In the 1950 s, Hollywood decamped to the desert bankrolling the worlds most daring modernist designers to generate ever more experimental boltholes. Welcome to a world of Martian landing pads, clifftop Bond lairs and Flintstones sofas
After your name is checked at the electric gate by a security guard, a private road results you up into the barren, rocky hills above Palm Springs, past high-walled compounds and their secluded, sparkling pools, until you reach a lush green outcrop where a gigantic cement bird appears to have come in to land.
Its curving wings billow out above the driveway, before swooping down over a waterfall and flaring out again above a patio, large enough to seat 300 people for dinner. The concrete canopy rises to a great dome, pierced by a central oculus that frames a circle of deep blue California sky. From inside this voluminous tent, it feels like seeming up at the gaping mouth of a volcano.
If the Martians ever come to Earth, told American comedian Bob Hope, who commissioned this sprawling mansion in the 1970 s, at the least they will know where to land.
The 25,000 sq ft home, replete with six bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, two swimming pool and its own putting green, is more lavish vision ever concocted by architect John Lautner, the supreme conjuror of theatrical hideaways for the stars. Not that Lautner himself ever wanted to be associated with it. He fell out with the client after Hopes wife, Dolores, decided that his dramatic cement volumes didnt quite chime with her own chintzy savors. She commissioned an interior designer to line the bedrooms with garish floral wallpaper, encompass the floor-to-ceiling windows with New England-style wooden shutters, and fit the bathrooms with gold taps and chandeliers.
It might be part of the reason that the estate agents are having such a hard time shifting it. The Hope Estate has now been on the market for three years, its asking price slashed in half, from $50 m to $25 m.
As far as livability goes, Lautner wasnt great, tells Stewart Smith, the realtor tasked with ensnaring an ultra-high net worth purchaser preferably one who doesnt suffer from agoraphobia. Before major alterations in the 90 s, it took an age to reaching the front door from most parts of the house, while kitchen personnel had to go outside and along a circuitous ramp to reach the dining room. It is a fantastic place for entertaining, he adds, showing a video on his telephone of the Louis Vuitton fashion show is to be held recently. But the pool of people looking for a second home of this size in a resort town isnt huge.
Its likely to go to a collector one who now has the rare chance of snapping up another spectacular Lautner house right next door, a snip at $10 m. If the Hope house is the Martian landing pad, then the Elrod House, built in 1968, is the UFO itself. Famously featured as a Bond rogues lair in Diamonds Are Forever, where Sean Connery gets an acrobatic beating from bikini-clad henchgirls Bambi and Thumper, it was the result of flamboyant interior designer Arthur Elrod telling Lautner: Dedicate me what you think I should have. The slick home of a baddie plotting to destroy the world with a space laser was obviously the answer. A 20 -metre diameter concrete disc floats above the main living space, opening out on to the obligatory pool, its radial openings devoting it the look of a vast propeller, as if the whole home might lift off at any moment.