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As a longtime L.A. resident and journalist who covers entertainment, real estate and lifestyle, I’ve been inside many of the finest and most prestigious homes ever built in Southern California. Yet I was absolutely overwhelmed when I drove through the gates of Artemesia, the largest Craftsman style residence in the entire U.S.A. Dare I say it’s also the most beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills? [Yahoo Real Estate editor’s note: We do dare! But please, readers, tell us what you think in the comments.]
I am absolutely gobsmacked that it hasn’t been snatched up by now. It’s been on the market for almost four years, and at a price that would shame most Bel Air or Beverly Hills estates of equal size: $9,995,000.
That may sound pricey to some, but when you consider this property is unrivaled anywhere else in the world, you begin to understand its worth. The meticulously restored main residence measures 13,290 square feet, and overlooks its own canyon on a nearly 2-acre lot with abundant native California flora and fauna. In fact, when I visited Artemesia, I was startled to glance out and see a doe and her fawn looking right back at me, not more than five feet away.
The residence is perched on a hillside, overlooking the shimmering lights of Hollywood – the glamour without the gauche. And speaking of glamour, if you lived at Artemesia, you would actually look down on the Hollywood Hills home of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Although theirs could also be described as a Craftsman, it doesn’t hold a candle to Artemesia.
Owner Leonard Fenton bought the property almost 30 years ago, when he was in his 20s and was professionally involved in advertising and marketing.
“It didn’t look like this,” he recalls. “It was dark and shabby, and the shakes had deteriorated. But it reminded me of a ski lodge I’d seen in Norway, and once I opened the 5-foot-wide front door, I decided to buy it.”
He then began the painstaking process of what he calls “the perfect restoration.”
To him, that would involve “a restoration that preserved what was valuable from the past in museum-quality.” It was impossible for him to find an affordable contractor who had the skill and commitment to accomplish what he had in mind, so he took this massive labor of love upon himself.
“I was young and dumb, and I didn’t know how hard it would be. But when I could have spent my time on a beach, or my money on a bass boat or flashy electronics, I put it all into this nearly impossible 30-year quest to perfect this giant house,” he says with pride that I found poignant.
The result is a unique treasure. He left intact and made fully functional the Murray Harris organ, reported to be the world’s second-largest residential pipe organ. Its pipes and accouterments span three stories and several rooms.
Fenton also restored the many leaded glass skylights and windows. He cleaned and renewed the beautifully colored tiles on the home’s six Batchelder fireplaces. He refitted the five charming Murphy beds outside on the sleeping porch, rather than enclosing them in an additional room.
The sweeping porches that span the front of the home were also major projects. And these are but a few of the touches that make this eight-bedroom, seven-bath house so extraordinary.
But Fenton also spared no expense on the updates that would bring the home into the 21st century. The large gourmet kitchen has new appliances and finishes, while the hardware and cabinetry retain their original charm.
There is also a modern HVAC system, and the home is completely wired and secured with high-tech systems. All the comforts of a modern home are there, they’re just not visible, hidden behind original surfaces.
Interestingly enough, some of Artemesia’s features that seem environmentally and even technologically current were built in 1913, by original developer Frederick Engstrum, the construction magnate responsible for downtown Los Angeles’ Rosslyn Hotel.
Original green features include a rainwater collection system that supplies bathroom showers and then recycles the graywater through the garden. Engstrum also installed a tankless water heating system, an electric intercom system and a central vacuum system, all of which Fenton updated and restored.
So why, I can’t help but wonder, hasn’t this historic masterpiece sold, when gilt and marble-encrusted white-columned homes in the same price range seem to fly on and off the market every week?
“Many people in this segment of the real estate market don’t understand this property,” says Fenton. “They want the typical Mediterranean Revival home in the Beverly Hills Flats with a big green lawn in front and a pool in back.”
He also says others can’t comprehend that all the work has already been done. “It’s as solid as a sailing ship now,” he says, and surprisingly low maintenance. Since there are no formal gardens to tend, it only takes one resourceful employee to maintain the place, both inside and out, according to Fenton.
He says it’s also a challenge for some buyers to consider living east of Interstate 101, in Los Angeles’ Los Feliz area. Even though Artemesia is about five minutes away from the Sunset Strip, and close to production studios such as Paramount and Raleigh, it feels more like it’s in the European countryside, and is protected by not one, but two gates.
Fenton says he’s had plenty of lookers, including celebrities like actress Denise Richards, musician Adam Levine of Maroon 5, and actress/model/heiress Lydia Hearst, as well as some members of the Rothschild family – and famed art collector and publisher Benedikt Taschen, who both entered and exited escrow recently. Artemesia would have been an interesting contrast with another L.A. house Taschen owns, the UFO-like Chemosphere.
If I had a spare $10 million in the bank I’d buy Artemesia in a heartbeat. I’d make the spacious guest house with the dazzling roof deck into a studio for my husband. I’d have slumber parties for my nieces and nephews on the sleeping porch with those fun Murphy beds, and in the morning we’d build forts and treehouses outside. I’d throw fabulous fundraisers and wedding celebrations in the 2,000-square-foot ballroom downstairs, where I’d also host international guests at Olympic galas and gatherings—I’m optimistic I’ll be helping L.A. plan the Games in the near future.
I’m hoping, however, that someone who shares my vision will come along before I’m able to scrape together the funds. I know the right buyers will be blissfully happy there, and I’m angling for them to invite me to their first housewarming party.
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