Hello Hollywood: House Hunting in L.A. for a Family of Nine New Yorkers

Hello Hollywood: House Hunting in L.A. for a Family of Nine New Yorkers

Robert Novogratz
Mar 23, 2016
Our new home in the Hollywood Hills
(Image credit: Courtesy Robert Novogratz)

Our first big decision when we moved to L.A. was obviously where to live. We loved the beach and we loved Hollywood, but only knew the areas as tourists, and had to quickly decide what worked best for our family. With seven kids we needed a good-sized home and parking. We all craved a yard and wanted to be within walking distance of the city life.

The new house's interior "before"
(Image credit: Courtesy The Novogratz)

L.A. has so many great places to live. Silver Lake and Echo Park are exciting and eccentric. If we were younger and only had two kids, we'd be there. We fell in love with the beach lifestyle of Venice, but none of us are really good surfers. Malibu is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, but it's too far from the city. We were intrigued by Downtown Los Angeles, as it's clearly booming, but we had just left the greatest urban city in the world, so it made no sense to move to another downtown area. We thought about Hancock Park, which is lovely for families, but it's almost too nice for a crazy group like us. We considered buying a house in the Bird Streets neighborhood where Hollywood meets Beverly Hills, but the prices were high and things didn't seem like they were on the move there.

We migrated to where many of the families in L.A. go: West Hollywood. We figured we would rent a place in the area and look for something in that vicinity. We researched Hollywood pretty thoroughly and naturally, we loved its history. One area that definitely felt alive was the neighborhood near the Chateau Marmont, one of the coolest hotels in America. Built in the 1920s, it has alluring architectural beauty and a wild history as a hideout for the Hollywood elite. Sadly, most people remember the Chateau as the place where John Belushi died in Bungalow 3 in the early eighties. Despite its dark Hollywood past, it's a place where artists, fashionistas, music folks, and of course New Yorkers, tend to migrate. We weren't an exception.

We loved the neighborhood surrounding it because it has the pace and constant activity of New York that we so miss. We were able to walk to some of our favorite places: the Chateau, Dan Tana's, Eveleigh, Mauro's, and Pink Taco. Mind you, we're one of the only families of nine you'll see walking down the street, but that's the way we roll. Plus, it's near a lot of the great mom and pop design and antique shops on Melrose and Beverly, as well as the Pacific Design Center. After being in New York for 25 years, Cortney didn't want to be in the suburbs. We weren't ready to cut off the umbilical cord completely, so Hollywood felt like a nice compromise.

Once we'd decided to rent a place in Hollywood, our search to find a home to buy began. We were looking for a fixer upper—something of historical value with a flat yard (nearly impossible in that area) that was close to the city, but still gave our family privacy. We also needed plenty of parking since we have employees working in the house and people always coming and going (not to mention that parking is the only thing in L.A. that's worse than the traffic). Views were on the wish list, but at the very bottom—we knew views would be a bonus.

We looked at 40-50 places all over Hollywood with several brokers. After months of looking, a young broker named Dan Dill found an amazing house three blocks up from Chateau Marmont, and just a block up from our rental. It’s a beautiful part of L.A. that sits above the rest of the city, with views of Downtown L.A. that stretch all the way to Catalina Island. You feel like you’re far away from the city, tucked in the beautifully historical neighborhood of old Los Angeles. Divided up in regions of East and West, the Hollywood Hills are made up of neighborhoods like Beachwood Canyon, Laurel Canyon, Nichols Canyon, Mount Olympus and Sunset Hills, just to name a few. Each neighborhood has its own Hollywood glamour story, dense with history and rich in Los Angeles culture. The endless maze of streets throughout provides people with a sense of solitude and seclusion despite being only minutes away from the vast city below, brimming with light and California culture.

The house itself was a 1926 castle-looking house built by a silent screen star, which only had two previous owners. The most recent owner had lived in the house for the last 40 years. It had been on the market for a few years and through a few price reductions. It was a little wonky—it's big with winding, closed-off rooms. The house had six different hardwood schemes throughout; it was clear that renovations had happened in different decades and by different designers and architects. The rooms were musty. Walls had several layers of wallpaper, and the exterior had about eight layers of stucco. The house also wasn't that private; the property had a short fence and all of the neighbors could see into the backyard. On top of it all, we also saw the house on the hottest day of the year; it was at least 100 degrees. Yet the views were incredible and we saw the potential. Coming from New York, it was thrilling to find a home where we could all spread out and enjoy the outdoors. It was love at first sight.

A couple of other serious buyers wanted to knock the house down and turn it into yet another McMansion, but we were determined to preserve it. In a city that's ever-changing, it's so important to have reminders of the past. In our eyes, the castle was a treasure, and we wanted to do it justice by renovating it properly.

You're always going to sacrifice something on your wishlist, no matter the budget, so prioritize your needs, not wants, from the get-go. Location was obviously our number one priority. In New York, we bought on the outside of SoHo right as the SoHo Grand was starting to come up twenty years ago. We were one of the first to buy in Chelsea in the '90s, never knowing what luck we would strike. When we came to L.A. and experienced the Hollywood Hills, we had a feeling it would be the next big neighborhood, if others were as interested in restoring the beauty and preserving the history of old homes as we are.

Stay tuned as we take you through the renovation process and check out our top ten tips for smart house hunting and our web series about our designing our new home.

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