Tucked away in Beverly Hills, the secluded neighborhood of Benedict Canyon is home to the sprawling estates of Jay Leno, Bruce Springsteen, and David Beckham, as well as moguls David Geffen and Ron Burkle. But when a mysterious Saudi prince announced plans to build a big spread of his own—85,000-square-feet big, complete with servants’ quarters and a private “sons’ villa”—the claws came out. Led by Martha Karsh, the hard-charging wife of a billionaire investor, the neighbors have hired a team of lawyers and launched a publicity blitzkrieg to stop construction. Michael Shnayerson documents the real-estate war galvanizing this once quiet Los Angeles enclave.
It’s a tiny, tree-shaded cul-de-sac, so tucked away in Benedict Canyon that few in this steep-sided haven of Los Angeles’s wealthy and famous ever noticed it until recently. But around the first and only curve of Tower Lane stand the high, wrought-iron gates of a 5.25-acre estate that has become the talk of Beverly Hills. The gates are padlocked, clearly little used, the irises of their Art Nouveau grillwork seeming to droop from old stone pillars in Transylvanian gloom. One bright September morning, a giant of a workman fiddles with the lock and the gates swing open with a groan.
Inside, a narrow gravel driveway climbs in switchbacks up an untended hillside, past an ancient tennis court, past some rough-hewn horse stables and then a crumbling red-brick patio and grotto-style pool. At the top of the property once stood the 17-room Spanish Colonial home of celebrated movie director King Vidor (The Fountainhead; War and Peace). Now the house is gone, and only a clearing remains. Hillside land, with a view of the distant Pacific—that’s what a Saudi prince paid $12 million for in November 2009. That and architectural plans for a new house to be built there.
Those plans, which grew more expansive after the prince bought the property, are what have so many of his new neighbors up in arms. Hundreds have come to meetings. More than 1,100 have signed a petition to express their objections. The neighbors have hired top L.A. lawyers to challenge every detail and step of the process. The prince has hired top L.A. lawyers of his own. There hasn’t been a real-estate standoff like this in the canyon since the early 1990s, when financier Robert Manoukian, then a close associate of the Sultan of Brunei, tried to ram through a 59,000-square-foot compound on nearby Tower Road. Manoukian found out how powerful his new neighbors were: he never did build that house. The new owner on Tower Lane has learned the same lesson, though who will win this latest war is by no means clear.
FIXER-UPPER Clockwise from left: a partially built patio; the Art Nouveau gates leading into the property; the lot's view of Los Angeles; the equestrian center built by the previous owner, producer Jon Peters., By Kacper Pempel/Reuters.
The view from the property is telling. To the left is the new, bright-white contemporary home of former C.A.A. head and former Disney president Mike Ovitz: three oblong boxes, including one that seems to hover in the air. Ovitz had his own problems getting his 28,000-square-foot dream house approved, but he prevailed, and now presides as director of his own home museum, conducting 10 or 12 tours a week through rooms filled with paintings by Picasso, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning, among others. Just beyond is Greenacres, the old Harold Lloyd estate now occupied by financier Ron Burkle. And virtually next to Burkle’s place is music mogul David Geffen’s. It’s an amusing tableau to Hollywood insiders, since all three—Ovitz, Burkle, and Geffen—are known for their titanic egos and acrimonious disputes.
Directly below the prince’s property is rock king Bruce Springsteen’s deceptively overgrown L.A. estate. If all the construction planned were to cause a mudslide, Springsteen’s spread is where that mud would go. East of the prince’s land, two blocks over, on Tower Road, is talk-show host Jay Leno’s home. Also nearby, close enough to be impacted by years of trucks and construction on the neighborhood’s narrow, twisting streets, are actress Lisa Kudrow, soccer star David Beckham and his wife, Victoria, and Kiss front man Gene Simmons.
UNWELCOME WAGON Martha Karsh, who is heading the Benedict Canyon residents' campaign against the prince’s home, with her husband, Bruce, 56, the co-founder of investment group Oaktree Capital, in 2010.
So far, the famous neighbors have seemed to stay out of the fray. (All declined to comment toVanity Fair.) Leading the charge for the Benedict Canyon Association is another of the prince’s immediate neighbors: Martha Karsh, whose husband, Bruce, 56, ranks 273 on Forbes’s 2011 list of the wealthiest 400 Americans. A billionaire, Karsh is the co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, one of L.A.’s largest investment firms, specializing in distressed companies. Said by two people who’ve met him to be a genial fellow, Bruce has attended some meetings but Martha is the campaign’s most vocal advocate.
