Can This House Sell for $500 Million?

This Bloomberg piece profiles the rise of the spec housing market, where developers are building houses prior to having negotiated a contract with a buyer. The hope is that ultra high net worth individuals will be able to tour the property once it is completed, fall in love with it, and purchase the property.

Case in point: a 74,000 square-foot house being built in Bel Air, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Here is what this house will look like, per an artist’s drawing:



Nile Niami, a film producer and speculative residential developer, is pouring concrete in L.A.’s Bel Air neighborhood for a compound with a 74,000-square-foot (6,900-square-meter) main residence and three smaller homes, according to city records. The project, which will take at least 20 more months to complete, will exceed 100,000 square feet, including a 5,000-square-foot master bedroom, a 30-car garage and a “Monaco-style casino,” Niami said.

So can the house sell for $500 million? It seems possible but unlikely. Consider that the priciest home ever sold in the world was a $221 million London penthouse purchased in 2011, according to Christie’s. The most expensive properties on the market today include a $425 million estate in France’s Cote d’Azur, a $400 million penthouse in Monaco, and a $365 million London manor.

Regardless of whether this house sells for $500 million, it appears the spec market is booming:

New luxury mansions are proliferating in Los Angeles, often without buyers in place, known as building on spec. Niami, whose production credits include “The Patriot,” a 1998 action movie starring Steven Seagal, last September sold a Los Angeles home to entertainer Sean “Diddy” Combs for $40 million.

That was followed by the December sale of a Beverly Hills spec home for $70 million to Markus Persson, who last year sold his video-game company to Microsoft Corp. for $2.5 billion. In January, hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen closed on a Beverly Hills spec home for more than $30 million.

Los Angeles luxury homes have ballooned in size in the past 30 years, said Peter McCoy, contractor for a 53,000-square-foot mansion under construction on a Bel Air hilltop visible from Niami’s project.

How Many Pools are There in Los Angeles?

How many swimming pools are there in Los Angeles? That’s the big question that two academics pondered and decided to solve, according to this Los Angeles Times piece:

A year later, the result is the “Big Atlas of L.A. Pools,” a digital analysis of every swimming pool in the Los Angeles Basin. Using complex computer mapping, they counted 43,123 between the Hollywood Hills and San Pedro, from pools shaded by leaf-covered pergolas in Santa Monica to ones surrounded by chain-link fences in Alhambra.

Along the way, they discovered something more than just the real-world versions of the iconic David Hockney pool utopias. Their project also proved that two non-experts were able to take a massive amount of freely available data to peek into other people’s lives.

Some interesting statistics:

Their research, which fills 6,000 pages in 74 printed volumes, concludes that the typical swimming pool in Los Angeles is oval-shaped and measures 16 feet, 4 inches by 33 feet, 6 inches, though there are numerous oddly shaped pools squeezed into backyards.

The atlas found that Beverly Hills has 2,481 — the highest per capita in the region. Long Beach boasts 2,859 pools, Rancho Palos Verdes 2,592. They could not come up with a total for the city of Los Angeles, because their count left out the San Fernando Valley, although the Brentwood section of the city has 1,920.

But two other Los Angeles neighborhoods have no backyard pools at all: Watts and Florence. Of the four public pools in area parks, three were apparently closed for the season and empty when the satellite photo was taken, said Catarah Hampshire, a spokeswoman with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Yes, the ease of data access is unnerving. But you know what else is great? The byline associated with the piece. Great work.

Also worth seeing is the researchers’s voyeuristic take on the swimming pools in this video titled “The LA Swimmer”:



Space Shuttle Endeavour Crosses Los Angeles

The Atlantic’s In Focus blog has a superb gallery of photos showing how Space Shuttle Endeavour has made its way through Los Angeles on its way to its final destination, California Science Center. This is an urban feast for the eyes:

Stopping by Randy’s Donuts in Los Angeles.

Traversing city streets in L.A.

Shuttle Crossing!

See the full gallery here.

I, of course, have a special connection to Shuttle Endeavour after having witnessed its last launch into space last year. You can read about my experience here.

Nightfall: Stunning Time Lapse of Los Angeles and the Surroundings

This is an absolutely gorgeous time lapse video of Los Angeles and the surrounding area, created by Colin Rich:

Colin explains the motivation behind the making of the video:

I shot “Nightfall” in an attempt to capture Los Angeles as it transitioned from day to night. As you probably know, LA is an expansive city so shooting it from many different angles was critical. Usually I was able to capture just one shot per day with a lot of driving, exploring, and scouting in between but the times sitting in traffic or a “sketchy” neighborhood often lead to new adventures and interesting places.

