Hugh Hefner, the most iconic of the sultans of smut and the brains behind the Playboy empire, died Wednesday at his home, the iconic Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills. Now, his death has reignited a hot-ticket real estate question: what will become of the Playboy Mansion?
Hefner, who died at 91, was as infamous for his lifestyle – dating Playboy bunnies and hosting lavish parties – as he was for his business. His billionaire neighbor, the Hostess heir Daren Metropoulos, made headlines in August 2016 when he dropped a record-breaking $100 million to buy the 20,000-square-foot property. But the deal came with a serious catch: Hefner could remain at the property until his death.
As part of the deal, Hefner was reportedly paying a cool $1 million in rent and other expenses to remain at the mansion. But a year after the deal, the fate of the mansion lies in the hands of a 33-year-old billionaire with a big vision for change.
Since the purchase — brokered by Gary Gold and Drew Fenton of Hilton & Hyland, Mauricio Umansky of the Agency and Jade Mills of Coldwell Banker — Metropoulos made his plans very clear: he wants to combine the two neighboring Tudor Revival-style estates to amass a 7.3-acre property, the way it was originally envisioned by architect Arthur Kelly in 1927. He purchased the house next door to the Playboy Mansion in 2009 for roughly $19 million, according to Jason Oppenheim, a residential broker who worked on the deal.
“I feel fortunate and privileged to now own a one-of-a-kind piece of history and art,” Metropoulos said in a statement when he bought the Playboy Mansion. “I look forward to eventually rejoining the two estates and enjoying this beautiful property as my private residence for years to come.”
In a statement Thursday, Umansky called the deal one of the “highlights of my career.”
Initially, Metropoulos dismissed speculation that he was going to demolish the bunny palace. But insiders suspect that may not be the case now that its king is gone.
“Knowing Daren, he probably wants to have a little bit of fun for a couple of years, take advantage of the prestige and notoriety of the place — not to mention it will probably take a couple of years to get his plans completely approved,” Oppenheim said. “The value in what he bought is the uniqueness of the land and the location. While the mansion has unbelievable amount of prestige and appeal, I think the best use of the land is to join the parcels and create one unique estate.”
“I would expect that he probably wouldn’t tear down the main house, and I’m hoping he doesn’t tear down the home next door because it’s a fabulous estate,” said Josh Flagg, a broker at Rodeo Realty and star of “Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles.” In L.A., however, “nothing has a life span of more than 20 years so I wouldn’t be surprised,” he added.
Others think there could be more to the Metropoulos purchase. Greg Harris of Compass said he’s heard persistent rumors that the Metropoulos family wanted to purchase Hefner’s struggling magazine as well.
“If they own the tangible estate and the magazine, then they’re in the good spot because they can leverage that as a space,” Harris said. “I just personally never fully believed or understood that he was going to knock it down and build one monstrous house. It would make sense that it’s part of a bigger opportunity.”
If Metropoulos does keep the estate intact, it is going to need serious shaping up. Years of debauchery including countless topless pool parties by the grotto, a television show and legendary all-nighters, have brought the home to a decrepit state. Playboy interior designer Kenneth Bordwick previously noted that the house smelled like a urinal when he was there doing renovation work.
Restoring the Playboy Mansion — home to Hefner since he acquired it in 1971 for $1 million — could take up to six years. According to fellow Beverly Hills designer David Phoenix, “the whole property needs to be gutted.”