Lavish L.A. Mayoral Residence Stands Unoccupied Karen Grigsby Bates looks at why no one seems to want to take advantage of one great perk of being Los Angeles mayor: living rent-free in a gorgeous mansion.

Lavish L.A. Mayoral Residence Stands Unoccupied

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a wheelchair rugby player on a new documentary that follows his team's journey to the Athens Paralympics.

First, a real estate mystery: Why would one of the best houses in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Los Angeles stand empty year after year, especially if it's the mayor's mansion? We sent DAY TO DAY's Karen Grigsby Bates there to check the curb appeal.


Unless you're Steven Spielberg or the ruler of a small country with really large oil reserves, the housing market in Los Angeles is, as some Angelenos might say, `way expensive.' So then how come when it's so hard to buy anything reasonable, there's a perfectly gorgeous house in the middle of Los Angeles that's going begging?

Ms. CAROLYN RAMSAY (Neighborhood Historian): I'm Carolyn Ramsay. I was the president of the Windsor Square Association, which is the neighborhood association in Los Angeles. And we're walking through the neighborhood right now. We're walking toward the mayor's residence.

BATES: Neighborhood historian Carolyn Ramsay is escorting me over to Getty House. It's the mayor's official residence in the Windsor Square section of Los Angeles. In this community of graceful old homes on shady streets with wide green lawns, Getty House doesn't stick out; it looks like all its expensive neighbors. Mayor Tom Bradley actually lived here for 16 years, but he was the first and last mayor to call it home. Then came multimillionaire businessman-philanthropist Richard Riordan. Ramsay says people understood when he didn't move it.

Ms. RAMSAY: It's amazing. It is not discussed in the neighborhood as a negative thing, because when Mayor Riordan chose not to live here, he had some fabulous spread in Bel Air. Nobody expected him to give up his Bel Air mansion to move to the neighborhood.

BATES: Riordan's big house was, after all, `way bigger' than their big houses. But the mayor gave the city a little gift. His wife, Nancy, put together a committee and raised $2 million for the Getty Foundation to overhaul Getty House, named for the billionaire oil baron who also chose not to live in it, and make it ready for subsequent mayors.

The next mayor, James Hahn. promptly announced he wasn't moving from his neighborhood, either, but the neighbors still weren't upset. Carolyn Ramsay.

Ms. RAMSAY: Well, he has small children, and San Pedro is really far from here so he would have had to pull his children out of school to live in the mayor's residence. And I don't think anybody really expected him to do that.

BATES: So Hahn used it for receptions and other official activities.

Last week, we got a new mayor and guess what? Antonio Villaraigosa has also said `No, thanks' to moving into Getty House. He says his family will `make use' of the mansion, but his youngest children want to stay near their schools and friends. The neighbors' reaction? Again, no hard feelings. Carolyn Ramsay.

Ms. RAMSAY: I think that there are many reasons that the neighborhood feels connected to the Getty House and feels proud of the Getty House without having a proprietary feeling about the mayor living there or, you know, feeling insulted that the mayor does not live there.

BATES: Despite that, the 10,000-square-foot home--corner double lot, people, deep gardens, private wine cellar--isn't empty during the day, especially on Wednesdays.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

BATES: Susan Caputo is executive director of Getty House Foundation, and during a recent tour for corporate benefactors, she invited us along. Getty House, Caputo says, remains important whether or not the mayor sleeps there.

Ms. SUSAN CAPUTO (Executive Director, Getty House Foundation): Los Angeles is one of four cities nationally that has a mayoral residence. There's Gracie Mansion in New York, the Manoogian Mansion in Detroit, Los Angeles has Getty House and then the city of Denver has just recently acquired a home for their mayor.

BATES: Here at Getty House each week, Caputo and other volunteers escort classes of fourth-graders though the mansion. They explain its history as a reflection of Los Angeles' history. On the sunny fourth floor, in the home gym that functions as an ad hoc classroom, Caputo runs through the curriculum.

Ms. CAPUTO: And we teach them a little bit about the city flag, the city seal, who their mayor is, who their City Council representative is, where the name of our city came from--which is, right here on the board, El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles Porciuncula.

BATES: Wow, that's a mouthful. But even if they don't remember their city's complete name, children do remember that they visited the mayor's house. And who knows? One of these kids might run for mayor in the future and win, and actually live here. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News, Los Angeles.

CHADWICK: Those pictures not clear enough of the LA mayor's mansion and the gardens? You can go to our Web site and see real pictures there at

Thank you, Karen.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. More just ahead on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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