Kim 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: a) I personally never travel with more than $5 million in jewelry ($9 million is just ostentatious), and b) the “Safe” or “Panic” room is the latest name for a feature that’s been around for at least one century (if not many more).
A friend’s home in Brentwood was owned by an early Hollywood studio bigwig. During prohibition it was outfitted with two concealed panels that lead to a spacious subterranean area used to host gambling parties (and is now used as a theatre room, and probably the place his teenaged kids sneak to when they want to make out). If having to go through a passageway seemed too much of a hassle for some hooch, the studio exec had also installed a bookcase in his office that swings around to reveal a well stocked mirrored bar, complete with illuminated glass shelves (sadly, the concept of a wet bar would have had to wait for the “Three’s Company” era of the 70s).
I’ve seen several older homes with these sorts of rooms and passages, and almost all of them locking securely to keep one safe from any police who might have wanted to kill your bathtub gin buzz. 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 for prurient liaisons (or to simply more conveniently borrow sugar on one of LA’s famously stormy nights).
Much as “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 frames, emergency phones conveniently installed next to their shoe cubbies. Alarm companies jumped in, letting people know how easily intruders can 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 West LA Division (which covers Brentwood and Pacific Palisades) I was told the incidence of home invasion robberies is statistically insignificant. Still, I understand why someone who is a stalker magnet (AKA “a celebrity”), an owner of expensive jewelry, or a celebrity who owns expensive jewelry, might want a safe room.
Old 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.”
For anyone planning to build a panic room, my only suggestion is to have two fast cellular connections — one to call the alarm company when intruders arrive, the other to stream whatever’s new on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu, because in this town to be disconnected from the latest episode of “The Mindy Project” is a reason to panic.
A version of this post appeared in The Huffington Post