There Is Gold In Them Thar Hills

Word On the Platinum Triangle real estate street is that the epic Bel Air compound of recently deceased media tycoon A. Jerrold “Jerry” Perenchio is set to hit the market an elephantine asking price of $350,000,000, making it the most expensive property available on the open market in the United States.

The 10.3-acre spread, known as Chartwell, is anchored by an imperial, limestone-faced chateau-style mansion of about 25,000-square-feet designed by architect Sumner Spaulding in the 1930s for a property developer who built it as a gift for his wife who, unfortunately for him, hated its unabashed opulence and never moved in.

the Kirkeby Mansion sits at 750 Bel Air Road, in Bel Air. (Bel Air Hillbillies just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Beverly Hillbillies.) As its name implies, the home was owned by a man named Kirkeby, Arnold Kirkeby. Originally from Chicago, Kirkeby was a hotelier who made his millions from an eponymous chain of hotels. His Kirkeby Hotels empire began in the Windy City, with the legendary Drake Hotel. He also operated luxury hotels such as the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, the Warwick in New York, and Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana.

However, Kirkeby was not the man who built the Hillbillies’ heaven.

In the 1930s, an engineer commissioned the house to be built for $2 million. Bear in mind that’s Great Depression money. That translates to about $37 million today. Atkinson presented it as a gift to his wife. That backfired. She found the home to be too opulent, and refused it. Atkinson flipped the place to Kirkeby instead.

Kirkeby rented out his home to The Beverly Hillbillies production for $500 per day. The house had previously been used in Jerry Lewis’ Cinderfella. Years after the Clampetts went off the air, the rotund rappers the Fat Boys turned up in the mansion in their comedy Disorderlies. It can also be seen in Sylvester Stallone’s arm wrestling epic, Over the Top.

The massive mansion sat empty until the 1940s when it was acquired by hotelier Arnold Kirkeby whose family hung on to the property until 1986, during which time it wasfeatured as the Clampett family’s Bevery Hills mansion on the 1960s sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies.” After it was acquired by Mister Perenchio, über-tony French decorator Henri Samuel, whose clients include members of the Vanderbilt and Rothschild families, was brought in oversee a multi-million dollar refresh of the monumental manse and a joint press release from listing brokers at Coldwell Banker Global Luxury, Hilton & Hyland and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices indicates the 18th century French Neoclassical inspired mansion includes a “ballroom, world-class wine cellar, formal salon and period-paneled dining room.”

Construction on the Kirkeby Mansion, which began in 1933 and took five years to carry out, cost a whopping $2 million – and we’re talking 1930s money!  The home was commissioned by a wealthy engineer named Lynn Atkinson.  When it was completed, the French neoclassical Beaux Arts-style property featured ten bedrooms, twelve baths, 21,523 square feet of living space, a copper roof, walnut paneling, several Baccarat chandeliers, a 150-foot waterfall, gold-plated doorknobs and bathroom fixtures, a pipe organ, an orchestra stage, an elevator that ran seventy feet below ground, underground tunnels that led from the home to the pool area, and a landing pad for autogyros (yeah, I had to look that one up, too).

Supposedly Atkinson had the place built for his wife, Berenice, as a surprise and when he first brought her there, under the ruse of attending a party, she took one look at the opulent manse and said, “Who would ever live in a house like this?  It’s so grandiose.”  Fail!  The Atkinsons never wound up living on the premises and the pad was eventually acquired by hotelier Arnold Kirkeby in 1945 for about $250,000.

The Atkinsons never wound up living on the premises and the pad was eventually acquired by hotelier Arnold Kirkeby in 1945 for about $250,000.

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There are quite a few differing reports as to how and why Kirkeby came to own the mansion, including the rumor that Atkinson owed Kirkeby capital for a gambling debt, that Kirkeby had actually bankrolled the house for Atkinson and, when funds ran out, was given the keys, and that Atkinson had lost a bundle of money that he had borrowed from Kirkeby in order to invest in floating islands during World War II.  Whatever the case may be, Arnold and his wife, Carlotta, acquired the manse in 1945 and, from that time on, the pad was known as the Kirkeby Mansion.  In a fateful decision, Arnold decided to allow The Beverly Hillbillies to film at his estate at a rate of $500 a day because he apparently thought the show would be a dud.

It ended up becoming a colossal hit, turning his house into a major tourist trap, but Arnold never lived to see that day.  He passed away in a plane crash on March 1, 1962, several months before the first episode ever aired.  Carlotta continued to live in the mansion until her death in 1986, but apparently the countless fans of the series who stalked the abode drove her crazy.  After Carlotta passed away, the residence was purchased by TV executive Jerry Perenchio for $13.7 million.  And while Jerry did spend the next five years remodeling the interior of the property (which did not appear in The Beverly Hillbillies or Cinderfella), he did NOT demolish it and the exterior was left completely intact (except for the roof area).  To deter the hoards of tourists who would stop by to stalk the mansion on a regular basis, Jerry also had the entrance gate moved to a different part of the property, rendering the place invisible from the street.

