Falcon Lair, the legendary former estate of Rudolph Valentino, has come on the market in Beverly Hills for $7.95 million.
The current owner says he has spent millions transforming the house since purchasing it in 1998. Renovations are still under way. From the outside, the house will look roughly the same as when Valentino had it built in the 1920s, highlighted by its Mediterranean stucco and red tile roof. But the interior is undergoing significant updating.
Whoever buys the home will have to complete the renovation. The plans for the house comprise 13,000 square feet of living space, including a main residence and three outdoor buildings, according to Christie's Great Estates, whose affiliate Hilton & Hyland of Beverly Hills has the listing.
There will be a 1,400 square-foot master suite, four guest bedrooms and a media room, along with gardens, staff quarters and an infinity pool. The property, located in the hills above Benedict Canyon, offers sweeping views of the Los Angeles skyline.
Valentino, the silent-screen film idol famous for his roles in
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
, bought the five-acre Mediterranean-style estate in 1923 and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars remodeling it to his liking, installing wrought iron doors and antiques.
"It was (Valentino's) pride and joy at the time," says Donna Hill, a film buff who runs
Rudolph-Valentino.com. "He was going through a bad time personally when he bought the house."
Valentino divorced his wife shortly after buying the home and she never occupied it. He lived in it until his death in 1926 at age 31.
Valentino bought the house for $175,000. After his death, the house was sold numerous times -- even for as little as $18,000 during the Great Depression -- says Emily Leider, author of
Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino
Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress, bought it in 1954 and filled it with antiques from her world travels. Just before Duke bought it, the famous actress Gloria Swanson lived in the home for several months at one point -- many years after her affair with Joseph Kennedy.
Duke added Renaissance-era chandeliers and a circa-1805 room that was rumored to be Napoleon's war room, according to the Christie's Great Estates website. The room is being preserved.
In 1998, several years after Duke's death, her estate sold the home to the current owner, architect Tom Blount, for $2.24 million, according to property records. He later bought an additional 2.5 acres, which was part of the original Valentino estate. Blount, 60, is the son of Wynton Blount, the departed Alabama construction magnate who founded
. The elder Blount was also postmaster general under Richard Nixon.
Tom Blount says he has already sunk $2 million of renovations into the estate, including a pool and a new addition, and put the property on the market for $7.95 million before Christmas. "What appealed to me was that it was livable," and not like the newer "McMansions" of Beverly Hills, Blount says.
"It's a unique piece of property with a spectacular view. I did a lot of historical preservation, and I've always been interested in history," says Blount, who has already moved from the property and is living in his new home/architectural project on the Amalfi Coast of Italy.
Even though Valentino is long dead, urban legend says the house is still haunted by his ghost -- which is not an unusual theory for former homes of old Hollywood stars. As the story goes, if you look at the second floor windows when passing by, you'll see Valentino taking in a view of the glowing Los Angeles skyline.