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Beverly Hillbillies House Builder's Strange Smog Suicide

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Unreal Estate by Michael Gross came out yesterday, dishing all the dirt on the births (and coming of ages) of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and Holmby Hills. To celebrate, we'll be sharing some of the most fun and juicy stories all this week. Here's yesterday's story about how developers tricked the UC regents into moving UCLA to Westwood.

As you can probably imagine, Unreal Estate is filled with downfalls and lonely endings, but this is one of the stranger ones. Lynn Atkinson was an engineer and public works contractor who retired in his thirties and built Bel Air's most expensive Depression-era house, at 750 Bel Air Rd. It had a ballroom with an orchestra stage, a pipe organ, six bedroom suites, a 150 foot manmade waterfall, a landing pad for autogyros, gold-plated doorknobs and hinges, and an elevator that ran seventy-five feet below the house to tunnels leading to the pool and landing pad. But he never moved in and his family only ever used the house for parties. In 1945, the house was acquired "for a mere $250,000" by Arnold S. Kirkeby, a bond dealer, developer, and hotelier with rumored mob ties who had just bought the Beverly Wilshire. Here's Gross:

It's unclear, even to his family, how [Kirkeby] came to own it. A local gossip column once claimed that Atkinson gave the house to Kirkeby in repayment of a gambling debt. Carla Kirkeby, Arnold's younger child, says her parents told her that Atkinson had run out of money to finish the house, borrowed it from Kirkeby, and, unable to pay it back, lost the house, his collateral. Her father "didn't want to take the house," she says. "He said he'd never make another loan like that." Kirkeby's son Arnold, known as Buzz, believes that the kooky Atkinson took the loan for an ill-fated wartime engineering brainstorm--floating islands he proposed to sell to the US Navy. But the war ended, the navy was no longer interested--if it ever had been--and Atkinson "handed over the keys to the house."

Understandably, he did so with a heavy heart--his daughter Doris once told Carla Kirkeby that her father moved into an apartment on Wilshire Boulevard with a view of the house and sat staring at it for hours on end through binoculars. In summer 1961, having moved again, he leapt from his twelfth-floor apartment in the Le Corbusier-inspired Park La Brea complex east of Beverly Hills. A note found near his body blamed the infamous Los Angeles smog that had exacerbated his pulmonary emphysema. "I have lived here for almost fifty years in perfect physical condition except for smog-affected lungs that make life too miserable, but if my passing shall accent a need for a change, it will have served a good purpose," wrote the sixty-six-year-old.

Meanwhile, right before Kirkeby died in 1962, he agreed to let a producer use 750 Bel Air's exterior for the Clampett house in The Beverly Hillbillies, thinking the show wouldn't last. The fans tormented his widow Carlotta for years. And one last bit about the house: Betsy Bloomingdale supposedly walked into the White House in 1975 and said "This looks just like Carlotta Kirkeby's house in Bel Air."
· The Trick That Landed UCLA in Westwood in the 1920s [Curbed LA]