SELLERS: Barbi Benton and George Gradow
LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
SIZE: 11,608 square feet,
YOUR MAMAS NOTES: While hanging around Your Mama’s momma Goose’s crib over the weekend we honed in on a sizable estate high in the mountains above Los Angeles’ Bel Air ‘hood that’s been on and off the market for quite some time and is currently listed with an asking price of $11,950,000. The contemporary compound, according to property records and other online resources, is owned by former Playboy model-slash-(h)actress Barbi Benton and mobile home park mogul George Gradow.
Miz Benton, now a bit of a high-camp icon, hasn’t really been relevant in the entertainment industry for decades. Her brunette-haired salad days were, of course, the 1970s and 80s when she several times appeared with her naughty bits out in the glossy pages of Playboy and lived for nearly 10 years in unmarried sin with soft-porn purveyor Hugh Hefner. Not surprisingly, she was a dewy 19 and he a Viagra-free 43 when they hooked up. Missus Gradow-Benton–née Klein–eventually parlayed her nekkid modeling in to a regular role as a hayseed on Hee Haw, went on to a pretty forgettable career as a country music singer, and later became a staple on both Love Boat and Fantasy Island, where b- and c-list showbizzers went to make a few pennies and sunset their lackluster careers. Settle down now. We’re not trying to be awful and snide. We don’t make the rules in Tinseltown, we just calls ’em as we sees them. Anyhoo, not long after Miss Benton and Mister Hefner went splitsville she married the much more conventional real estate tycoon George Gradow whose claim to fame–or, rather, infamy–came many years later in the early-Naughts when he was convicted and sent to a federal pokey after he fessed up to doctoring financial documents in an effort to defraud and mislead the I.R.S.
After they married in the late 1970s Miz Benton and Mister Gradow shacked up in high style on a gated, privately situated six-acre estate in sleepy (and somewhat staid) Pasadena, CA with a quarter-mile long palm tree-lined driveway, massive multi-winged mansion, rolling lawns dotted with mature specimen trees, and the requisite swimming pool and tennis court. Property records show the couple sold the estate in mid-1990 for $3,700,000.
We’re not quite sure where the couple bedded down in Los Angeles between when they sold their Pasadena palace in 1990 and 2003 or ’04 when they bought a big-ass modern mansion just off legendary Mulholland Drive high above the natty and nabob-y Bel Air ‘hood. Property records are a bit vague but as best as Your Mama can tell Mister and Missus Gradow acquired the star-style compound through a corporate entity in either late 2003 for $7,000,000 or in March 2004 (through a corporate entity) for an undisclosed amount.
The Gradows have actually had the property on and off the market several times at various prices since September 2008–shortly after Mister Gradow was released from federal prison–when it landed with a dull thud on the open market with an asking price of $17,500,000. Redfin reveals the 2.75 acre estate was last heaved on to the open market in mid-July 2011 with an asking price of $11,950,000. In early October the price dropped to $10,950,000 but two months later, in late November, the price inexplicably jumped back up to its current $11,950,000.
The gated compound runs along the precipitous ridge of a private promontory with an almost entirely unobstructed view from downtown over Hollywood and Beverly Hills, past the towers of Century City and across the flat expanse of the West Side until it abruptly dead ends into the Pacific Ocean. A giant roof top terrace actually provides even more comprehensive 360-degree views that tackle and taken in the San Fernando Valley.
The Los Angeles County Tax Man shows the boxy, collection-filled main manse has 4 bedroom and 7 bathrooms in 11,608 square feet while current listing information shows 15,270 square feet with a total of 8 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms. In addition to the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the main house, the larger figures encompass (but do not fully account for) the detached 2 bedroom and 2 bathroom guest house and the separate 2 bedroom and 2 bathroom staff residence.
We’re not sure who designed the all-white and all but unadorned residential structure, built in 1990 according to tax records and listing information, but first impressions upon arrival to the front motor court makes Your Mama think it might be an male architect who operates–or operated–in the same architectural vein as minimal minded modern masters–or “masters” depending on your proclivities, preferences and points of view–like 1984 Pritzker Prize winner Richard Meier.
