December 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions Starry Starry Sites December 1998 Current Issue
December 1998

'Ol Blue Eyes lived here.

Starry Starry Sites

Wonder how the rich and famous live? Book an event at a celebrity home

By Carla Benini

Our fascination with celebrities must be part of our genetic makeup. We pour over People and Entertainment Weekly, and even sheepishly comb the supermarket tabloids for the latest inflammatory scoop. Our curious minds want to know about celebrities’ clothes, diets, addictions, divorces, infidelities and box office bombs, yet the closest most of us will ever get to them is a few rows from a movie screen or stage.

Unless they let you party in their house. The notion is hardly believable. After all, why would celebrities, whose private lives are so often public property, invite strangers into their most precious refuges? For some, it’s a good deed (and/or a tax write-off). Many celebrities rent out their homes for a range of events while others limit rentals to charity functions. But it’s a different story when the home is no longer lived in by the star. Then the venue rental is a moneymaker for the current owner.

Getting in is often a matter of who you know. After all, planners won’t get anywhere by calling Barbara Mandrell to find out if she’ll host 100 in her living room. A better approach is through local catering and destination management companies that have an “in” with the celebrity. Even so, be prepared for restrictions; many homes allow only outdoor affairs and limit access to the home to tours.

As for theme ideas, certain homes lend themselves to pretty obvious entertainment options. A function at Elvis’ Palm Springs estate is usually attended by a handful of impersonators, says Sylvia Schmitt, head of Locations Unlimited in Rancho Mirage, Calif. For parties at Frank Sinatra’s place, Schmitt plans a tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes. Others choose to let the atmosphere of the venue stand on its own. Says Patsy Bruce, owner of Nashville-based Events Unlimited, who has arranged functions at Barbara Mandrell’s house, “Being in a celebrity home is theme enough.”

The following is a country-wide glimpse at the domiciles of the rich and famous.

Peter Max’s studio
New York City

Rental fee: $10,000
Capacity: 100 for seated events and 250 for receptions
Contact: Gene Luntz; (212) 874-6700

Inside a 10,000-square-foot studio, near the tuning orchestras of Lincoln Center, is a preserved piece of psychedelia. This is Peter Max’s “creative space,” says Gene Luntz, an associate of the artist. And, while Max doesn’t live here, evidence of his influence on pop culture is everywhere. The artist is perhaps best known for his soft, trippy-hippy images that helped bring the ’60s lifestyle and politics to the mainstream. The room is noisy with color: posters from the ’60s and ’70s, magazine covers, oversized oil paintings in rainbow colors, Save the Rainforest T-shirts, pins, socks, even a special edition Giants football helmet.

Inside, maze-like walls create several intimate living room-like spaces, furnished with velvet overstuffed couches and chairs. A wall of 18 video monitors is often used during corporate product launches and press conferences.

Charity functions and corporate events that tie in his own commissioned artwork are at the top of Max’s guest list. Catering companies that have worked Max parties include Great Performances (212-727-2424) and Glorious Foods (212-628-2320).

Palm Beach, Fla.

Rental fee: $400 to $650 per person, which includes location fee, food and beverage, tent, stage and basic catering rentals
Capacity:385 outdoors, seated or reception-style; 100 seated and 200 standing in the ballroom; 78 seated or reception-style in the members’ dining room
Contact: Groups must be sponsored by a Mar-a-Lago club member. Two catering companies, Tropic Temptations (561-655-4008) and Imaginations (561-533-1115), are members and can facilitate event planning, although catering is handled by Mar-a-Lago’s in-house catering staff.

Donald Trump’s Palm Beach escape looks like something out of a movie set. It can’t be real. What would one person possibly do with all that house? Trump has found plenty to do, from hosting a performance by Luciano Pavarotti in the gilded Gold and White Ballroom to opening the home to Mar-a-Lago club members, who can romp on tennis courts or bask on a two-acre beach for a mere $75,000, plus $6,500 a year.

The mansion, which sits on 18 acres of land that stretches from the beach to Lake Worth, has a history with people who became filthy rich in corporate America. Its 118 rooms were built in 1927 by breakfast cereal heir Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband, E.F. Hutton.

