LOS ANGELES >> From Kirk Morgan’s perch, in a mansion at the top of Los Angeles, he can see it all: the snow-covered mountains from the vast windows in one of the seven bathrooms. The Hollywood sign, eye level from the kitchen. And, from the master bedroom, a sweep of Los Angeles stretching from downtown to the Pacific Ocean.
But what he likes best, Morgan said, are the fevered tales he overhears from the Runyon Canyon Park hikers who pause at the house set amid its own 22 acres that he has guarded for nine months, as they try to unravel the mysteries suggested by this foreboding hillside mansion. For all its aspirations at grandeur, the 16-year-old house at 2450 Solar Drive remains unfinished and vacant, pocked by boarded-up windows and gang graffiti, a jumble of hanging wires and holes cut in the living room ceiling. A Winnebago is parked in the gated front yard.
There is no shortage of abandoned houses across the country, especially in Los Angeles, the victim of a recession and a collapsing housing market. But few have attained such neighborhood notoriety in their decline as this pink wedding cake of a structure on a hill, all the more so after it went on the market, listed last week for a mere $15.2 million, acreage and all. The real estate agent calls it “the last big parcel in the Hollywood Hills,” potential catnip for either a deep-pocketed mogul or a developer who wants to carve it into smaller sites to lure more real estate status seekers up from the flats.
The mansion, which has never been legally occupied, is the subject of gossip and rumor-trading, some of it outlandish, but some, it turns out, quite true. It is feeding Los Angeles’ fascination with real estate, sumptuous homes and a good plot. All the better, it is a real estate whodunit.
“It has great views, but it is cursed,” David Tollefson, an airline attendant, said while hiking by the house as dusk fell and lit up the hues of the scrub-covered hills and canyons of Hollywood that are its backyard. “It’s a haunted house. Or I’ve heard it’s an alien landing site. I’ve been asking everyone what this is, and no one wants to talk.”
Jason Victor, a hotel worker hiking with Tollefson, added, “Have you heard about this being an Indian burial ground?”
Kelly Ramel, an actress, said she had tried to get to the bottom of the tale of the house, but with little success. “I’ve checked online,” she said, “and it says it was foreclosed and someone was going to turn it into a rehab location place for drug addicts and alcoholics. Or something like that.”
Well, not quite.
Many of the tales — like the murder that supposedly took place on the pool table in the billiard room — are urban legend, said Morgan, 53, the house guard, who was wearing camouflage shorts, a cap and no shirt as he opened the padlocked gate to allow a visitor inside.
“It just blows you away what you hear from these people,” he said. “Like it is owned by the devil. I am a man of the Lord. There ain’t no devil here. I salted this house and also had my Indian friends come over and burn sage.”
But many of the tales are accurate.
Gangs, among them the notorious Armenian Power, really did turn the place into a clubhouse, the police said. Gang tags are still visible on the walls. Teenagers commandeered the carpeted first floor for weekend raves.
Yes, over the years, 2450 Solar Drive has served as a blue-chip crack house, according to the police: Its floors were scattered with remnants of crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and marijuana.
“And this is where the Satanic stuff happened,” Morgan said as he led a visitor into a windowless room, pointing to a faded sketch on the wall. “You can see the image of a devil. And they had chicken feathers hanging on a wire.”
Ralph Sanchez, the senior lead officer for the Hollywood Hills division of the Los Angeles Police Department, said the house was an anomaly for this part of Los Angeles.
“You would not believe it: from gang members to Satanic worshipers,” he said. “You name it. The doors were pried open, no matter how many times we nailed them shut.”
The house has had a troubled history almost from the start. The couple who commissioned it divorced and sold it unfinished. It has been embroiled in real estate disputes, most recently a failed partnership in which one of the partners declared bankruptcy amid accusations of fraud. It is, after years of on-and-off construction, legally uninhabitable, exceeding the city’s zoning limits on height and lot coverage.
Its current owner is Timothy Devine, a former executive with Columbia Records, who bought out the bankrupt partner. After buying it with partners in 2004 for $3.7 million, Devine initially put it on the market for $12.5 million in late January. (The price jumped to $15.2 million last week because, as the real estate agent, Richard Klug, cryptically put it, “We were asked to raise the price to the amount of a previous appraisal.”)
Devine hired Morgan to run off the gangs, squatters, crack smokers, interlopers and curiosity seekers. “I’ve kicked out 250 people since the time I came here,” said Morgan, a surfer and a building contractor. “They jump the fence. Gangs rushed me right here.”
What did he do about the gangs? “Well, I’m armed,” Morgan said.
For all its views, it is, in the opinion of many of its neighbors, not so wonderful to look at. “It’s a big monstrosity,” said Steve Curtis, 63, a photographer who said he thought he spotted renegade Christmas parties behind its windows a few years back.
The house is about 9,800 square feet, with seven bathrooms, five bedrooms, a 200-bottle wine cellar, six-car garage, stone floors, a pool, a Jacuzzi with a view of the sunset and all that undeveloped acreage smack in the heart of urban Los Angeles. Cursed or not, it might be an opportunity for someone with a thick wallet to place his stamp on the city in a loud way.
Klug said he had inquiries from one person who “was very substantial,” though he declined to give details.
He also suggested that this was the ultimate fixer-upper. “It’s a mess,” Klug said. “They had to open all the ceilings because the city said you have to put sprinklers in. So it just looks ridiculous.”
The property listing suggests other possible fates. “All sorts of subdivision possibilities exist,” it says. “So bring your developers/contractors and clients who want something rare and unique.”
All this talk has sent quivers of concern through city officials and preservationists anxious to protect an undeveloped spot in this city, though the homeowners association in a neighborhood that likes its privacy sniffed at the idea that there was anything to worry about.
“I can’t imagine why you want to write an article about this particular house,” said Susan Mullins, the president of the Upper Nichols Canyon Neighborhood Association. “There is really nothing that we have to talk about in an article.”