Day two of my book research trip took me into the hills outside of Westwood to the famous neighborhood known by its main street: Bel Air. I hadn’t realized the area was so close by until I did a Google search for the most expensive houses in Los Angeles. There, I found a real estate site listing a $185 million French provincial hidden away on Nimes St., less than a mile from my temporary residence.
In the end, I wasn’t able to find said French provincial, because once I was up there driving around in my friend’s BMW (which was surprisingly out of place among the Bentleys and Mercedes that routinely tailgated me during my journey), I realized every house was completely obscured by huge, manicured hedges and thick, high fences. The above photo was the best I could get; clearly Bel Air is used to gawkers like me, so the roads are skinny (i.e., it’s impossible to pull over and there are no sidwalks) and signs everywhere say “NO PARKING NO STOPPING AT ANY TIME.”
But I think the trip was fruitful nevertheless. Most of The Devil’s Throne series takes place in a mansion in the fictional neighborhood of Red Hills, styled after some strange combination of Rolling Hills and Bel Air. Like Rolling Hills, Red Hills is physically located in the southwestern portion of Los Angeles, to make it distinct from the Platinum Triangle of Bel Air, Beverly Hills, and Holmby Hills. So, while touring Bel Air was helpful in terms of gathering general information, architectural cues, and design ideas, I’ll still need to make a trek to the south of the city to get the landscape right.
The most interesting estate I saw during my trip (I couldn’t stop to take a photo at the time) was in the process of being constructed on the top of a hill. It looked almost suspended in the air, and when I drove up the hill to get a look at it from the front, I found a black iron gate, a Honda CR-V, and a wide, green courtyard behind it. Despite what the Wikipedia article says about Bel Air, I couldn’t disagree more that the bigger houses lie in the lower altitudes, while the smaller, more modest ones have been built farther up–I found the most hidden, luxurious mansions while driving up St. Cloud and Nimes into the foothills. Perhaps they mean even farther back than that.
I’m also fascinated by the idea of multi-gazillionaires driving old Honda CR-Vs. I guess that’s how they became multi-gazillionaires?