“Because we’re an adjacent neighbor, we got ‘noticed’ that someone had applied for a grading permit,” Martha explains crisply one early evening at a small gathering of neighbors at the Beverly Hills Women’s Club. She went online to see what the permit entailed. “That was my first clue.” This was in August 2010. To her shock, she saw it was just one of 22 filed for the prince’s property, including ones for a 42,681-square-foot main house, a 4,416-square-foot guesthouse, a 27,317-square-foot “sons’ villa,” 5,327-square-foot staff quarters, an 833-square-foot pool cabana (along with 874 square feet to store the pool equipment), and a 2,713-square-foot gatehouse. “I thought that the square-footage numbers were typos,” she says. “They added up to nearly 85,000 square feet.”
Karsh is a petite woman with fine-boned features and a commanding air. Her fellow activists, along with L.A. councilman Paul Koretz, sit in dutiful silence as she holds the floor. “I had seen the site before. I knew it was really steep, quite inaccessible, and I know construction enough to know this was going to be a commercial-scale project in a pretty, quiet canyon area,” Karsh says. “They were going to try to build Hearst Castle in Benedict Canyon.”
The name on the permits was one Mansour Fustok, who identified himself as the London-based president of “Tower Lane Properties.” When the L.A. Times inquired, his lawyers declined to say for whom Fustok was fronting, though he was known to have ties with the Saudi royal family. Karsh did learn that the buyer was a single father of three. Fustok told the Times his client just wanted to build a “normal Mediterranean-style house” for himself and his “very nice family.” By way of reassurance, a spokesman told the neighbors that the new owner planned to be in residence only one month a year, in August.
The neighbors were not reassured. At their behest, a public-relations firm began blanketing the canyon with four-color flyers that warned residents of the “massive project” planned, with “Thousands of Trucks,” “Years and Years of Aggravation,” and “Permanent Degradation of the Canyon.”
NOISY NEIGHBORS One of several flyers distributed to Benedict Canyon residents.
Karsh hired lawyers who soon claimed that one of the permit applications, requesting a lot-line adjustment, appeared to be faulty: it described the property as “vacant residential lots” and said the proposed use was “same,” when in fact seven structures were planned. As disconcerting to the neighbors, the new owner, through his representatives, refused to let the neighbors view the architect’s in-depth drawings.
The buyer, whoever he was, was only the latest newcomer to fall in love with the steep hills of Benedict Canyon. From the early days of Hollywood, actors prized its easy access to the studios and downtown, even as it remained a rugged landscape dotted with California sycamore and scrub oak trees. One of the first arrivals was Rudolf Valentino, who built Falcon Lair on Bella Drive, high up the canyon’s west side. John Barrymore lived just above the Tower Lane site and rode horses all over the hills. Charlie Chaplin was virtually around the corner on Summit Drive. Sunday tennis games at his place, recalled King Vidor’s daughter, Suzanne, years later, were “played for blood,” with Chaplin “out-acing everybody.”
By 1926, Vidor had left his wife and married actress Eleanor Boardman. It was for her that he had architect Wallace Neff design the house on Tower Lane, where the Sunday tennis games continued on the court that now sits neglected just inside the gates.
By the 1950s, the canyon was filled with stars: Danny Kaye, Fred Astaire, and Cary Grant. One house alone on lower Tower Road was home, at different times, to William Powell, George Hamilton, and Merv Griffin. Jack Lemmon, then a Benedict Canyon resident, joined in the fight against Manoukian involving the property where James Coburn had lived.
Gradually, all the buildable spots in the canyon got built on, and so a new era began—of large retaining walls built into the steep hillsides, backfilled to create level “pads” on which new and larger houses could be built.
To everyone but their owners, the retaining walls were eyesores. Two of the worst went up on Davies Drive, supporting vast, adjacent estates in the air. The retaining walls were each at least 30 feet high and looked like sections of the Great Wall of China. Partly due to those twin atrocities, a limit was set on retaining walls: one wall of up to 12 feet high or two tiered walls of up to 10 feet each. One day before the ordinance went into effect, in 2005, movie producer Jon Peters, who then owned the Tower Lane property now at the center of all the controversy, got a permit to build a retaining wall more than 20 feet tall.
