Richard Nixon's helicopter once landed on the back lawn so the president could play a round at the nearby Lakeside Golf Club. Lucille Ball and Jack Benny drank and gossiped at the holiday parties in the living room. And the homeowner, Bob Hope, tried out punch lines on his kids in the dining room.
For the first time since the long-lived entertainer built his home in a San Fernando Valley walnut grove in 1939, Hope's 5.16-acre Toluca Lake estate goes on the market Monday, at an asking price of $27.5 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The compound that Hope shared with his wife, Dolores, and their four children has a nearly 15,000-square-foot house, a golf hole, an indoor pool and a manicured rose garden. The flat, sprawling lot is unusual for the upscale neighborhood and others like it; in Toluca Lake and similar ZIP Codes in Sherman Oaks, Encino, Studio City, Bel-Air, Holmby Hills and Beverly Hills, there are only 22 properties of more than five acres that belong to a single owner, according to a property search conducted by the estate.
The comedian and movie star collected real estate and at one point was one of California's largest individual property owners, holding some 10,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley alone. But it was the house at 10346 Moorpark St. that he considered home, according to his daughter, Linda Hope, who still lives a few blocks away.
"The Moorpark house is a very special property in the Valley and something that meant a whole lot to my mother and dad," she said. "They built what for them was kind of a dream house."
The sale will mark a major change in the neighborhood that the Hopes helped to shape.
The home, which is listed with Jade Mills of Coldwell Banker and Drew Fenton of Hilton & Hyland, has grown and evolved over the years. Architect Robert Finkelhor designed the original English traditional-style main house, and in the 1950s, John Elgin Woolf renovated it in a more contemporary style, using glass to accommodate Dolores' desire to bring the expansive feeling of the grounds inside.
The Hopes left many belongings for their heirs to sort and distribute, a process that has taken years: multiple auctions of items such as Bob's golf cart and Dolores' Chinese porcelain, a sale at St. Charles Borromeo Church and a garage sale at the home that had lines stretching down Moorpark.
Another Hope home, in Palm Springs, a modernist estate that architect John Lautner designed to resemble a volcano, went on the market in February with an asking price of $50 million and has yet to find a buyer.
"Putting the Moorpark house on the market, in a way it's a light at the end of the tunnel," Linda Hope said. "It's been an occupation for two years at least. Every time we'd open a closet, we'd go, 'Ahh!' "
One amusing find, particularly given the Hopes' vast wealth, was bags of quarters — Dolores' winnings from years of playing gin rummy with actor Telly Savalas.
The six-bedroom, seven-bathroom main house has been staged for sale with contemporary furnishings, but elements of the Hopes' lifestyle dot the property, including the giant "H" in the iron entry gates.
When Bob Hope traveled, often on one of his 57 tours to entertain the U.S. military, Dolores liked to add a room or two. "When Dad came back, Mother would joke that he'd need a road map to find the bedroom," Linda Hope said.
The estate was designed around the particular needs of the Hopes, including privacy, with large trees bordering the grounds, and a 4,000-square-foot front office building for the staff that managed the Hopes' very successful businesses in radio, television, film and real estate.
The Hopes, who had met at a nightclub in New York where Dolores was singing, arrived in Los Angeles in 1937 via the Super Chief passenger train. In town for Bob's first feature film, Paramount's "The Big Broadcast of 1938," they planned to stay for a few weeks. Instead, Bob would go on to make more than 50 more movies, and they would build the home where they remained until their deaths, his at age 100 in 2003, hers at 102 in 2011.
Both avid golfers, Bob and Dolores selected the location, Linda said, because it was "basically a long driver from Lakeside." At the time, many entertainers were moving west from New York, and silent-film stars such as Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino had built their homes in the Beverly Hills area.
Toluca Lake was transitioning from agricultural to residential. The unpretentious neighborhood was one of the Valley's first bedroom communities, convenient to the nearby Disney, Warner Bros. and Universal studios lots. Hope's friend and eventual co-star Bing Crosby lived nearby on Camarillo Street, and Amelia Earhart had just plotted her final voyage from under a carob tree in her yard on Valley Spring Lane. Frank Sinatra and Roy Disney also settled in the area.
The neighborhood, which is within the city of Los Angeles, retains some of the Mayberry-esque charm the Hopes enjoyed and helped to create. They used to hand out silver dollars at Halloween, forging Toluca Lake's reputation as a destination that attracts trick-or-treaters from other neighborhoods. There is also a tiny Fourth of July parade with a brass band. And the original Bob's Big Boy, where Bob went for burgers and malts, still stands.
With a population of about 8,500 people living in a mix of single-family homes on large lots and condos in a 1.22-square-mile area, Toluca Lake has one of the lowest population densities in the city, according to a 2008 planning department estimate. Nearly 14 percent of households had incomes of more than $125,000, a figure similar to those of such areas as Sherman Oaks and Marina del Rey but far less than those of Bel-Air and Pacific Palisades.
The Moorpark house has attracted early interest from show business personalities — both actors and executives, according to Mills. "A celebrity will draw people to look," she said. "But when it comes down to really buying, someone has to want the lifestyle."
The main attraction, Mills said, will be the land, which is rare to find within the city limits.
In accordance with Dolores' wishes, there will be an unusual title restriction on the home that prevents it from being subdivided for five years. "She wanted us to find somebody that was going to love it and live in it," Linda said.
Toluca Lake has changed somewhat since the Hopes first arrived. The Tick Tock eatery on Riverside Drive, where they dined on Thursdays, is now a chain restaurant called the Counter, and a neighbor for the new owners will be Miley Cyrus.
--By Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times