Nightfall in particular is my favorite time to shoot time lapse. Capturing the transition from day to night while looking back at the city as the purple shadow of Earth envelopes the eastern skyline and the warm distant twinkling halogen lights spark to life and give the fading sun a run for her money- this will never grow old or boring to me.

In this piece, it was important to me for the shots to both capture and accentuate the movement of light through the day and night and the use of multiple motion control techniques allowed me to do so.

Highly recommend seeing this one in full screen mode.

A World of Parking

“The city of Los Angeles wasn’t built around the car. It was built around the parking lot.”

That quote is from this excellent Los Angeles Magazine piece by Dave Gardetta profiling Donald Shoup, a Yale-trained economist, who decided to study parking (and was called nuts for doing so). The essential question he is tackling: What if the free and abundant parking drivers crave is about the worst thing for the life of cities? The focus of the piece is on Los Angeles and its suburbs, and I pull the highlights below.

L.A. has been a wellspring for a parking guru like Shoup to become self-realized. Our downtown contains more parking spaces per acre than any other city in the world and has been adding them at a rate of about 1,000 a year for a century. 


This year Shoup’s 765-page book, The High Cost of Free Parking, was rereleased to zero acclaim outside of the transportation monthlies, parking blogs, and corridor beyond his office door in UCLA’s School of Public Affairs building.

Great trivia about the invention of the Dual-Parking meter:

Carlton Magee was an editor of the Albuquerque Morning Journalwhen in 1920 he helped uncover what would become the Teapot Dome Scandal. A few years later, in a hotel lobby, a judge whom Magee once accused of corruption walked up and knocked him to the floor. The editor drew his pistol and shot wide, killing a bystander. Acquitted of manslaughter, Magee moved to Oklahoma City to run the Oklahoma News, where parking, not vindictive judges, was the big story. Magee invented the Dual Park-O-Meter, filed for its patent, and on July 16, 1935, 174 parking meters were slotted into Oklahoma City.

The revenue that the city of Los Angeles earns from its parking meters:

Today there are 39,440 parking meters positioned along L.A. streets, each one earning on average about a thousand dollars a year. Some 2,537,521 citations were handed out to motorists by the city’s parking enforcement bureau last year. The most expensive ticket—“Parking hazardous waste carrier in residential area”—is almost never written and costs $378. The most common ticket, for parking on a street cleaning day, will set you back $68. Last year fines to drivers totaled $166,700,840—money that was used to pay for parking operations; surplus revenue is handed over to the city council.

One of the major issues brought up in the piece: in many parts of the country (San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, and D.C. are exceptions), parking rates don’t change based on traffic conditions, day of week, etc. But Los Angeles is ready to change things:

This spring the DOT plans to introduce an $18.5 million smart wireless meter system based on Shoup’s theories. Called ExpressPark, the 6,000-meter array will be installed on downtown streets and lots, along with sensors buried in the pavement of every parking spot to detect the presence of cars and price accordingly, from as little as 50 cents an hour to $6. Street parking, like pork bellies, will be open to market forces.

Why don’t cities like New York and San Francisco have so few parking options? Answer:

San Francisco or New York might have ten times the parking each has now if they had buildings like 1100 Wilshire, where the first 15 floors are all garage. But the downtown areas of those cities won’t allow it.

Who knew parking (and its history) could be so interesting?

Behind the Scenes at LAX

A good piece in Los Angeles Times on the ins-and-outs of how LAX, the world’s seventh busiest airport, is run:

Terminals 4 and 5 are where mega-players American and Delta lease space from the Los Angeles World Airport and, by virtue of their size, run these areas as if they were their own.

Then there are Terminals 1, 2 and 3, co-ops really, where smaller airlines share what feels like a shoe box.

Annual passenger volume is still below what it was before 9/11: 61 million now, 67 million then. Yet the airport, which is celebrating 50 years of jet travel, makes more than $100 million in profit annually on fees it charges airlines to use its facilities.

It sounds like the airport is run like a governmental agency:

Open since December, the Airport Response Coordination Center, or ARCC, is the airport’s central nervous system. Operators here control the stoplights outside the terminals to regulate vehicle flow. From here, an incident desk deploys plumbers to the flood in a restroom in Terminal 2 or a leaky water fountain in Terminal 3.

In a smaller room steps away, a police officer checks hundreds of surveillance cameras that monitor entrances, checkpoints and runways. Zooms in, zooms out, tilts down, pans left. What’s he looking for? Anomalies. Anything that doesn’t make sense in the normal flow of a gigantic airport.

I’d be very interested to read profiles of other major airports, such as that of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, New York’s JFK, or Tokyo’s Narita.


(hat tip: @matthiasrascher)