FRESH PRINCE Former Polish president Lech Walesa gives the Lech Walesa Award to Prince Abdulaziz, who is accepting on behalf of his father, King Abdullah.
To some neighbors, even more galling than the wall’s height was its design: a polygonal pattern that struck one resident as resembling a giraffe’s skin. The giraffe wall, as it became known, looked even worse, many thought, when it was painted green. Peters, who did little to ingratiate himself with his neighbors in the 13 turbulent years he owned the property, did leave them with a parting gift. When the L.A. Times asked him earlier this year if he could confirm the actual buyer of his property, he was willing to oblige. It was Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
Prince Abdulaziz wasn’t just your average Saudi prince. He was said by some to be the king’s favorite son, and was soon to be named deputy foreign minister of Saudi Arabia. Accustomed to a life of privilege, he wasn’t likely to cave in to the wife of an American billionaire.
It was Peters who had left the Tower Lane property looking as if a tornado had hit it. Hewas the tornado. From his famous early days as a Rodeo Drive hairdresser who parlayed his romance with Barbra Streisand into producing her remake of A Star Is Born, to his white-hot decade’s run with co-producer Peter Guber (Flashdance; Batman; Rain Man), to the debacle of his co-chairmanship with Guber of Sony Pictures, from 1989 to 1991, Peters had whirled through the movie business re-arranging everything around him. As he did, he bought one trophy property after another, re-arranging them too. Until, that is, he ran up against Martha Karsh.
“I always wanted to be Walt Disney,” Peters explains. “I wanted to create my own version of Disneyland.” Before Tower Lane, there was a home on five acres in nearby Beverly Park, which he turned into a private zoo. “We had 100 animals—llamas, bulls, goats, pigs . . . You’d see four or five Mexicans walking the animals. If you want to see a lot of rich people get mad, try having your emus shit on their sidewalk,” he recalls fondly. When a mudslide nearly buried his downhill neighbor, Peters moved on to Tower Lane. He started by putting in those Art Nouveau gates. “I’ve done a dozen houses,” he says. “They always have that Art Nouveau look.”
Next to the old King Vidor house, still standing when he bought the property, Peters built a below-ground auto showroom for his Ferraris. That was done by permit and remains. Unpermitted, however, was the equestrian center at the bottom of the property, with stables and a riding ring and a number of garden walls.
All was well, Peters says, until he befriended Martha Karsh, and she asked him to let her do some work that required equipment to be run through his driveway. “One time I came home and there’s 20 trucks in my front yard,” says Peters. “I couldn’t even get in; they were landscaping her hillside. I said, ‘Martha, you have to ask first.’ From that day on, it was war.” (Martha Karsh declined to discuss her dealings with Peters.)
Peters had a war going already with his wife, Mindy. Their split became so bitter that Peters tore the whole house down. “I made a huge mistake,” he says now. “It was such a beautiful, charming house. But I was going through a divorce . . . I was pretty crazy.” He then had architect Richard Landry draw up plans for a two-story Mediterranean-style mansion, with three guesthouses, to replace it. When he started by trying to get a gatehouse approved, the Karshes, he says, lobbied against it. “They couldn’t even see it,” Peters recalls. Before long Martha Karsh was “busting my balls on anything else she could find. I couldn’t afford to spend $5 million on attorneys.”
Peters says the Karshes then tried to buy the property. “I wouldn’t sell it to them because she turned into such a monster,” he says. One observer close to the situation says Karsh did send out feelers, and Peters rebuffed them. (Martha Karsh denies this.)
With a showman’s bravado, Peters put Tower Lane on the market in 2008 for $39 million. Then came the market meltdown—and Madoff. “I was a Madoff victim,” Peters says. “I did lose a great deal of money with him and other people.” But that, he says, wasn’t the reason he sold, or eventually dropped his price. “The main reason was Karsh—she won.” In the end, the prince got Tower Lane for $12 million. “I have nothing but good things to say about the prince,” Peters says. “The truth is he is doing the right thing. . . . [Martha] made me cancel my dreams. She was mean for no reason. And I was nice to her. ”
His name notwithstanding, Prince Abdulaziz remains a cipher, hidden behind his representatives. He declined to be interviewed for this article. Though almost no one in California knows him well enough to speak of him with any insight, one of the few is his former interior designer Jarrett Hedborg. The L.A.-born-and-bred decorator, who’s worked for Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston, Jeff Bridges and Jim Carrey, along with Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell, and Michelle Phillips, has done four homes for the prince over a 20-year period. But a rift grew between them before he could start work on the Tower Lane property. Now he’s suing for what he alleges is nonpayment of his last bill. “It’s sad to watch a friendship unwind,” he says of Abdulaziz. “But unfortunately, he did not honor my last contract.” An associate of the prince’s denies this claim, telling Vanity Fair that there is an ongoing dispute regarding billings for the prince's Paris home.
