October 29, 2020

Famous Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs for Sale

By Bob Marra

One of America’s great residential treasures, the Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs is available, with a listing price of $25 million.

One of the last domestic commissions by internationally Vienna-born architect Richard Neutra, and considered one of the finest examples of the International style of architecture in the United States, the sprawling, multi-winged home was designed and built in the mid-1940s as a winter retreat for Pittsburgh department store tycoon Edgar J. Kaufmann.

After Kaufmann died in 1955, his dazzling desert retreat, originally designed to be occupied just two months per year, stood vacant for a number of years. It was later owned by late businessman Gene Klein and, in the 1980s, by Barry Manilow. The house came for sale in the late 1980s as a major fixer-upper but did not sell until 1993 when it was acquired for about $1.5 million by financial executive Brent Harris and his now ex-wife, architectural historian and preservationist Beth Harris.

This is not the first time the Kaufmann Desert House has been up for sale since its rehabilitation and restoration. In 2008 it was made it available during Christie’s Postwar and Contemporary Art auction with an estimated sale price of $15-$25 million. An unknown winning bidder entered into an agreement to buy the house for $15 million, plus $4 million in commission fees. But the deal soon fell apart. The house was then unsuccessfully set out for sale at $12.975 million, but even that deep discount failed to attract a buyer.

Since then the interest in and demand for architecturally significant trophy homes has only grown for those in a financial position to buy, restore and maintain these delicate, high-maintenance facilities. Though fewer than ten single-family homes in Palm Springs have sold for more than $5 million over the last five years, and no previous sale in Palm Springs even comes close to the by-any-standard mountainous $25 million price tag of the Kaufmann House.

Other Palm Springs architectural tours-de-force that sold for previously unimaginable prices include the spaceship-inspired Elrod House, which cleaves to a rocky precipice above the south end of town, and that iconoclast fashion designer Jeremy Scott, creative director at Moschino, scooped up in 2016 for $7.7 million. Later that same year, billionaire investor Ron Burkle, who also bought Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House in L.A. last year for $19 million, dropped $13 million for the mansion built for Bob and Dolores Hope. Just a fraction of the pie-in-the-sky original price of $50 million, the sale price of the Hope house was then and still is the highest price ever paid for a single-family home in Palm Springs. It’s quite possible Kaufmann Desert House will blow that record out of the desert sands. However, it’s highly unlikely the sale will best the Coachella Valley’s top price of $42.9 million that property collecting billionaire Larry Ellison paid in 2011 for the 240-acre Porcupine Creek estate in Rancho Mirage, which he now plans to convert to an elite private resort.

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