The 157-acre property that sits atop Beverly Hills near its border with Beverly Crest is known as The Vineyard Beverly Hills and it's a part-time event space and a full-time trophy property, awaiting the buyer or buyers who will drop $1 billion to have it. The history of "L.A.'s last real estate trophy," as The Hollywood Reporter calls it, involves foreign royalty, Hollywood royalty, and the guy who founded Herbalife. It was his sudden death in 2000 that threw this highly desirable property into the center of multiple legal battles and left it ultimately in the hands of a guy who paid nothing for it, a convicted felon, and a mysterious foreign rich guy. We've picked out the nine weirdest, most incredible parts of its backstory:
— It could have been the site of a huge attempt to one-up Aaron Spelling. In 1987, Merv Griffin bought the property and hoped to put a 58,000-square-foot house—a number chosen specifically so that it would be larger than the biggest house in LA at the time, Aaron Spelling's roughly 56,000-square-foot mansion, The Manor.
— When the property was owned by Shams Pahlavi, the oldest sister of the last Shah of Iran, it was attacked with Molotov cocktails. Shams bought the property in 1977 (though there don't seem to be any deeds in her name), and hoped to build one big, ridiculously lavish estate. (She lived in another Bev Hills house while grading and other preparations were being done to the site.) But in 1979, when the Iranian Revolution got going, "Iranian students marched up to the princess' property and threw Molotov cocktails." Though Shams was not yet living at The Vineyard, she moved out of Beverly Hills shortly after that.
— The next owner was Herbalife founder/billionaire Mark Hughes, who bought The Vineyard for $8.5 million in 1997. He hoped to build "a 45,000-square-foot Mediterranean villa with tennis courts, a million-gallon pond and a wildlife sanctuary" for himself, his third wife, and their young son, and had budgeted $100 million to make it happen.
— But by 1999 Hughes had divorced and remarried again, and his interest in building a megamansion in Beverly Hills had waned. In 2000, he died. His son, then eight years old, was in line to inherit all Hughes's property (The Vineyard included), but not until he was 35. The Mark Hughes Family Trust was in charge of Hughes's estate, and Conrad Klein—attorney, friend of Mark Hughes, and principal trustee of Hughes's estate—got to work on trying to sell or develop or do something with The Vineyard, which at this point was still just a really nice, dusty piece of property.
— Celebs came and went in the 2000s, but never sealed the deal. Brad Pitt checked it, out but was advised that he need to make "another movie or two" before he could afford it. Tom Cruise put some money down on one of The Vineyard's parcels (total list price: $25 million) and reportedly planned to build a mansion and, on another plot, a soccer field for his kids, but at the last minute the deal fell through.
— One of the current owners of the property, Charles "Chip" Dickens, came to have control by fronting exactly zero dollars. Dickens and head trustee Conrad Klein had become close during negotiations to buy the property between some investors in Chicago that Dickens represented and the trust, which Klein represented. When things with the investors deteriorated, Dickens decided that he'd propose the wacky idea that Klein sell him the land in exchange for helping settle up some entitlement mapping that was on deadline. "Klein agreed to give Dickens an option to buy the land for $23.75 million in cash," provided Dickens finish the work before time was up, but shortly after that the sale turned into a "seller-financed purchase," where the trust lent Dickens the money.
— Dickens did meet that deadline to complete the tract map and once he did, "Offers started flooding in," starting at $34 million and going up quickly. They received an offer for more than $100 million, but Dickens says Klein turned it down because he felt "If [the buyer will] pay $103 million, he'll pay $107 million."
— The other two owners are a mystery member of a royal family and a convict. The relationship between Klein and Dickens went back and forth between good and unworkable (lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits), driving Dickens, who still had control of the land, to find a partner with the money he badly needed. That led him to team up with convicted felon Victorino Noval and an unnamed Middle Eastern royal who "enjoys a good meal."
— Trying to drum up attention (and $1-billion offers to buy the land), Dickens and Noval turned The Vineyard into a high-end event space. Their first event, for a charity started by Charlize Theron, was "a chaotic mess" where the food was bad and the portable toilets ran out of toilet paper. Famous people keep having events there, though, so presumably they've ironed out the kinks.
· Beverly Hills' $1 Billion "Vineyard": The Bizarre Saga Behind L.A.'s Last Real Estate Trophy [THR]
· Bev Crest "Vineyard" Will Not Entertain Offers Under $1 Billion [Curbed LA]