How Actor Bob Hope Built His Net Worth Through Real Estate
He was a savvy investor
The world will remember Bob Hope for his long years in the entertainment industry, for his love of golf and the work he did to promote that sport, and for his dedication to lifting the spirits of the armed forces with the U.S.O.
But did you know he was a very successful real estate investor, too? In fact, at one point in his career, Hope may have been one of the biggest landholders in the state of California. At his death at age 100 in 2003, rumors of his net worth varied between $400 million and $1 billion; a Forbes magazine article estimated Hope's net worth at $115 million.
Bob Hope's Real Estate Purchases
Hope began buying California real estate early in his career, focusing on land purchases. He was even known as "Mr. Real Estate," because he owned so much land. His longtime publicist, Frank Liberman, quipped in the L.A. Times: "Bob and I had a lot in common. He owned the Valley, and I used to drive through it."
Hope and Bing Crosby, who was his co-star in a number of Hollywood movies, also co-invested in Texas oil wells. When those wells performed spectacularly, the proceeds enabled Hope to invest in more land.
The Palm Springs House
One of Hope's most notable purchases was a remarkable home built in Palm Springs during the 1970s, featuring striking Modernist architecture, 10 bedrooms, and 14,000 square feet of living space. Designed by architect John Lautner, it was built of concrete, steel, and glass. According to the New York Times, the iconic house “was built to resemble a volcano, with three visor-like arches and an undulating concrete roof, a hole at its center opening a courtyard to the sky.”
While an extraordinary architectural achievement, the house proved to be difficult to sell—even to the ultra-rich. The home was listed for sale for $50 million in 2013 after Hope's wife, Dolores Hope, died. It was eventually bought three years later, in 2016, by investor Ron Burkle for $13 million.
The Toluca Lake House
Another notable property owned by Bob Hope is the Beverly Hills mansion he and wife Dolores had called home since 1940. It was originally built in 1939 and extensively renovated in the 1950s. This home was also put on the market in 2013—for $27.5 million—and this one, too, was purchased by Ron Burkle. Burkle paid $15 million for the home in 2018 after it sat on the market for years. In 2017, a buyer in escrow had applied for demolition permits for some of the outbuildings, which spurred an emergency injunction by the Los Angeles City Council to preserve the property.
The Land Value
Naturally, the value of Hope's real estate holdings varied over the years. According to a 2003 story in Forbes Magazine:
So just how much was Leslie Townes Hope worth? Many of the estimates being kicked around are based on a Time magazine story from 1967 that said the comedian owned “8,000 acres in Palm Springs, 4,000 to 5,000 acres near Phoenix, more than 7,500 acres in Malibu,” and more. Hope was thought to have enough land to make a principality nearly 50 times the size of Monaco, with just as fine a climate.
The Forbes story goes on to describe a process by which the magazine actually priced Hope's remaining holdings:
By the mid-1980s Mr. Hope, then in his 80s, was already tidying up his estate and liquidating much of his property in an orderly manner. Forbes ultimately estimated his remaining land holdings to be worth just $85 million.
Combined with his other investments, Hope's estate was valued at between $115 million and $150 million at the time of his death.
What Happened to the Land?
Hope bought a great deal of land during the 1960s and 1970s but did not hold onto most of it for very long. He fought with the Los Angeles Nature Conservancy (LANC) for years in the courts; finally he sold some of his Venture County holdings to LANC and developed luxury homes on others. His holding company, La Mancha Development, developed many of the Southern California mini-malls still in existence today.