Despite the lawsuit, Hedborg remains fond of the prince—and the prince’s ex-wife, and their three children. He describes a Westernized Anglophile, tall and trim, who is, at the same time, a devout Muslim; an ardent fan of In-N-Out Burger and Calvin Klein T-shirts, a fun-loving, minivan-driving Prince Hal who’s grown, over the years, into a statesman more apt to be seen in a white robe and red-checked keffiyeh secured with a black cord agal, in the company of bodyguards.
One key to understanding Abdulaziz, says Hedborg, is the prince’s mother. Worldly and Westernized, Princess Aida whisked her three children—Abdulaziz and his two sisters—around Europe and made them tote their own bags. Abdulaziz went to college in England and then returned to serve in the Saudi royal family’s national guard—with some distinction, according to one seasoned Saudi watcher. Quoting a Western military adviser who knew Abdulaziz then, the Saudi watcher says the prince “was shunted aside into a big office, and the people around the king made sure he didn’t have anything to do.” Frustrated, Abdulaziz began edging into the political arena through his father (then the crown prince). With his new bride, Princess Abeer bint Turki—also a member of the royal family—he cut a higher social profile. “They were sort of the glamour couple in Saudi,” Hedborg says. “The Jack and Jackie of that period.”
Hedborg started by decorating the couple’s new 40,000-square-foot first home in Riyadh. Then he took on their California getaway: a 30,000-square-foot house in Beverly Park, next to Princess Abeer’s father. (The prince, he discovered, had a playful sense of entitlement: once in a restaurant, he admired the shoes Hedborg was wearing. He asked to try them on, and found they fit him perfectly. Hedborg offered to buy him a pair. “But these are so broken in and comfortable,” he said. So Hedborg gave them to him and walked out of the restaurant barefoot.)
The third home they worked on together, in Jeddah, measured well over 150,000 square feet, Hedborg says. For a decorator, it was both a dream and a nightmare: what to do with all those rooms? One solution was to create a showroom for the prince’s car collection, which included a 1963 Sting Ray split-window fastback coupe, an early-60s two-door Facel Vega, and an Aston Martin DB5, of James Bond fame.
Why the glamour couple divorced in the early 00s, after having two sons and a daughter, is not an issue Hedborg will discuss. According to him, the prince married again some time later, but this marriage, to another Saudi princess, ended after just four months. (Through his associate, the prince declined to discuss his personal life.) Though the prince remains a warm father, Hedborg says, he shed many of the friends from his days with Princess Abeer and grew more isolated. Perhaps he was just taking on a more ambassadorial mien: according to Robert Lacey, author of the 2009 book Inside the Kingdom, Abdulaziz became an emissary to Lebanon and Syria for his father, who became king in 2005, at the age of 81.
LAW & DISORDER Ben Reznik, 60, the prince’s attorney.
The divorced prince sold the Beverly Park estate next to his ex-father-in-law and focused on a new home in Paris, a spectacular Beaux Arts mansion on the Avenue Foch built in 1915 for the car-maker Louis Renault. The property is about 20,000 square feet, says Hedborg. Plus a full acre of enclosed garden. Once again, Hedborg had to rack his brains to decorate so many rooms—about 50 this time. One was decorated entirely with antique steering wheels mounted in frames.
Abdulaziz hadn’t lost his love of L.A. After looking at dozens of properties, he settled on Tower Lane. Peters’s two-story main house had not yet been approved but the plans called for it to be about 19,000 square feet above ground, with a basement and Peters’s underground auto barn bringing the total square footage to 33,400. In 2009, Hedborg met with the prince in Riyadh to show him a preliminary design for the Tower Lane house. Could the prince really fit all his needs into that space? Hedborg asked him. Yes, said Abdulaziz, he thought he could.
Yet, Hedborg says, in the following months, the prince’s plans grew dramatically. Soon there was a whole separate sons’ villa, and, beside that, servants’ quarters tucked partially under the lawn. “The city will never let you build this,” Hedborg says he told the prince’s architect Richard Landry. “Each staff bedroom has to have daylight access and a fire-escape route.”
