In late December 2020, a historic Los Angeles estate once owned by the famed music duo Sonny and Cher changed hands quietly in a private sale. Formerly known as Carolwood, the Italian Revival-style mansion was commissioned by Florence Quinn, wife of Arthur Letts Sr, who originally purchased the 3,296 acres that comprise the exclusive Holmby Hills community in West LA. Robert Farquhar, the architect behind the Pentagon and Beverly Hills High School, designed the mansion, which was built in 1936.
Since then, it has been home to many prominent figures, including Hotel Bel-Air founder Joseph Drown in the 1940s. Then, 20th Century Fox executive Joseph Schenck sold it to oil baron William Keck in 1956, and actor Tony Curtis owned it in the 1960s. Not only is the home and property stunningly beautiful, but its list of famous and infamous residents makes it all the more compelling.
Sonny and Cher lived at Owlwood while filming their famous variety show
Sonny and Cher at their Los Angeles home | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
In 1967, Salvatore Bono and Cherilyn Sarkisian La Piere first laid eyes on the nearly 13,000-square-foot mansion at 141 Carolwood Lane. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the couple we know as Sonny and Cher was immediately smitten when they arrived at a party hosted by then-owner Curtis. Five years later, Curtis sold it to them for $750,000.
Cher sought out lavish European furnishings for her new home. “I guess we were trying to appear established. We were nouveau riche, but better nouveau than never,” she recalled in her memoir The First Time. Sadly, their marriage was not as it appeared either. On television, the hosts of the popular Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour exuded marital bliss. Behind the scenes, their relationship was fraught with infidelity, and Bono’s control of Cher’s life had become unbearable.
CBS threatened to cancel the show if the couple split, so by 1973, they were occupying separate wings of the house and seeing other people. According to Biography, Bono wrote in his diary, “Connie and I live together as husband and wife. But my public wife is still Cher in order to maintain all the things I want right now. That’s the way it has to be.”
In 1974, it all fell apart when Bono filed for separation. Cher filed for divorce after discovering that he and his lawyer were the sole owners of the corporation that bore her name. Cher, who was just 16 when she met 27-year-old Bono, had trusted him with every aspect of her life and career.
“When they broke up, she was deeply in debt and under contract to him. It was a terrible situation,” legendary music producer David Geffen told Vanity Fair.
Cher got the mansion in the divorce settlement in June 1975. In 1976, she sold it to businessman Ralph Mishkin and his wife Chase for $950,000. They renamed it Owlwood after the owls that live in the many oak trees on the property. “We restored the house completely. It hadn’t been well cared for,” Mrs. Mishkin said.
Listed at $115 million, Owlwood Estate sold for $88 million
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On Dec. 23, 2020, Owlwood was sold privately to a limited liability company called Calch Urban Investments for $88 million. The Los Angeles Times called the sale “The third-priciest residential real estate transaction of 2020.” Ahead of the sale in July, Digs reported that the home on 10 acres of prime real estate would be slated for redevelopment, with the option to subdivide.
To step inside Owlwood is to step back into the glory days of old Hollywood. As seen on PriceyPads, the absolutely gorgeous estate features nine bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, hand-carved plaster ceilings, crown moldings, and original millwork. The walls of the formal dining room hide secret cabinets. The entertainment room still sports the projector holes that harken back to its use as Schenck’s private screening room.
Pass through the airy reception room that has welcomed celebrities like Demi Moore and Gwyneth Paltrow and stroll to the Olympic-sized swimming pool and pool house that Architectural Digest says was used by champion swimmer and actor Ester Williams. There is also a sunken tennis court on the expansive property and a tunnel that runs from the former screening room to the rear garden. Movie mogul Schenk had it constructed as a private entrance and exit for his frequent guest and rumored lover, Marilyn Monroe.
According to Hollywood Reporter, Owlwood was also home to a few shady characters. In 1978, Monaco businessman Ghazi Aita bought it for $4.2 million. Aita also purchased a neighboring property from porn producer Bill Osco. In 1999 he listed both properties for $58.9 million after being outed as one of Hollywood madame Heidi Fleiss’s alleged clients. Four years later, the property was sold to Roland Arnall, founder of the infamous subprime mortgage company Ameriquest. He added Jayne Mansfield’s adjoining former home and property to the estate. Both Mansfield’s and Osco’s homes were later demolished. Arnall died in 2008, leaving the estate to his wife.
The LA Times reports that in 2009, real-estate developer Robert Shapiro bought the home for $90 million. He attempted to get $180 million for it in 2017 but lowered the price to $115 million the following year. In 2019, Shapiro was sentenced to 25 years in prison for running a 1.3 billion dollar Ponzi scheme. Forbes reports that Owlwood was seized by the federal government and sold as part of his bankruptcy agreement.
The neighboring Playboy Mansion sold for $100 million
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While Owlwood Estate is the largest property in Holmby Hills, Hugh Hefner’s neighboring Playboy Mansion is arguably the most famous. Constructed in 1927, the 29-room, 22,000-square-foot Tudor Revival-style mansion occupies five acres. According to CBS News, Playboy paid just over $1 million for it in 1971. The former home of Heff and his bunnies features seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a theater, a tennis court, and the Grotto, where celebrities famously partied their nights away.
CNN Money reported that in 2016, billionaire Daren Metropoulos of the private equity firm Metropoulos and Company and part owner of Hostess Brands purchased the storied home with the stipulation that Hefner would live there for the remainder of his life. Metropoulos revealed he paid $100 million, half the original asking price. Even so, at the time, it was the most expensive home sale ever in Los Angeles County.
Hefner lived there until he died in 2017. As of April 2022, the house was being renovated and will be used for corporate events.
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