With $195 Million Ask, A Storied Bel-Air Estate Becomes One of America’s Priciest Homes

With $195 Million Ask, A Storied Bel-Air Estate Becomes One of America’s Priciest Homes

  • Wall Street Journal
  • 11/22/23

It is one of the most significant estates in Los Angeles. Built in the 1930s, the roughly 8.5-acre Casa Encantada in Bel-Air has twice set a record as the most expensive private home ever sold in the U.S., first in 1980 and then again in 2000. The current U.S. record for a residential sale of roughly $240 million was set in 2019 when hedge-fund titan Ken Griffin bought a penthouse on New York’s Billionaires’ Row.

Now with an ask of $195 Million, Casa Encantada shares the title of most expensive home for sale in the U.S. with an oceanfront Malibu mansion designed by Robert A.M. Stern and a three-story penthouse in Midtown Manhattan.

Casa Encantada, which spans about 40,000 square feet, is one of a small collection of trophy L.A. estates dating back roughly a century and has a pedigree to match, with former owners including hotelier Conrad Hilton and Dole Food billionaire David Murdock. The listing is held by Drew Fenton of Carolwood Estates.

Billionaire financier Gary Winnick, who recently passed away at the age of 76, previously stated that he saw the house like a Jackson Pollock or a Pablo Picasso. “To me, this is a work of art, and I have been its steward," he said.

The estate, which juts out over the Bel Air Country Club golf course with no neighbors on either side, was built in the 1930s for a wealthy widow named Hilda Boldt Weber, a onetime New York City hospital nurse who married multimillionaire Cincinnati glass manufacturer Charles Boldt, according to the book “The Legendary Estates of Beverly Hills.” Boldt fell in love with the nurse while recovering from a heart attack after the death of his wife, but when his new wife was shunned by high society in Cincinnati because of her modest roots, the pair relocated to California, according to the book. When Boldt died in 1929, he left Weber his extensive fortune.

Hilda Boldt Weber bought the Bel-Air land for $100,000 in 1934, an “astonishing sum” amid the Depression. “She wanted to make a major statement and assume what she considered to be her rightful place in Los Angeles society,” the book states. “That required a magnificent new estate.”

It was completed in 1938 and Weber celebrated by hosting a cocktail party, followed by dinner and dancing. “Guests had never seen anything quite like Casa Encantada,” the book said.

A gate on Bellagio Road opened onto a gently rising, curved driveway, past impressive lawns on either side, all the way to a motor court with a fountain. The entrance to the home sat beneath a neoclassical portico. There were 40 rooms, including three kitchens, or 60 if you included the servants’ quarters and the walk-in silver, fur and wine vaults in the basement. The interior finishes also awed visitors. There were rooms paneled in rare woods like English sycamore and black walnut and furnished with 18th-century French paintings, antique clocks and centuries-old Chinese porcelains. A silver tea service had been made for the czar of Russia in the 1800s.

Weber put the property on the market in 1948, when she began facing financial difficulties. It eventually sold two years later to the hotel magnate Conrad Hilton for $225,000. Hilton lived there until his death in 1979 and made practically no changes, preferring to keep it as “an extraordinary time capsule of high-style 1940s taste,” the book said.

Murdock paid $12.4 million for the house in 1980 after Hilton’s death. Then in 2000, Winnick bought it for $94 million. Both the Murdock and Winnick purchases set records as the most expensive homes ever sold in the country at the time, according to the book. (Weber, for her part, fell into financial ruin, thanks in part to a gambling problem. In 1951, she died by suicide at her home in Santa Barbara.)

Winnick said he first visited the property in 1988 for a fundraiser luncheon hosted by Murdock for President George H.W. Bush. Driving through the gates and onto the property, he was taken aback that an estate of such scale existed in L.A. It reminded him, he said, of the grand estates on the Gold Coast of New York’s Long Island, where he grew up. With such a big crowd at the fundraiser, he didn’t get a proper look at the interior details. “I never thought that 10 years later, I would buy it,” he said.

It was only when Murdock invited him back about a decade later, with the implicit intention of selling it to him, that he really got a good look. The property is so large that he was physically tired after the full tour, including the garden, he said.  

Winnick told Murdock that, if he really wanted to sell, he needed to make up his mind, since Winnick and his wife were about to start construction on a new house nearby.

For the Winnicks, the move to Casa Encantada represented a dramatic change in lifestyle: They had spent 20 years living in a roughly 4,500-square-foot home in Brentwood, near their children’s school. Though they could afford a lot more, they preferred to remain there until their sons graduated, Winnick said.

Winnick is a financier and philanthropist. He was the founder and chairman of Global Crossing, which built a fiber-optic cable network across the world. Previously, he worked on Wall Street, specializing in high-yield and convertible bonds.

At the time of the purchase, Winnick said he didn’t know the extent of the restoration they would end up doing. “I came to appreciate the craftsmanship and workmanship in the house,” he said.

“This isn’t the kind of house where you can just call up a regular decorator and say, ‘Come decorate my house.’ It is a totally different mind-set,” he said.

The restoration and design work, headed by interior designer Peter Marino, took about 2.5 years, with roughly 250 workers on site each day, Winnick said. When the couple wanted to redo the intricate plasterwork, there were only three people in the Western states who were qualified and they had just finished doing the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Winnick said. They worked at the house for a year and a half.

The couple also tapped eight Parisian artisans to redo the walls of the dining room, the center of the family’s frequent gatherings, in a Japanese-inspired lacquer finish. It took 14 coats of paint and was polished by hand over many months, Winnick said.

After Murdock bought the house from the Hilton estate, he sold all the original furniture by the British-born furniture designer T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings.  Winnick asked Marino to try to track some of it down and they found and bought back about a dozen pieces.

The Winnicks also installed all new systems, like heating and cooling, plumbing and electrical. In all, the restoration cost in the tens of millions of dollars, he said.

Winnick has filled the house with pieces of his extensive art collection, which has works by classical French impressionists as well as modern artists like Cy Twombly and Edward Hopper. In the living room, his friend the late Stephen Sondheim once played a rare piano by Blüthner that dates back to pre-World War II, Winnick said. A portrait of George Washington in the wood-paneled study was commissioned by Benjamin Franklin.

Casa Encantada requires a team of staffers, Winnick said, particularly to care for the grounds, which include a number of silk trees. The trees draw parakeets at certain times of the year, he said, while a tunnel runs under the property connecting two holes of the golf course.

There are few estates with which Casa Encantada could be compared. Chartwell, the L.A. estate long owned by billionaire Univision Chairman Jerry Perenchio, which sold for $150 million in 2019 to Lachlan Murdoch, co-chairman of News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal and the Warner estate, a Beverly Hills mansion purchased by Jeff Bezos from David Geffen for $165 million in 2020 are two considerations.

Big-ticket deals haven’t stopped in Los Angeles. Recently, entertainers Beyoncé and Jay-Z paid approximately $200 million for a Malibu estate by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

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