My agent, Adam Davis, sold this interesting home! It was an adventure from beginning to end and it’s worked out perfectly.
Updated Jan 22, 2021; Posted Jan 17, 2021
By Janet Eastman | The Oregonian/OregonLive
Blackberry Castle, the fanciful, gem-colored mansion in Northwest Portland’s Forest Park neighborhood that’s famous for being for sale, has new owners who are able to promote the storied property as a new kind of playground.
Adult-film actor Mia Malkova and content producer Eli Tucker, along with a silent partner, offered $3.9 million to make the gated and guarded estate a home film studio.
They paid about $3 million less than the original owners poured into their make-believe French chateau before immediately putting it up for sale six years ago.
With a $500,000 down payment and a $25,000-a-month mortgage, according to public records, the new owners closed the deal Dec. 18, 2020, and took possession of the castle’s 13,000 square feet of living space last week.
They are eager to use the themed rooms, from a spa with Roman columns to a 1940s-style Buenos Aires theater, as film sets. Videos will appear on YouTube and Instagram and livestreams on Twitch, all intended for mature audiences.
The sale included furnishings and fantasy elements such as life-size suits of knights’ armor standing guard inside illuminated alcoves near the grand stairs.
Malkova, 28, plans to pose as Rapunzel on one of the wrought-iron Juliet balconies; her 30-foot-long, blond wig dangling down the side of the stone façade.
Tucker, also 28, who’s a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel “Treasure Island” and its TV prequel, “Black Sails,” has designed a pirate ship to rise from the floor of the glass-ceiling atrium.
Water from the hull of the faux shipwreck will flow into a koi pond. A grotto, inspired by pirates and Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion West, will connect a new indoor pool to the outdoors.
“We’re looking to make it an adult Disneyland for content producers,” says Tucker, who quickly adds that the 6.4-acre property in unincorporated Multnomah County will not be open to the public or be an event space.
Like homeowners who rent on Airbnb, Etsy craft makers or people who have a home music studio or art studio in which they produce something for commercial gain, these part-time filmmakers would need to comply with county ordinances such as observing quiet time and not blocking streets or sidewalks.
Homeowners who rent to film crews in the city of Portland adhere to a rule of down time between filming contracts, and permits are required, according to the Portland Film Office.
Even before Blackberry Castle was sold to Malkova, a Penthouse Pet of the Month who’s the focus of the documentary “God, Sex and Truth,” and her equally media-savvy partners, the towering stone-and-timber structure was well known.
In 2015, the trophy home, which fronts sloping vineyards of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, was put up for sale at $7,175,000. The sellers, Andrei and Leslie Lupenko, also known as Andre and Leslie Mon Belle, who founded the on-demand translation service Telelanguage, said they wanted to move back to the city.
Real estate photos of the castle’s secret, 400-bottle wine cellar that’s concealed behind boulders and other over-the-top features were shared around the world.
Blackberry Castle’s Story
It takes a drone flying over Blackberry Castle to understand all that’s on the 6.4-acre parcel hidden in the hills.
From the air, you spot the fairy-tale conical roofs, pointy turrets and arched windows as seen in the Middle Ages, all meant to evoke a fortress that has stood the test of time.
A metal banner across the gate reads “Blackberry Castle.”
Past the heavy wood front door is the Oasis, its name painted on one of the soaring walls in the vast indoor atrium that can be heated to temperatures high enough to grow tropical fruits.
In one corner, there’s a long, copper-topped bar with cowhide front panels. Walls have half-timbering, as seen on Tudor buildings, or have been painted with a European street scene.
Other walls in the mansion are clad in stone or silk wallpaper, or finished in expensive Venetian plaster or painted with Maxfield Parrish-like clouds. There are frescoes above stairways and a fleur-de-lis crest embedded in the foyer’s marble floor. Seventy doors were imported from Europe.
The Lupenkos filled their home with treasures they collected; design themes were inspired by their travels.
The media room, with an 8.5-foot-long projector screen, was modeled after a vintage movie theater in Argentina. A marquee and trompe l’oeil curtains are under a ceiling with a blue-painted sky.
The gym has a 15-foot-tall climbing wall and the kitchen was “built for feasting,” says real estate agent Daniel Lowe, as he pointed out that the butcher block island counter is made from 10,000 individual wood cubes.
The kitchen is so large that restaurant-size appliances are to scale. The Italian-made Ilve Majestic range has six burners, a griddle, pot filler and two ovens. The giant, onion-dome range hood is from Brasserie Montmartre, the former downtown Portland restaurant and jazz club.
Lowe represented the sellers and marketed the castle for Land and Wildlife Realty after two other real estate firms failed to sell the property.
The Lupenkos lowered the price to $3.9 million, hoping it would finally find a buyer. Property taxes alone are about $48,000 a year.