It wasn’t long before the prince stopped calling.
By early 2011, the neighbors’ campaign had escalated. Lawyers peppered local officials with letters attacking the suspiciously filled-in application for a lot-line adjustment. “A subterfuge,” declared one lawyer. “False and misleading,” thundered Michael Chasteen, president of the Benedict Canyon Association. Chasteen urged L.A.’s city attorney to investigate, whereupon the city attorney’s office referred the matter to the district attorney for possible criminal investigation. The accusations were reported in more four-color flyers, and the neighbors duly stirred, but they went nowhere: the D.A. found them groundless.
The giraffe wall also came under heavy fire. The lawyers, from L.A.’s prominent Latham & Watkins, called it flatly “illegal.” Peters hadn’t gotten all the permits he needed, the wall was higher than allowed, and work had stopped at some point, so whatever permits Peters did have had lapsed, they claimed; now the wall would be subject to the new retaining-wall ordinance and thus have to be torn down because it was too high. Yet the city ruled the wall was legal—grandfathered in—and the permits valid.
Behind the scenes, the prince was winning on every issue. Even so, he was not deaf to the concerns of his neighbors. Apparently a meeting with Mike Ovitz had proved persuasive in getting him to downsize. According to a source involved in the talks, Ovitz pointed out that the sons’ villa would overlook his compound, as would some of the servants’ quarters. Ovitz, it would seem, was not keen on having people peering down into his yard. So in early May, the prince decided to scrap the sons’ villa and servants’ quarters, reduce the size of the main house, trimming the overall square footage to 60,000.
The neighbors were unimpressed. A new flyer warned of “ear-splitting noise through our canyons” from the “Enormous on-site rock and debris crushing. . . . At least a dozen barriers and retaining walls—some over 500 feet long and 35 feet high. . . . Choking dust as widespread site grading pollutes the air.”
From his corner office on Avenue of the Stars, in Century City, attorney Ben Reznik, 60, has one word to describe the charges hurled at his client by Martha Karsh and the Benedict Canyon Association. “Fabrications.”
What the prince purchased from Peters, Reznik notes, was three contiguous parcels, all quite large for the area. Relative to how much space the prince had to build on, the footprints of his two main houses would have been smaller than those of most of his neighbors’. Ovitz’s house and outbuildings, for example, appear to take up at least as large a percentage of his property.
The neighbors’ early suspicions, according to Reznik, were simply unfounded. The lot-line application wasn’t “false and misleading” in stating the “vacant” land would stay the “same,” since it would continue to be unoccupied for at least two years, until construction was finished. As for not showing plans? “Do you think for one second that Bruce Springsteen is going to submit his house plans to the public?” Reznik asks. “It undermines any security he could possibly try to create. . . . Would Jay Leno ever tell anyone where all his exit doors are and where all his windows are and where he sleeps? Not on your life. Should the deputy foreign minister of Saudi Arabia have to do that?”
While the plans were under review at L.A.’s Department of Building and Safety, the Karshes’ lawyers did examine them. They then claimed the plans showed that the main house would actually measure 73 feet high—a true tower on Tower Lane. They said the middle lot alone would have seven retaining walls. Reznik was outraged: all these new, sensational details, he says, were flat wrong. The spokesman for the L.A.D.B.S. also discredits these charges. The plans for the middle lot have two retaining walls—not seven—of no higher than 10 feet and no retaining walls of 35 feet were planned, he said. As for the height of the planned house, it was never anywhere near 73 feet high.
That’s not to say that everything on the property was according to Hoyle. The giraffe wall, for starters, had code violations. The equestrian center Peters had built without permits had accumulated a trail of city-issued “orders to comply,” like so many parking tickets, requiring him to undo it all. Even the ground he’d pushed around would have to be re-graded. The prince stood ready to do all that work. But when the Karsh’s lawyers studied the plans, they smelled a rat.
Now that the sons’ villa was nixed from the design, only modest leveling was needed on that lower parcel to satisfy the “orders to comply.” Why, then, did the prince’s new plans call for a much larger pad? More curiously, why was the prince now proposing to put a modest 5,100-square-foot house on the pad, where the 27,000-square-foot sons’ villa was to have gone? To the neighbors, the smaller house looked like a placeholder. At some point after he had his permits, they feared, the prince would build a gargantuan villa there after all.