An opening in a vast white wall connects the front motor court to a more intimate rear motor court with 3-car attached garage. All-glass front doors set into the winter-white front façade swing open to a capacious double-height entrance hall with stone tiles on the floor, twin staircases on opposite ends of the room that meet in an arched second-floor balcony, and a woozy-making ceiling with sculptural, dog bone-shaped detail. The airy cream-colored space leads into a decidedly voluminous “formal” living room with fireplace that has more in common size-wise with a hotel lobby than it does most ordinary peoples’ living rooms. Towering place anchor and define various sitting areas and natural light floods the room through a checkerboard pattern skylight. Like in the entry and throughout the entire house, the couples considerable and sometimes visually cacophonous art and crafts collections hang on the walls, stand on the floor, and pepper the flat sufaces.
Other rooms that pinwheel off the main living room include a library with fireplace ringed by high-shine paneling and built-in bookshelves, a separate room equipped with full-sized and fully stocked u-shaped bar, a banquet hall-like dining room that seats 32 diners at four seriously high-gloss burled wood dining tables, and a tee-vee nook with built in cabinetry and entertainment center and an entire wall of glass that opens to a long allée that connects the main house to the swimming pool and spa and beyond that a self-contained pool/guest house. Normally we discuss a bit of the day-core but we can not bear to to approach the haphazard “screen” of potted plants that separates the main living room from the tee-vee nook nor will we touch with a ten foot pole that mortifying quintet of cawkee-colored electrified recliner-loungers.
The eat-in kitchen has a generous breakfast area lined with mirrored Biedermeier-style cabinetry, French doors with city views and dining terrace access, and an L-shaped center island with a snack bar at one end and a second but elevated snack bar at the other. The gleaming, finely tailored upper and lower cabinets have entirely flat fronts and lack hardware, the counter tops are a lustrous flecked ebony, and the appliances up-to-date and high end.
At least one of the guest/family bedrooms is furnished with intricately painted Mexican folk art furniture and has walls and ceilings completely covered in a hand painted cloud pattern we find so cockamamie and egregious we fail to find a pithy remark.
The master bedroom, larger than Your Mama’s entire house it seems, encompasses a conference hall-sized space with party-friendly sitting area, two fireplaces, half a dozen or more gigantic square windows to take in the rugged canyons and sparkling lights, curving walls that swoop in to embrace the bed, and a set of relatively prosaic French doors that access a private terrace. There are dual streamline moderne-tinged bathrooms with black granite (or some other fancy black stone) detailing and at least one, boutique-y dressing room lined with glass fronted closets for protecting but still displaying clothing and footwear.
Back on the main floor, several rooms open out to multiple terraces with canyon and city views and an entire wall of glass in the tee-vee nook disappears into the walls and opens the room to a long, up lit allée carpeted with thick lawn and lined with trimmed shrubbery and partially shaded by a variety of well-tended, mature specimen trees. The lawn gives way to the stone (or maybe it’s stamped concrete) terrace that surrounds the sunken spa and swimming pool. Beyond the swimming pool a guest house/pool pavilion has building-wide set of steps that climb from the pool deck to an open air covered porch.
The Benton-Gradow’s Bel Air spread sits between Usra Major, the angular and melodramatic former Wilt Chamberlain mansion, and a 9,951 square foot residence once- and long-owned by now-deceased poster babe Farrah Fawcett and currently held in the luxury property portfolio of international superstar-new mommy-songstress Mariah Carey and her man-mate Nick Cannon.
Mister Gradow and Miz Benton have long split their time between Tinseltown compound and Aspen, CO where in the late 1980s they custom built an ultra-contemporary (approximately) 25,000 square foot mega-mansion they dubbed the Copper Palace (above). The house, located on 40 pristine acres in the snazzy Starwood enclave overlooking the Roaring Fork Valley, was designed by organically-minded and wildly imaginative Albuquerque-based architect Bart Prince. The truly one-of-a-kind house, which looks almost nothing like what most people think of when they think of a house, encompasses a handful of dramatically cantilevered pods that contain 6 bedrooms suites (including a mirrored master with circular bed that rotates 360-degrees at the touch of a button), a family kitchen plus an industrial-scaled catering one too, a disco with disco ball, a domed, multi-colored screening room, gym and massage rooms, and his and her indoor lap pools. Miz Benton and Mister Gradow’s nearest neighbor in Aspen is Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia who some years ago had his hotel-sized ski house on the market with an asking price of $135,000,000.
In the spring of 2001 Miz Benton and Mister Gradow unsuccessfully attempted to unload their futuristic hillside house with an asking price of $25,000,000. The house did not sell but they do offer the property up as a vacation rental for an undisclosed amount of money.