A Safe room By Any Other Name

Suzanne Dranow Real EstateKim Kardashian’s recent robbery in Paris at gunpoint (in which she was relieved of $9 million of jewelry)  brought to mind an article in The Hollywood Reporter about safe rooms being the newest trend in luxury real estate. Knowing that no harm came to Ms. Kardashian, I found this a bit amusing as  the “Safe” or “Panic” room is the latest name for a feature that’s been around for at least a century (if not a couple of centuries).

A friend of mine owns a home in Brentwood that was owned by an early Hollywood studio bigwig. During prohibition it was outfitted with at least two different passageways, hidden behind concealed panels, that lead to a spacious subterranean area that was used to host parties (and is now used as a theatre room). If having to go through a passageway seemed too much of a hassle to get a drink, he showed me a bookcase in his home office that swings around to reveal a well stocked mirrored bar, complete with lighted glass shelves (think wet bar from the “Three’s Company” era of the 70s).
I’ve seen a lot of older homes with these sorts of rooms and passages, many of them hidden, and almost all of them lock securely to keep one safe (or hidden). William Randolph Hearst famously had a secret passage to visit Marion Davies at San Simeon, and a home in Venice (one of the twenty thousand or so purportedly owned by Charlie Chaplin) had a tunnel connecting to the neighboring property used for prurient liaisons (or simply to more easily borrow sugar from a neighbor on one of LA’s famously stormy nights).
Much like “Jaws” made millions of people nervous about (incredibly rare) shark attacks, the 2002 movie “Panic Room” did a lot to promote the importance of having a panic room.  Friends and clients started outfitting closets with reinforced doors and door frames, with phones installed next to their shoe cubbies. Alarm companies jumped on the trend, letting people know how easy it is for intruders to cut a phone line, giving birth to the explosive growth in the use of cellular back-up systems.
Talking to an information officer at the LAPD’s Pacific Division (which covers Brentwood and Pacific Palisades) the incidence of home invasion robberies is statistically insignificant, but I can understand why someone who is a stalker magnet (AKA “a celebrity”), an owner of expensive jewelry, or a celebrity who owns a lot of jewelry, might want a safe room.
European castles have secret passages and hidden rooms, so the idea of sequestered safety is not new. What did make me laugh was the reporting of a panic room that also included a fully stocked bar, bringing the idea of the safe room full circle with the prohibition era “home speakeasy.” My only suggestion to this sort of set-up would be to make sure to have two fast cellular connections — one to call the alarm company when intruders arrive, the other to stream whatever’s new on Netflix or Amazon, because in this town, there’s no excuse to be disconnected from the latest episode of “The Mindy Project.”

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