Lowe says stories he pitched to print publications, online sites and Facebook page managers generated 25 million likes, clicks and shares for the castle. The “unicorn property,” he says, was a “spectacle” enjoyed by all ages.
And an inspiration to artists.
Swedish remixer, record producer and songwriter Avicii rented the castle in 2016 while working on his third and last album, “Tim.” Footage of the late musician in the castle is included in the documentary “Avicii: True Stories.”
Lowe says he showed the “monster-size castle” to 30 prequalified buyers and received three full-price offers. Two offers fell through, which is not uncommon among multimillion-dollar properties.
He also heard from looky-loos who wanted to tour the famous mansion.
“You get a lot of individuals who say, ‘My kids would love to see a castle,’” says Lowe, shaking his head no.
Lowe specializes in brokering large estates on acreage in Oregon and Washington state. For Blackberry Castle, Lowe spoke to agents around the world and targeted people in entertainment, putting the castle in front of the eyes of Billboard rap artists to professional athletes and Southern California tycoons.
He calls the new owners “young creatives” who are exactly the type to own a castle.
New Owners’ Ideas
Tucker, of JMR Media Group based in Portland, says the castle is “way bigger” than he realized. “My dogs keep getting lost when they wander,” he jokes.
On Friday, he was in the circular library that consumes two levels of a turret. A massive, working clock, billed as the Northwest’s largest, hovers 20 feet overhead on the ceiling.
Tucker has spread out the castle’s original blueprints and is pulling books on Tudor architecture off the shelves.
“Every room in the house is so shootable and themed so well,” he says, glancing around the library. “There’s texture: Reclaimed bookshelves, leather chairs, hardwood floor. The ceiling clock. It’s like a movie set already. The original owners did all the hard work.”
When he first heard of the castle years ago, Tucker thought whoever owned it was lucky.
Last year, JMR Media Group and the entities it manages — Muse mature content, Mermaid Media adult content and Flux clothing company — struck gold with increased viewership and sales, according to Tucker, as people were stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Malkova says revenues will continue to rise as customers want to support individual creators more than big companies. She worked seven years for production companies. She’s now receiving residuals from JMR Media Group.
Buying the property to work from home made sense.
“The castle has a lot of potential,” says Tucker.
Malkova envisions enhancing the home’s eccentric decor and details with Harry Potter elements and magic books. “We’re all kind of geeks,” she says. A bedroom off of the Roman spa will also get a makeover with a round bed and romantic touches.
“The house is stunning but unfinished,” she says.
Fantasy Property’s Appeal
Adam Davis of RE/MAX Select, who represented the buyers, says the media creators have now acquired a space with “innumerable backdrops and environments” for which they can do their content creation.
“If it were me,” he says, “I’d be flooded with ideas.”
Davis was aware of Blackberry Castle before he helped negotiate the sale. Some of his high-profile clients were interested, but none was ready to move forward until Malkova and Tucker came along.
“This place is not for everyone,” Davis says. “It’s very distinctive. Some people will be overwhelmed by the themed décor and other elements that would be hard to remove.”
He says the castle, which he calls a “living, breathing art installation,” matched the buyers’ needs and creativity.
“They were looking for something in Oregon with character, allure and fantasy elements, something inimitable, something special that couldn’t be replicated,” says Davis, who has a decade of film experience.
His clients, who require nondisclosure agreements, have enhanced needs for secrecy and privacy, from the contract to the close. He’s finding places for them in West Linn, Sherwood and Happy Valley, but also beyond the Portland area.
He mentions Newberg, Bend and Sisters, which has a Northwest-style mansion with 14,666 square feet of living space on 508 acres for sale at $20.5 million. (The price has dropped from $24 million.) The equestrian property comes with a saloon in the barn, an indoor arena and a racetrack.
“There’s a feeding frenzy on properties with acreage,” says Davis. “But Oregon is blessed with majestic and masterfully built homes” across the state.
Why the frenzy now? People who work remotely realized during coronavirus lockdowns that they could keep their jobs and move to large, remote rural properties with space for private teleconferencing, extra living quarters for family members and outdoor entertainment areas to replace getaways.
Davis says his clients are drawn to Oregon’s greenspaces and want a retreat, a respite, “something magical because everything is so traumatic,” he says. “People are pining after light and beauty, and perhaps even a little whimsy.”
Filming in Portland
There are full-time film studios in Portland but when producers want an authentic home in which to shoot a film, TV show or advertising, they sign contracts with homeowners.
The Portland Film Office, which is part of Prosper Portland (formerly known as the Portland Development Commission), then steps in to help production groups work with city agencies to secure permits for temporary commercial film activity on sites.
The city does not require a permit for film activity on private property, but the crew must adhere to the noise code.
If the work extends beyond the private residence into sidewalks, street parking or requires the closure of the driving lane, the Portland Bureau of Transportation needs to issue a permit.
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072