Its resplendence is remarkable from silk tapestries that once hung in a Venetian palazzo to the living room’s 32-foot-high ceiling covered in gold leaf to frescoes framed with marble columns and ornate carvings. On the grounds are covered and intricately carved walkways, landscaped courtyards and a bevy of marble statues. Near the pool, where groups often gather, is the highly acclaimed members-only Greenhouse Spa.

Trump seems to have an appreciation for the absurdly opulent and is known to be meticulous in the home’s upkeep.

Barbara Mandrell’s home
Hendersonville, Tenn.

Rental fee: Determined on case-by-case basis; fee is generally donated to charity.
Capacity:50 for seated events and 100 for receptions in the great room; a dining room table seats 25
Contact: Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Convention Services Department (615-259-4716) for destination management companies with access to the home

On 300 acres of woodlands 25 minutes north of Nashville is the estate of country music star Barbara Mandrell. The 28,000-square-foot home was designed by the singer’s husband. Made entirely of light-colored lodgepole pine, the sprawling home is high on amenities, including an indoor pool, a game room and a helicopter pad.

The main living spaces are done in stylish yet rustic decor. A great room has leather couches flanking a large stone fireplace. A cathedral ceiling makes the space seem even larger than its 2,500 square feet. Smaller groups also can gather around the dining room table.

Says Patsy Bruce, owner of Nashville-based destination management company Events Unlimited, the couple is usually open to benefits or to groups willing to donate a rental fee to charity. An added bonus: The couple will sometimes join attendees at the event.

Liberace’s Las Vegas villa
Las Vegas

Rental fee: $3,500 for three-hour event
Capacity: 300 for seated events and 1,100 for receptions
Contact: Tony Gibson; (702) 795-8119

From his studded floor-length capes to his sequined Rolls Royce, Liberace was all about excess. See for yourself when visiting Las Vegas, a fitting location for Liberace’s over-the-top tastes.

The 20,000-square-foot home has double doors from the governor’s mansion in Albany, N.Y., and a hand-sculpted circular staircase from Paris. Baccarat crystal chandeliers light much of the estate, including the Eternal Hallway, a Liberace-designed space flanked by 2,000-year-old Grecian pillars. Liberace’s flamboyant taste extends to the master suite. Pass the fountain and look up: You’ll find a reproduction of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Several of the home’s spaces are available to groups, including a 4,000-square-foot ballroom and the Moroccan Room, decorated with copper tiles and a tiled fireplace. Smaller events can be held in a cigar lounge.

Elvis’ home
Palm Springs, Calif.

Rental fee: $4,000
Capacity: 80 for seated events, 1,000 for receptions
Contact:Sylvia Schmitt, Locations Unlimited; (760) 340-5590

Elvis has left the building permanently but his legend lives on at his former Palm Springs estate. The King purchased the house in 1973 when it was a modest three-bedroom home. Not for long. Elvis added an 1,100-square-foot recreation room now used by groups and a master suite. He also turned the living room into a studio, where he recorded songs such as “Are You Sincere?” and “I Miss You.” In the San Jacinto Mountains, the house also has a pool, two saunas and a Jacuzzi for 12.

The legend of the hip-swiveling icon is honored by the home’s current owner, an Elvis-loving Japanese business tycoon. He bought the house in 1989 for $3 million and visits about once a year, says Locations Unlimited’s Schmitt. Walls are covered with gold records, photographs and other memorabilia.

Frank Sinatra’s “Twin Palms”
Palm Springs, Calif.

Rental fee: $4,000
Capacity: 80 for seated and standing functions
Contact: Sylvia Schmitt, Locations Unlimited; (760) 340-5590

The current owner bought this Palm Springs landmark for its distinct architecture. Only after researching the designer did he learn of the home’s first inhabitant. Frank Sinatra had the home built in 1947 and lived there with his wife Nancy and three children (and later with Ava Gardner).

Sinatra was known as a consummate party host who would raise a flag in his yard signaling neighbors it was cocktail time.

The owner has preserved the home’s decor. Some furnishings are original, including pieces by Herman Miller and Florence Knoll. Group tours can be arranged during private events, which are held in the backyard next to the grand piano-shaped pool.

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