Real estate agent resides in ‘Witch’s House’

Posted at 3:51 PM, Feb 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-10 15:51:57-05

BEVERLY HILLS, California (CNN) — It looks decrepit and disheveled. But if a witch were rich, she might feel right at home in this Beverly Hills house.

Just two blocks from Rodeo Drive sits the Spadena House, or Witch’s House as it is universally called, inducing double takes from most who pass by.

“Most people think it’s dilapidated and vacant,” says Michael J. Libow, owner of the storybook home. “I’m an odd person to begin with, and the home is so odd for its neighborhood.”

If it weren’t so impressive, the Witch’s House might be an eyesore: The shutters look like they’re falling off, the roof is curling and the yard is thorny. It resembles the rickety gingerbread house occupied by the witch in “Hansel and Gretel.”

“The whole concept is that the house should feel as if it emanated from the ground,” says Libow, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent who bought the home nearly two decades ago and has been restoring its, well, decay ever since. Everything is carefully designed to create “a home that looks as if it’s 300 years old that really isn’t.”

Take the rotting cedar shingles: Libow had them dyed to look like they’d been on the home for centuries. The wavy look of the roof makes it appear as if “the home could take off at any moment,” he says — witchcraft, you might say, achieved by stacking plywood underneath the shingles.

Libow actually lives in the home, making it off limits to the public. But tour guides shuttle eager visitors past the home daily.

“It is, I’m told, the most requested noncelebrity house to visit in Los Angeles,” says Libow.

And while overzealous tour guides tout its appearance in everything from “The Witches of Eastwick” to “Hocus Pocus,” Libow says the only modern-day film the home has appeared in was 1995’s “Clueless.”

“It was strictly a background shot (with) Alicia Silverstone walking by the house,” he says. “But everybody respects the home for being in that movie.”

The Witch’s House is believed to have first appeared on screen in the 1921 silent film “The Face of the World,” says Kimberly Reiss of Beverly Hills Heritage, an organization dedicated to promoting the history of the city.

The building was constructed a year earlier in 1920 on the Willat Studios lot in Culver City, California, and was used as both a studio office and dressing room, Reiss says. After the studio shut down, a producer moved it to Walden Drive in Beverly Hills in 1924 where it began its second act as a private residence.

“The thing that makes this property important is it set the bar for storybook architecture in Los Angeles during the ’20s and ’30s,” she says.

By the time the home came back on the market in the late 1990s, Libow, a Realtor, called it a “sixties nightmare” and it was only getting interest from buyers who wanted to tear it down, something the seller forbid. The more Libow showed the Witch’s House, the more it cast a spell on him.

“I think it just hit me one day, and I thought, ‘You know what? Why not?'” he said. “Jump in; take a chance. I’m big on taking risks.”

Libow bought the home and over the next decade transformed it into what it is today: an upscale incarnation of a storybook home. He’s even furnished the home with pieces to match the fairy tale theme, including a dining room table with a tree-trunk base.

Today, the home isn’t just a tour stop or a must-visit for trick-or-treaters on Halloween. In 2013 the Witch’s House became an official Beverly Hills landmark, something Libow worked hard to achieve.

“It gives me great joy to be able to bring joy to people who stop by to look at it,” Libow says, though he concedes there’s always a few scared by the Witch’s House, particularly children.

They might have good reason: Libow gleefully notes his oven is “just about perfect child-size. Something every witch should have.”