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While the Grim Cheaper and I were stalking the place, someone opened the gate and started speaking to us in a foreign language.  I have no idea what the guy was saying, but the GC proceeded to snap away with his camera anyway.  Nice work, honey!

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Sadly though, even with the gate open, the only part of the property that was visible was a long driveway and the back of some sort of guard shack.

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The exterior of the Kirkeby Mansion was featured each week on The Beverly Hillbillies in establishing shots of the Clampett residence, which was said to be located at 518 Crestview Drive in Beverly Hills.  In the second episode of the series, which was titled “Getting Settled”, the Clampetts were told that the manse was originally built for actor John Barrymore, Drew’s grandfather.

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The interior of the Clampett house was just a set, though, that was built at General Services Studios (now Hollywood Center Studios) where the series was lensed.

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The Clampett’s pool, ahem, ceee-ment pond also only existed at General Services Studios.  According to the TV Acres website, the swimming pool set was 27 inches deep, cost $20,000 to construct, and took half a day to heat for filming.

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As you can see in the aerial views below, which were featured in the Season 3 episode of The Beverly Hillbillies titled “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood”, as compared to the current aerial views from Bing, the mansion looks almost exactly the same today as it did in 1964 when the episode was filmed.  The grounds have changed a bit, although not as much as I had expected, and the gate, of course, moved, but otherwise the residence is completely recognizable as the The Beverly Hillbillies mansion.

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A poster named LifeinLA wrote a comment on a SitcomsOnline message board thread stating, “I have some good news for everyone who is wondering about the house.  I was friends with the Kirkeby family and spent much time in the house before it was sold in 1985 to Jerry Perenchio, the owner of Univision, upon the death of Mrs. Kirkeby.  Believe me, it was an amazing place.  First of all, it is still there, in it’s entirety, but no longer visible from the street.  The only thing that the new owner did was remove the beautiful, solid copper roof, which appeared blue from the oxidation (and very beautiful), and make some much needed improvements to a home that was over sixty years old when he bought it.  The kitchen was old, the bathrooms needed upgrading, the plumbing and electrical needed to be modernized.  And, of course, he did redo all of the grounds, moved the tennis court and rebuilt the pool.  He incorporated a new entrance, one that afforded more privacy, as this was always a problem for the Kirkeby family, what with such a high-profile home.  He also bought back several neighboring homes that were once part of the estate, but sold off over the years and returned the property to it’s almost ten-acre original glory.”  You can see the different roofs in the aerial views pictured below.

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The Kirkeby Mansion was also featured in the very beginning of the 1956 flick High Society as the residence where C.K. Dexter-Haven (Bing Crosby) lived.  The roofline was changed for the filming, though, via, what I am guessing, was a matte painting.

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The interior of C.K.’s house was, I believe, just a set and, as you can see below, looks nothing at all like the interior of the Clampett residence.

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In the 1960 flick Cinderfella, the Kirkeby Mansion was where Cinderfella (Jerry Lewis) lived with his Wicked Stepmother (Judith Anderson) and her two sons, Maximilian (Henry Silva) and Rupert (Robert Hutton).

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The interior of the Cinderfella mansion was also, I believe, just a set and, again, looks nothing like either the Clampett residence or C.K.’s residence from High Society.

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In the 1987 comedy Disorderlies, the Kirkeby mansion was where Winslow Lowry (Anthony Geary) lived with his ailing uncle, Albert Dennison (Pretty Woman’s Ralph Bellamy).

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Unlike the previous productions filmed at the estate, the real life interior of the Kirkeby Mansion was actually used in Disorderlies.

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The manse was also featured in 1987’s Over the Top as the home of Jason Cutler (Robert Loggia), although the front door area and balcony were changed a bit for the filming . . .

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. . . due to the fact that in one scene Lincoln Hawk (Sylvester Stallone) drives his truck into the place, destroying it.

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The interior of the manse also appeared in Over the Top and, as you can see below, the entrance hallway, tile flooring, staircase, and roped-staircase railing match perfectly to what appeared in Disorderlies.

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Some fabulous current aerial views of the Kirkeby Mansion were shown in a REP Interactive clip about the most expensive homes in the world.

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Until next time, Happy Stalking!

Stalk It: The Kirkeby Mansion from The Beverly Hillbillies television series is located at 750 Bel Air Road in Bel-Air.  The front entrance to the home is now located around the corner at 875 Nimes Road, but, sadly, no part of the property is visible from the street.

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