The Sheik's House in Beverly Hills





This garish mansion was the infamous ‘Sheik’s House’. Once located at 9561 Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, it had gained international notoriety for its tacky facade. Back in 1978, Saudi Arabian Sheik Mohammad Al-Fassi and his new wife, Sheikha Ibtissm were the owners of this 38 room mansion built in 1917. It was originally a stately Italian residence built by Beverly Hills co-founder, Max Whittier. It was once such a pristine and classy home until the young Sheik had the statues on the front veranda painted in flesh tones that included fuzzy pubic hair on their genitals! 


It's rumored the statues originally came from Aaron Spelling's old house before the Sheik gave them a tacky make over. 


During the copper roof installation. Taken in 1979 

When it rained, servants covered the statues with raincoats to preserve their obnoxious paint jobs! Inside he had poster-sized blow-ups made from cheap pulp porn mags hanging in his powder rooms; drugged-out “hippie chicks” with glazed eyes doing “beaver shots”. Also included were giant clam-shell telephones, toilet seats with coins in them, a red bordello pool room which featured a satin ceiling with 1,100 pleats, and a giant round bed that revolved at a touch of a button. Above the bed was a portrait of the Sheik made out of real pearls. The interior of this place was over the top kitsch to say the least. When a security installation worked at the estate, they even found a speakeasy in the basement and escape tunnel that led to the east side of the property.


The Neighborhood was really upset with all the cars parking on the side streets to take pictures. There were accidents constantly. As people slowed down to look they weren't paying attention to what was in front of them. It was truly the top attraction and distraction in Beverly Hills. A lot of rear enders occurred westbound because people slammed on their brakes to check it out.


At one time he invited the neighbors (and my mother) for a tour of the place and she made the front page of the Harold Examiner newspaper the next day. Frank Sinatra did things his way by sending the Sheik a candy clown from Harry Finley the next day. The note said, “You’re excellency, welcome to the neighborhood. I regret that I was not at your party, but then again I was not invited. I hope this candy clown will recompense for your missing bird. Sincerely Frank Sinatra”.


Fassi painted his new gaudy mansion a rotting lime green color and had fake plastic flowers in the most peculiar colors throughout the estate. He added a gold roof, a mosque, a beacon to ward off low-flying planes and a massive black wrought iron gate. He had over one hundred women dressed in black gluing small black stones to the gate for two weeks straight. I remember as a little girl taking a few as a souvenir. 


Neighbors renamed it “Dirty Disneyland.” Tourist hawks and neighbors complained. Although it did come in handy for Steve Martin. The garish home was used as a location for the movie "The Jerk" as Steve Martin’s tacky mansion. Remember the clam shaped bathtub and the 1970s Disco scenes? All filmed right here – no set designer needed! The Sheik was always dressed in Saturday Night Fever style fashions too as he was determined to be trendy. Big colors, polyester and gold chains.


"The Jerk" filmed at the Sheik's House. No set designer was needed!




The Sheik had a 8’ in diameter golden clam that was 6’ high in the living room for private, confidential meetings. Inside was a small bar, two cushioned bench seats, lighting, and air conditioning. The lid was closed by push button. 



At one point Al-Fassi was worth 6 billion dollars, all of which he inherited from being an honorary member of the Saudi Royal family (he wasn’t even a real sheik). There was quite a bit of scandal and speculation when the mansion was torched in 1981. “It was the end of an eyesore”. Some say the neighbors did it. Some think the butler did it. But a majority think the Sheik set the fire himself to keep his ex-wife from inheriting his priceless works of art (including a Matisse which is rumored to have turned up in Peru recently). I’ll never forget the blaze myself since we lived just a block away. I thought the sheik was blowing up the entire block! Well-dressed crowds of gleeful gawkers chanted “Burn, burn, burn.” The fire was labeled suspicious even before investigators discovered that some of the Sheik’s eclectic art collection was missing from the rubble. When it was finally razed in 1985, there was a demolition celebration. Neighbors, politicians, and real estate agents raised their wine glasses as they watched bulldozers take down what was left of it. In the crowd that day was Brett Hodges, the great-grandson of Max Whittier, the original occupant of the 68-year-old estate. Dozens of cameras recorded the scene. Below is rare, archival news footage of the interior and its fateful demise. I discovered this footage back in 1999 inside the KTLA vaults and produced this story as a segment of, “Mysteries & Scandals”. 

In this clip I interviewed BH residents, Diane Bennett and Roy Mosley. They both have fascinating theories on how the mansion caught fire. 


