Only on Malibu’s Billionaire’s Beach is a midcentury house with an illustrious history virtually worthless, while the sand it sits on is worth millions.
Casa Larronde is one of the original homes there – dating to long before the strip earned the nickname of Billionaire’s Beach for residents like David Geffen and Larry Ellison – and is thought to be one of just three or so still standing. When a for-sale sign went up recently for the first time ever, asking $13.25 million, the only legitimate lookers were developers, who intend to cheerfully level the 1950s time capsule to build a lavish seaside villa twice its size.
Step into this midcentury modern classic and you step back in time. You can almost hear consummate hostess Charlou Larronde hurrying down the hall, welcoming you with a frothy, umbrella-topped cocktail in hand.
Back in the day, Charlou, as everyone called her, was the founding member of the “Malibu Martini and Surfing Society.” It held frequent meetings on the roof or the beach deck of her home, bordered by the Pacific Coast Highway in front and the Pacific Ocean in the back. In between is roughly 4,000 square feet of intact period architecture and design.
Charlou and her husband, Jimmy, bought a lonely lot with 60 feet of beach frontage back in 1952. Then they hired architect Alfred Gilman, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, to create the home where they would raise three daughters and entertain their myriad friends and family members in the style only Charlou could pull off.
“They used to sit on the roof and call out to people on PCH, inviting them up for a drink,” says Sotheby’s listing agent Cathie Messina, who is a good friend of the family and grew up attending their famous bashes. Messina showed Yahoo Real Estate around the place.
Today, residents of what has become one of the most coveted strips of land in Southern California would most definitely not be pleased by that “Come one, come all!” attitude. The efforts of the local rich and cranky to keep the public off “their” sand have been well documented.
Uber-rich celebrities and tycoons who have lived within cup-of-sugar-borrowing distance of Charlou include Geffen, Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, Paul Allen of Microsoft, and Oracle founder Ellison, who reportedly owns several homes on this shimmering strand. Needless to say, these neighbors jealously guard their privacy.
But privacy was not an issue back in the days when Charlou and her family were among the few residents on what is officially known as Carbon Beach, just south of the Malibu Pier. In fact, Charlou used her house as a bed-and-breakfast for a time – her most famous guest being John Travolta, who stayed there for three months in 1977, the year “Saturday Night Fever” came out.
What, other than Charlou’s infectious personality and its beach location, made the house so special? A strong case could be made for what was then cutting-edge architecture and design, most of which still remains. With its modern, light wood details, interesting angles, and smooth, clean finishes, this place epitomized the now ubiquitous Scandinavian-inspired style before IKEA was IKEA.
We found typical low beamed ceilings and light paneled walls throughout, with clever shelves, cupboards and other storage spaces hidden behind almost every panel. Although the kitchen has been updated, the original, invisible appliance garages are still there.
You won’t see any doorknobs in Casa Larronde’s main hallway, as they would interfere with the flow of the walls. Instead you press on a strategic panel to access certain bedrooms. Messina says she frequently saw guests patting the walls, trying to figure out just where to enter a room.
Among the most distinguishing features of the home are the mature trees and plants that grow inside. (Remember when an indoor terrarium was all the rage?) There are a couple in Casa Larronde, one with foliage two stories high near the floating staircase. The other tree, planted in the outdoor patio before it was covered, now dominates the ceiling of the space that has become a large unpermitted great room.
“Although the architecture and design are very thoughtful and every space is well utilized and well crafted, it’s sad to say that the real value of the property is in the investment,” said a Malibu real estate expert we know (but preferred not to be named) who at one time lived right across the street from Casa Larronde. “There’s room here to double the size of the residence, and easily double the value of the property. That 60 feet of beachfront is priceless, and unparalleled anywhere else in Malibu.”
The official listing says Casa Larronde has four bedrooms and 4.5 baths in 3,057 square feet, but that doesn’t include the enclosed great room and the expansive covered decks that run the length of the house on two levels. The lot measures 11,434 square feet.
Charlou’s three grown daughters are confident they will get their $13.25 million asking price.
Charlou happily resided there until her death in February at the age of 94. She would have loved the big goodbye bash her family threw at the house over Labor Day weekend, marking the end of an era.
Time moves on and houses, especially when they’re on the beach, wither and grow old. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that this 63-year-old house is living on borrowed time. But honestly, without the magnificent Charlou presiding over it, it probably wouldn’t be the same anyway.
(All photos by Skyviewpix / Rick Alexander)
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