Reznik doesn’t deny the 5,100-square-foot house is a placeholder, explaining that the only reason the small house is in their designs is because the city requires a plan for a house to accompany a plan for a pad. For now, the prince has no particular interest in building on that pad, Reznik says. However, if he does, he’s not likely to build a house that small. “This is some of the most expensive real estate in the United States. You don’t take a very expensive property and put a little postage-stamp house on it.”
But to build a pad large enough to support a big house, the prince has to re-grade a lot of hillside. And that has led, as of mid-October, to a striking development. The city now says that the prince must get special clearance to do all that re-grading. This extra clearance process, in turn, allows the city to demand a detailed environmental review called a ceqa (for California Environmental Quality Act). The upshot is that the city is now reserving the right to nix the project without having to prove the prince ran afoul of a rule. In addition, the L.A.D.B.S. has put a stop to the work the prince’s contractor was doing to bring the giraffe wall into compliance because, it claims, less than “substantial” work was done.
At its whittled-down scale, the prince’s compound would still be a sizable addition to Benedict Canyon. But not the largest. Across the canyon from the prince’s property, the boxy white contemporary home of Hyatt hotel heir Anthony Pritzker is nearing completion. According to an insider, it weighs in at nearly 80,000 square feet. Somewhere off Doheny, he adds, another behemoth is under construction: the 78,000-square-foot residence of Eric Smidt, chairman and C.E.O. of Harbor Freight Tools. Reznik has compiled a list of 11 neighboring properties that, he says, required major re-grading yet sailed through the permit process without a hitch, and without a peep from the neighbors. Why this costly campaign against the prince?
“Let’s get to the real issue,” says Reznik. “If it was truly about a concern for the neighborhood, the environmental issues, they would have long ago accepted our invitation to sit down and go through these items so we could respond to them. . . . They don’t want to hear the yeses because they don’t want a Saudi prince.”
Contacted through an emissary named Adnan Haffar, Prince Abdulaziz declined to comment directly. Haffar does, however, relay the prince’s feelings via e-mail. “I would like to point out this: the prince has bought 5.3 acres of land and this constitutes three separate lots. The design of the house [abides] by all the laws of the Los Angeles building department. . . . The neighbors led by Mr. and Mrs. Karsh raised a lot of complaints so the owner decided to reduce dramatically the whole project.”
Despite this, and despite the fact that there are, as Haffar writes, “a lot of houses that have been built or are being built that are as big or much bigger than this house and had none of this attention,” the opposition persists. “Is this ethnic prejudice?” the emissary wonders.
“We’re not opposing the person,” says real-estate broker Michael Eisenberg, one of the neighbors involved in the campaign. “It could be an Internet gazillionaire. It’s the project.” Martha Karsh notes that opposition to the project began “seven months before anyone even knew who the owner was.”
Ultimately, unless the prince gives up in disgust, final permits for some fairly large residence on Tower Lane will almost certainly be granted. How long construction will take, clogging the tiny roads with trucks and workmen, is hard to say. The Karshes’ own renovation on Tower Grove took seven years, as Martha Karsh notes on the Web site for Clark & Karsh design; that’s one reason she knows about construction. The prince’s liaison with the community, Bill Christopher, has said the Tower Lane compound will be done in two and a half years. That’s assuming that after the main house and grounds are finished, the prince doesn’t move on to build the sons’ villa after all.
For Mary Beth Abdo, who, like Springsteen, lives at the foot of the Tower Lane property, even two and a half years seems interminable. She and her husband, Ashley, moved from Switzerland a year ago to a Spanish ranch-style house—boxy, wood-walled, and, at 4,000 square feet, modest for the neighborhood—so their children could attend school nearby. “This seemed perfect—a little slice of real country and lush landscape in the middle of L.A.”
The prince’s representatives have met with the Abdos, she says, and told them they’ll limit the trucks to one every 10 minutes. “The builders have said they’ll have flagmen. How reassuring is that?” Abdo and her husband were asked what could be done to mollify them. “Don’t work on Saturdays,” she replied. “At least give us our weekends.” But to date, the plan is to work Saturdays from eight a.m. to five p.m. “Our bedrooms are right on the lane,” Abdo says.
She stops to listen to a country stillness she may not hear for long. Why, she muses, did the prince want to bother with all this mess? “There’s plenty of 56,000-square-foot houses for sale,” she says. “Couldn’t he have found one of those?”