Cori Wellins: “I love the area because you can drop your car on Friday and not need to be back in it until Monday morning. You can walk, jog, scooter or ride your bike anywhere.”
In the past couple of years, downtown Manhattan Beach’s dining scene has blossomed with additions like David LeFevre‘s small-plates restaurant M.B. Post (1142 Manhattan Ave.) and right-on-the-beach The Strand House (117 Manhattan Beach Blvd.). New this year are LeFevre’s seafood spot, Fishing With Dynamite (1148 Manhattan Ave.), Cal-French Chez Soi (451 Manhattan Beach Blvd.) — which counts Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell as a partner — and Southeast Asian-minded Little Sister (1131 Manhattan Ave.).
Sports stars and their coaches have been lured by the fresh air, proximity to the airport and, for some, the presence of the nearby Toyota Sports Center, a training facility for the NHL’s Kings and NBA’s Lakers, only four miles from downtown Manhattan Beach. In April, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni paid $6.9 million for a 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom contemporary house off the Strand. Not too far away lives USC football coach Lane Kiffin, who paid $5.5 million for a new pad in 2012. Among the famous athletes who call Manhattan Beach home are Maria Sharapova, Mia Hamm, former Laker Luke Walton and most of the current Kings roster. Former resident Michael Strahan was known to frequently ride his beach cruiser down the Strand until landing his Live! gig, which took him to the other Manhattan.
“My 6-year-old boy’s basketball coach was [Lakers point guard] Steve Nash. Where else would that happen?” asks Duck Dynasty producer Scott Gurney.
Film and TV production is active as well, especially because James Cameron‘s Lightstorm Entertainment relocated to the 22-acre MBS Media Campus (formerly known as Raleigh Studios) in 2011, signing a five-year lease to film two sequels to Avatar. A slew of series have been shot at the complex, including David E. Kelley‘s Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Public as well as The O.C. and 90210. “One day I’ll work there — I dream of that!” jokes resident Albert Kim, a co-executive producer and writer on The CW’s Nikita who commutes to Burbank.
Not that the morning drive is as far as those who don’t live in the South Bay might think. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but it’s only 30 minutes to CAA,” says agent Amie Avor. “I don’t want the secret to be out. I’ve hacked the route. It’s not that hard.”
More than anything, though, Manhattan Beach’s industry players have been drawn to the oh-so-SoCal vibe. “When I was a kid, my mother used to say, ‘Get out of your school clothes and get in to your play clothes,’ ” says producer Jeremy Elice, whose wife, Nicole, is Showtime’s entertainment public relations director. “In Manhattan Beach, you have that same thing, that you’re going from your work clothes to your play clothes. It’s laid-back.”
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