The Strange Battle Over the Bob Hope Estate

The Hollywood Reporter

On Sept. 16, Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu introduced "emergency legislation" to initiate the "immediate consideration" of the massive estate once owned by Bob Hope as a historic and cultural monument. This motion was passed unanimously by the L.A. City Council and Ryu's office issued a statement trumpeting its effort to "save" this historic property. Local news outlets reported that Bob Hope's daughter, Linda, had obtained demolition permits for the property, which has been listed for years. Neighbors were concerned. A few news accounts portrayed the city as taking steps to prevent a one-of-a-kind property with deep cultural, architectural and historical value from being destroyed.

But it's not quite that simple.

Bob Hope and his wife Dolores had the house built in 1939 in the Los Angeles enclave of Toluca Lake, located in the San Fernando Valley. The original English traditional-style home was designed by noted architect Richard Finkelhor (who also designed estates for Barbara Stanwyck and Harpo Marx), and was eventually expanded to reach 15,000 square feet. In the 1950s, the 8-bedroom house was remodeled by famed Hollywood architect John Elgin Woolf - who built homes for Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Katherine Hepburn and many other stars. Numerous Hollywood legends spent time at the house -  neighbors like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby reportedly came over for intimate dinners with Hope. The rolling 5.2-acre property includes indoor and outdoor pools, formal gardens, a two-bedroom guest house, a three-hole golf course and a putting green.

The legendary entertainer died in the home at the age of 100 in 2003 and his wife passed away eight years later, and not long after that, their children decided to sell the historic property. In 2013, after a massive auction of 600 items (including a golf cart, a Picasso and a small collection of Richard Nixon books), the house was listed in 2013 for $27.5 million, but there were no takers. A number of price reductions followed. In July 2015, the main house and roughly 3 acres were relisted for $12 million, where it presently stands. (The remaining 2-plus acres and a "home office" building are listed separately for $10 million.) "When you walk the property and see the full five-plus flat acres, you don't feel like you are in L.A.," says Craig Strong, the listing agent of the estate, representing Hope's daughter, Linda. "It's pretty incredible. As a golfer, I love the par 3 hole that you can tee off from three different locations. You have to see it to appreciate it."

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Ryu offered a statement after his emergency measure passed: "We're blessed in Los Angeles to have a number of entertainers and personalities that contribute to the fabric of our diverse city. Bob Hope is one of those personalities: he is an American icon. Today's emergency legislation gives the city an opportunity to consider the Estate's historic designation status before it is demolished. It's important that the city's historic-cultural resources are celebrated and rich architecture preserved for future generations."

Though such statements (and local news reports) indicate that the home has been saved from potential demolition, the reality is more nuanced than that. The Hollywood Reporter has obtained the publicly available demolition notice that Linda Hope (and a contractor) filed with the city's Department of Building and Safety. Those documents, which were submitted on Aug. 16, only specify the demolition of a garage building, a pool house and a "production building." Both Strong and Ryu's office confirmed that no plans to demolish the main house were ever in play.

Strong asserts that everything went south after he finally had secured a buyer for the property. "The buyer only wanted to take down the detached office and garage - they were going to restore the main house and bring it all together," he says. "The closing was just two weeks away and the city didn't ask what was going on - they just acted."

Furthermore, Strong asserts that Linda was prepared to donate all of the proceeds from the sale to the charitable foundation her parents began, the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation. In 2014 that foundation disbursed more than $1 million in grants and donations to various non-profit organizations and causes. "So while we wait on the City, Linda continues to maintain the 5-plus acres and home which ultimately cuts into the proceeds that go to the charitable organizations," says Strong. "Ask the city how they feel about that."

Estevan Montemayor, Ryu's Director of Communication, office had no specific comments about the sale of the property, and instead emphasized that the councilmember merely was pushing for a brief pause, so the city could determine if some or all of the buildings at the Hope Estate are worthy of preservation due to their cultural or historical importance. "The last time an issue came up like this it was the Disney home in Las Feliz, and that took about a month to get it resolved," says Montemayor.

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Adrian Scott Fine, the director of advocacy at the Los Angeles Conservancy, says his organization, which works to preserve historic cultural and architectural resources in L.A., fully supports the effort to preserve the estate. "Bob and Dolores Hope were very involved in the expansion of their property and these accessory building might be architectural significant - that why they should be examined before anything is demolished," says Fine, who also notes that a "letter of concern" was sent to the property's original realtor (not Strong) in December 2013. "In any case, a request to destroy anything on a property like this raises a flag about what's going to happen down the road."

The matter now shifts to the five-member Cultural Historical Commission, which will survey the Toluca Lake property, offer its judgment on the designation of some or all of the estate and then submit a report to the L.A. City Counsel. The timing for this process has not been announced. A request for comment from the commission got no response.

Strong says that Linda Hope is not prepared to talk to reporters at this point - "not until she gets a better idea of what the city is doing."

Though designating the main house as a historic structure sounds logical and well-meaning, Strong believes it would make a sale extremely difficult. "The way the house was built and added on over the years, it needs to remodeled correctly or redone completely, which would be difficult if it was historic," he says. "It's not to say that someone couldn't do it but I feel that someone would want to make it their own."

Fine hopes the matter can be resolved and a "preservation-minded" buyer can be found. "This isn't about freezing a property in time," he says. "It's about being responsible about history."

In the meantime, Strong says he's still showing the house. "I am very confident that the perfect buyer for this house is out there," he says. "They just haven't seen it yet. It's not easy to find more than five acres on flat land that is so close to the studios."