Horror movie maestro, British film director James Whale, produced some of his best fright fests during the time he lived in this Mediterranean palazzo high in the Hollywood Hills. Everything from the cult classic Frankenstein in 1931, to The Invisible Man in 1933, to Bride of Frankenstein in 1935.
Whale had bought the house, named Villa Sophia, from Clement E. Smoot, the Olympic gold medalist golfer. Smoot had commissioned the hilltop home, with its sweeping views of the nearby 4,200-acre Griffiths Park, from legendary LA architect Henry Harwood Hewitt.
Fast forward to the late 1990s, and successful options trader Constantine Vlahos—Tim to his friends—had spent almost two years gazing up at the iconic villa from his home in nearby Echo Park.
“I fantasized about the house even before I ever stepped inside. I’d always been a fan of Italian architecture and just loved the place. It was like a slice of Tuscany right here in LA,” Mr. Vlahos tells Robb Report.
When it came on the market in 2000, he snapped it up, paying $1.05 million, according to Zillow. “It was in terrible condition. Nobody had really taken care of it. It was just awful inside.”
What it had was location. Sitting at the end of a cul-de-sac high in the hills of LA’s celebrity-rich Los Feliz enclave, the home came with million dollar views of Griffith Park and its landmark observatory on one side, and LA’s downtown skyline on the other.
After moving in, Mr. Vlahos, 58, spent two long years coming up with a grand plan to transform Villa Sophia. His biggest challenge? Excavating the steep hillside to create a level area to install a pool, extensive terraces, and a separate 750-square-foot guest house with a stunning gazebo above it.
“We ended-up having to build a 15-feet-deep retaining wall with casons that went 30 feet down to the bedrock. And with no space to bring in heavy equipment, everything had to be dug by hand. It ended-up being a $2 million wall.”
For the almost 3,000-square feet of terracing, Mr. Vlahos imported reclaimed terra cotta tiles from Italy, France and Spain. That ornamental balustrade around the pool deck? It took a pair of artisans over a year to hand-cast on site.
“The result is an extraordinary property in the most exceptional location, with true Old Hollywood pedigree,” says broker Rick Yohon, of Sotheby’s International Realty, who shares the coveted listing with Konstantine Valissarakos of Nourmand and Associates. “And, at $5.77 million in this super-heated market, it is attractively priced.”
If the home looks vaguely familiar, it might be because of Mr. Vlahos’s savvy marketing to movie and TV studios to use the villa as a Italianate backdrop.
The final episode of HBO’s Entourage in 2011 shows Jeremy Piven’s character Ari and his wife on the pool deck of their glamorous Italian villa overlooking the Mediterranean. Only it was filmed at Villa Sophia with the sea digitally added.
That 2012 Lindsay Lohan made-for-TV movie Liz & Dick, profiling the love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, also used the home as a setting. Then there was the episode of The Bachelorette, another for Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and photo shoots for Vogue, Elle, GQ and Victoria’s Secret.
In its current guise, the four-story home stretches over 4,525-square-feet and features three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms in the main house, and that separate, ensuite one-bed guest suite by the pool.
The first floor of the main house features connected living and dining rooms each with French windows leading out on to huge terraces. The chef’s kitchen is all high-end professional-grade appliances, rustic stone sinks and arched doorways.
Stairs lead up to the main bedroom level, with its elegant primary suite with windows on three sides, and two more bedrooms off a long hallway. Continuing up the steps takes you to a cozy, rooftop office.
Arguably the best “room” in the house is that outdoor loggia, with its antique chandeliers, rustic wood beams and jaw-dropping views towards downtown Los Angeles (see photo at top).
“I’ll be sad to see it go,” says Mr Vlahos. “I’ve lived here for 20 years and put my heart and soul into its renovation. But it’s time to let someone else enjoy it. I think have one more project in me.”
Check out more photos of Villa Sophia below: