Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles

Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles

4.0 17
by Michael Gross

Michael Gross is the preeminent chronicler of America’s rich and powerful, most recently in 740 Park and Rogues’ Gallery.Now, he goes west to uncover the very secret history of Los Angeles, specifically those wealthiest and most private of enclaves— Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Holmby Hills, and Beverly Park—through

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Michael Gross is the preeminent chronicler of America’s rich and powerful, most recently in 740 Park and Rogues’ Gallery.Now, he goes west to uncover the very secret history of Los Angeles, specifically those wealthiest and most private of enclaves— Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Holmby Hills, and Beverly Park—through their most mind-boggling estates, and the fascinating, fabulous folks who created and populate them. 
            Gross begins his epic tale with the sordid mob-driven history of the newest mega-mansion district in L.A., Beverly Park, (home to among others Magic Johnson, Barry Bonds, Rod Stewart, Mark Wahlberg, Reba McIntyre, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Samuel L. Jackson, Sly Stallone, Richard Zanuck, and relatives of an Indonesian dictator and Saudi Arabia’s king). He then flashes back to the creation of this fabled district, built on dusty lima bean fields and carved out of the rugged impassible mountains between the city and the sea. Using the century-long evolution from adobe huts to $100 million mansions as the baseline of the story, he reveals how a few powerful and often ruthless oil and railroad magnates imposed their idyllic vision of the good life on the Los Angeles landscape to create the legendary communities known as the Platinum Triangle.
            Gross goes on to give vivid, riveting accounts of the most lavish of the many lavish houses that started springing up almost immediately (with only a brief slowdown during the Depression). But the stories of these homes are just a window onto the lives of their owners and occupants over the course of the twentieth century, and onto the bigger story of a people and a storied region that have become, in Gross’s words, “the Mecca of self-invention.”
            As one might imagine, there is a truly glittering cast of characters. Apart from the many Hollywood stars who have passed through these houses—Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Harold Lloyd, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, George Hamilton, Tony Curtis, Cher, to name just a few—you will meet decadent Spanish land-grant families, desperado oilmen and railroad titans, the country’s first all-powerful corporate legends, con men and pyramid schemers, porn magnates, and Arab potentates, not to mention contemporary tabloid luminaries from the worlds of business and entertainment. Taken altogether, their stories read like a cross between Valley of the Dolls, Hollywood Babylon, and Gross’s own 740 Park—with a little of the film Chinatown thrown in too. 
            Los Angeles provides Michael Gross with his broadest canvas yet; Unreal Estate will surprise, fascinate, and most of all entertain you with a story you don’t know about a place you think you do. 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gross (Rogues’ Gallery) offers a cultural history of wealth in his study of the moguls and mafiosi who developed Bel Air, Beverly Hills, and other ritzy neighborhoods of Los Angeles—with a special focus on the houses they built. The aptly named Greystone (otherwise known as Wayne Manor), for example, was built by a prospector turned oilman, Edward Doheny, and finished in 1928. Greystone housed the Doheny family until the tragic death of son Ned and his friend Hugh Plunkett in what some supposed was a lover’s duel. After the family moved out, Greystone lived on: the makers of There Will Be Blood, based loosely on the life of Edward Doheny, filmed in the basement bowling alley, “which boasted the requisite Prohibition-be-damned bar.” Gross writes with an aficionado’s zeal yet chooses facts selectively for their service to the story. It may take a chapter or two to adjust to a book in which the characters, however memorable, come and go, but the landscape remains the same. However, that’s the point: these houses, totems of wealth and status, inhabited for a season when their inhabitants were flush, are the real characters and mainstays of La La Land. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
Location, location, location. Gross (Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum, 2009, etc.) presents a history of Los Angeles land development that is rich in incident and full of thwarted ambition, visionary zeal and conspicuous consumption. The book will appeal mainly to those who first turn to the real-estate section of the newspaper, those armchair moguls who salivate at the specs of sumptuous mansions and impossibly tony addresses. The author is generous with salacious gossip about such families as the Bells, the Greens and the Jansses, socially ambitious builders who forged such exclusive havens for the rich as Bel Air and Beverly Hills and whose family histories are rife with alcoholism, bitter infighting, sex scandals and suicide. This being L.A., there are also accounts of the housing adventures of movie stars such as Harold Lloyd, whose pleasure palace Greenacres, with its opulent screening room, tennis courts and bowling alley, stands as a monument to fun--a welcome respite from the unlovely status-driven mania of much of the book's sprawling cast. Gross has clearly done his research, and many anecdotes--such as the extremes taken by the owners of the manse seen in the opening credits of the Beverly Hillbillies to shield their property from invasive tourists--have a comic snap that enliven the proceedings. In addition, there is schadenfreude to be found in the accounts of overreaching billionaires and scandal-rocked social-register types. However, the endless tallying of who sold what to whom for how much becomes wearying, and a gradual feeling of disgust at so much money and ego run amok is difficult to avoid. A juicy, breezily told social history of La La Land, deal by deal.
From the Publisher
Unreal Estate . . . might be best described as what would happen if Us Weekly and Architectural Digest had a love child that was much smarter than either. The book provides a panorama of what was going on inside some of the most frivolous, gated houses on a hill that have ever existed.” -Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times

Unreal Estate has it all: movie stars, murders, strippers, pimps, playboys and Mafiosi alongside the founding members of Los Angeles society . . . The book is a great read." -New York Social Diary

"Murderers, lawyers, actors, pornographers, tycoons, and addicts . . . Fantasy and ambition, cheating and careless waste . . . Gross's research is meticulous. Hard to read. Harder to put down." -Los Angeles Magazine

“A juicy, breezily told social history of La La Land . . .” -Kirkus 

“A gripping picture of what made Los Angeles what it is today...In Unreal Estate, [Michael Gross] takes on the Western Frontier like a modern day cowboy — seeking, searching and taking no prisoners.” -Lucy Blodgett, The Huffington Post

"Juicy cocktail-party anecdotes . . . fill Unreal Estate." -Details

"Scandal filled" -Degen Pener, The Hollywood Reporter

"Juicy" -Curbed

"Gross writes with an aficionado’s zeal . . ." -Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.52(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Michael Gross is the best-selling author of 740 Park: The Story of the World's Richest Apartment Building, Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Lust, Lies, Greed and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women and other books. A Contributing Editor of Travel + Leisure he has also written for major publications around the world, including The New York Times, Vanity Fair, New York, Esquire and GQ. He lives in New York City.

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