Location, location, location. Gross (Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum, 2009, etc.) presents a history of Los Angeles land development that is rich in incident and full of thwarted ambition, visionary zeal and conspicuous consumption.
The book will appeal mainly to those who first turn to the real-estate section of the newspaper, those armchair moguls who salivate at the specs of sumptuous mansions and impossibly tony addresses. The author is generous with salacious gossip about such families as the Bells, the Greens and the Jansses, socially ambitious builders who forged such exclusive havens for the rich as Bel Air and Beverly Hills and whose family histories are rife with alcoholism, bitter infighting, sex scandals and suicide. This being L.A., there are also accounts of the housing adventures of movie stars such as Harold Lloyd, whose pleasure palace Greenacres, with its opulent screening room, tennis courts and bowling alley, stands as a monument to fun—a welcome respite from the unlovely status-driven mania of much of the book’s sprawling cast. Gross has clearly done his research, and many anecdotes—such as the extremes taken by the owners of the manse seen in the opening credits of the Beverly Hillbillies to shield their property from invasive tourists—have a comic snap that enliven the proceedings. In addition, there is schadenfreude to be found in the accounts of overreaching billionaires and scandal-rocked social-register types. However, the endless tallying of who sold what to whom for how much becomes wearying, and a gradual feeling of disgust at so much money and ego run amok is difficult to avoid.
A juicy, breezily told social history of La La Land, deal by deal.