Below is a clip from the 1978 "Movie Of the Week called THE USERS. Tony Curtis points out the Sheik's house to Jacklyn Smith. I love how Jacklyn comments on the plastic flowers. It really made fun and pointed out the farcical nature of Hollywood. Was it all a joke? Suppose we’ll never know for sure



Below is a series of photos and documents illustrating the estate's dramatic changes over the years. 

Max Whittier Estate 1947





Photos above taken by Deborah Brosseau in 1977

My mother took this photo below in 1979


Photo Judi Martino


Rhino Records LP for “Twist Again with the Low Numbers”
taken in front of the Sheik’s house in 1977 

Photo by Heather Harris


Photos courtesy of Ed Howard

Aftermath from the Fire 


The Sheik's house was finally bulldozed to the ground a few years after the fire. I don't believe we fully appreciated how bizarre and surreal it all really was.  After all Sheik's House spawned one of the funniest SNL sketches of all time - "The Bel-Airabs", complete with a theme song that sounded like the Beverly Hillbillies. You can watch it here! 


The Sheik moved to Miami after the fire and died in 2002 and is survived by three wives and seven children. 

      This black & white newspaper photograph is post fire


Today two new massive homes (which look more like embassies) sit on this property. The property between Rexford Drive and Alpine was eventually split in two. The owners of one of the new homes ran out of money and is currently sitting empty and unoccupied.

Today 



Alison Martino is a writer, television producer, and pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. Alison muses on L.A’s. past and  on Twitter and Instagram and can be seen on Spectrum News 1 every Wednesday night. 





Comments

  1. GYMS in Beverly Hills | TV Mounting Service

    The contents are really cohesive and makes sense.
    I really appreciate.
    Thank You.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for sharing informative post here...I really like it...

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  3. As a child, I went to the after filming cast party of The Jerk at the mansion. I still remember it vividly

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  4. Great tips, many thanks for sharing. I have printed and will stick on the wall! I like this blog.

    Beverly Hills Florist

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  5. I was at the Beverly Hills Hotel the night it burned down. The smoke was everywhere.


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    Replies
    1. I was working as a valet at Beverly Hills Hotel that night

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  6. My thoughts how easy it is to describe things as garish. Maybe he was giving stuck up wyt people the finger. Typical wyt fashion burn down what others build. Boo.

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    1. Always about race huh? But he didn't mind seeing those "WYT" women nude inside his house allover his walls, huh? He got off on that! Odd, huh! Maybe that was the cause of the divorce LOL! You look a little pals yourself!!!

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  7. As a high school student in OC, my buddy and I would drive to BH and Hollywood every weekend, sometimes to cruise or just look at the mansions. One weekend we went to see thus house , it was about 9:00pm and we found ourselves at the corner where the gates were. It was the night of that party, there were news cameras and elegantly dressed folks going in.

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  8. How well I remember that icon of bad taste.

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  9. Oh wow memories..I grew up just a fee block away ..I would remember the statues and the fire..

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  10. In the 70's, I worked at 20th Century Records, and Playboy Enterprises, just down the street from the mansion. I remember how beautiful it was originally; and I remember how interestingly garrish it was, and the burned out structure, after the Sheik bought it.

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  11. I used to live down the street just off of Sunset Blvd and used to drive past the property to the 405 every day. I only saw the property after it was torn down and sitting vacant for years. My ex-boyfriend sold real estate in Beverly Hills and said it was owned by the Shah of Iran but, he was wrong. Interesting to hear the stories about it.

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  12. Didn't he paint the pubes of all those statues black?

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  13. we used to drive by there in the 70's and as kids in the back of my dads Lincoln we would laugh so hard at those statues! Thank you for the great content!

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  14. OMG,....I lived and worked in LA in the 70's and 80''s. So much fun. So many concerts and clubs and great bands. So much great food and restaurants. Sunset and Melrose. So many great looking people and clothes. Thank you.

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  15. I was working at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel back in the late 70's and every day I drove over Coldwater Canyon crossing Sunset to get to work. You couldn't help but notice this house. It was painted an awful green (I thought it was mint green), with rocks glued all over the exterior fence. It was an eyesore!

    On this one day, I was crossing Sunset Boulevard and heading down Rodeo Drive to work when a large group of people sprinted across the street in the residential area, just before the railroad tracks. It was an unbelievable sight. The situation went bad quickly, and soon after, we had to lock down the hotel's front doors as rioting erupted on Wilshire Boulevard. Bijan's store even suffered damage during the chaos. Strange times.

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