Hidden up on one of the highest peaks in Highland Park overlooking the rolling hills with views as far as the ocean, Flamingo Estate has long been shrouded in mystery and secrecy.
The 7-acre terraced garden that once served as a goat farm and spent 65 years as a prolific porn studio and underground hedonistic playground for L.A.’s bohemia, the pleasure garden is now ground zero for a thriving farm-inspired luxury brand that features everything from tomato-scented candles to wildflower honey and infused vinegars and oils.
When advertising agency owner Richard Christiansen discovered the gated and overgrown property about seven years ago, he became intrigued and befriended the little 84-year old hunched over owner in the Rick Dalton-style robe. He made a laughable offer on the place and the owner said if Christiansen would restore the property and its crumbling structures, he would accept it. The deal was done and he opened up the Owl Bureau bookstop down the hill on Figueroa Street to help secure the extra funds the promise would cost him.
He christened it The Flamingo Estate, named after the bungalow’s pink walls.
“The house was in complete disrepair and was totally redone,” Christiansen tells L.A. Weekly over a glass of Rosé in the goathouse, which served as the brand’s original lab where he concocted herbal soaps and stored the garden’s bounty.
“The bar was a dildo room. The kitchen was a fucking room with a sling from the ceiling. My bedroom was all black leather with a black leather waterbed,” he says. “The porn is easy to joke about, but the truth is that when you really understood what was going on here in the ‘40s and the ‘50s – especially the ‘40s – this was a real hedonistic playground for people. There was good food and wine, and good music. It was a goat farm. People would come up here for a bit of mischief and guilty pleasure. In a way, I’d like to think that we’ve brought that back a bit.”
The completed masterpiece is a small, but detailed compilation of his travels around the world. With the help of architectural firm Studio KO, the two-bedroom house has three distinct custom terrazzo floor patterns, marble from Italy and Greece, textiles from Japan, furniture from Brazil, 600 trees from his native Australia, four goats and 12 chickens. The roof and terrace tiles are from Morocco.
The little sensual house also has a secluded pool where hundreds of mid-century sex scenes were filmed and a steep staircase of 69 steps leading down to the vegetable garden that resembles the Temple of Kukulcán. There are no digital appliances in the house, like TVs or microwaves, only manual or analog. He describes it as a little Epcot center, where the best of the world just came together in one place.
Inspired by a photo from an Iraqi pleasure garden, Christiansen constructed a bathouse on the property with blue and white stained glass windows that open up to a panoramic view of Highland Park and beyond. He installed a large concrete bathtub, built to mimic a famous 1963 photo of Steve and Neile McQueen with a bottle of wine soaking in a sulfur bath in Big Sur.
“The architects brought me this picture of a giant concrete building in Iraq, which was said to be a refuge for soldiers,” he says. “They’d smoke some hashish and take a bath with all these beautiful women walking around the garden naked. They’d feed them wonderful food, tell them this is what heaven is like and then send them back into battle. This idea of the hedonistic garden in the mountains was the inspiration point for the bathhouse. It’s a bathing cathedral with room for multiple people and has a bar downstairs. It’s a little naughty, a little fun and super tasteful.”
And then there’s the goathouse, where it all started.
Coming from a family of bee farmers, Christiansen and his team of nature lovers began drying flowers and herbs from the garden, cooking up candles and soaps, along with processing wildflower honey from the farm’s hives during the pandemic. Trying to survive, other small local farmers would hike up the hill and knock on the gates of the Flamingo Estate, hoping to sell their products. They don’t decide to make something and go out and find the ingredients to make it. The farmers come to the estate and say, ‘We’re growing this, what can you do with it?’
“By chance we met a farmer who was about to lose her farm because her vegetables went to restaurants, which were all starting to close,” he says. “That was the first Friday of COVID when we started selling her vegetables and Community Supported Agriculture boxes.
“The honey still comes from the property now and some of the herbs come from here, but the business has doubled and doubled, and doubled again. The demand just surged. Then another farmer came in, and another and another. They just came up to the front door and said, I heard you’re helping farmers. It was a pandemic and everyone was looking for non-traditional ways of working together. Back then we would just say, sure! We accidentally stumbled across this interconnected group of growers who were coincidentally regenerative or organic farmers and selling at the farmers markets or a restaurant. They were very small farms. One farmer would tell their neighbor, and one farm became 10 and then 50 and up to the 110 that we have now.
“We started with what we could grow and make here. Now we’re a living laboratory where people come to brainstorm with others who are growing stuff. I look back at those days and I’m shocked that we’re still in business.”
In just about three years, the brand has outgrown the goathouse and opened up a facility nearby with about 25 employees who process those ingredients into about 40 different items like winter harvest ambrosia fuyu hachiya persimmon vinegar, heritage extra virgin olive oil from 150-year-old California trees and a strawberry rose dark chocolate bar.
Hives from the garden were loaned out to various celebrities like Will Ferrell, Tiffany Haddish, Savannah and LeBron James, and the limited-edition honey collected by Christiansen from those properties are part of the Flamingo Estate collection. A line of beauty and perfume products is in the works.
The latest vendor to come knocking at the gate is Hendrick’s Gin. They’ve partnered with the garden on Botanical Pleasures, an exclusive limited edition gift box designed for a DIY pleasure party. It comes with Hendrick’s Flora Adora, the newest limited release gin, a strawberry fruit snack made with rose water and honey, body oil containing flowers and fruit to activate natural pheromones and leave traces of Scottish wildflower meadows on the skin, a vinyl jazz record arranged to transport you through a year in the garden from the hum of spring to the quiet of winter, highball glasses and bee stir sticks to create a botanical garden cocktail like the Wild Garden Cup (recipe below.)
“Old French and English pleasure gardens were not just gardens,” says the former ad exec. “It was entertainment for the senses – touch and smell and taste. They were erotic places you went to gossip and flirt. That idea of how to ignite your senses was what was interesting about the Hendrick’s partnership. We created the strawberries and body oil to combine with their botanicals. And If there’s anything that inspires the Flora Adora, it’s a cocktail sitting on that wide ledge of the tub in the bathhouse, the nicest place on the whole property and my favorite room. It’s super indulgent and selfish to have a long hot bath in a big bathtub and look out the windows onto the rose garden.
“My training had always been in luxury goods and my parents were farmers, so I understood that we had to start treating the farms like a luxury good, the same way we would sell an Hermes scarf or Cartier watch, we should sell produce. Mother Nature is the last great luxury house.”
- Hendrick’s FLORA ADORA Wildgarden Cup
- ● 2 Parts Flora Adora
- ● 1 Part Lemon Juice
- ● 1 Part Simple Syrup
- ● Top with Premium Sparkling Water
- ● 4 Raspberries
- ● 6 Mint Leaves
- ● 3 Cucumber Wheels
- Method: Combine all ingredients in a highball glass filled with cubed ice. Top with sparkling water and stir gently. Garnish with cucumber wheels, mint leaves and raspberries.
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