Out in Bucks County, a house fit for a comedy legend can be yours for $2.7 million.
Located at 29 Beverly Hills Rd. in the 18974 zip code, the 12,000-square-foot home includes such Hollywood-style amenities as an indoor swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and a 2,000-square-foot master bedroom, all on a 10-acre plot. Built by longtime local developer Thomas Pileggi, 74, the house is among the more extravagant domiciles in the area — partly because of the originally intended owners.
That would have been comic Joan Rivers and her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, Pileggi told The Inquirer.
At its current asking price, the home is going for about nine times the median home value of $303,200 for the area. It’s in a zip code that includes Warminster, Northampton, Ivyland, Warwick, and Hartsville, which is home to about 41,000 people and has a median income of $74,234.
Due to a prolonged legal battle with Northampton Township over the development, as well as Rosenberg’s suicide in 1987, the celebrity couple never actually moved in.
“I built it for her husband and her, but before it was completed, [Rosenberg] passed on,” Pileggi said.
The trio were longtime friends and real estate partners in the Philadelphia area.
Pileggi initially befriended the couple in the 1970s, when he provided funding for the 1978 film Rabbit Test, starring Billy Crystal as the world’s first pregnant man. That trio’s partnership later included about $19 million worth of investments in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, including townhouse developments, an industrial park, and shopping centers.
Few, if any, of the group’s projects were as controversial as the development that includes 29 Beverly Hills Rd.
Little Beverly Hills
While the house was constructed in 1989, the development began life in the late 1970s as Two Ponds, an 87-acre tract that Pileggi hoped to develop into “a little Beverly Hills,” as he told The Inquirer in 1978. Rivers and her husband were expected to be among the first residents of the development, in which they had a 15% stake (Pileggi owned the remaining 85%).
Initially, the plan for Two Ponds was to build single-family houses on 10-acre plots, which Northampton Township approved in 1979. The asking price was $300,000 each — much more expensive than the $60,000 average for a single-family dwelling in the area at the time.
By the early 1980s, though, the plans for Two Ponds had been changed significantly to include about 300 condominiums, a 30,000-square-foot movie studio, a six-hole golf course, a spa, and other luxuries.
The change, Rivers told The Inquirer in 1982, happened, in part, because she “didn’t want two homes” and preferred to commute between Pennsylvania and California for work. Filmmakers also were interested in establishing a base in Bucks because of its proximity to Philly, Atlantic City, and New York, which made it an “ideal location” for productions.
Residents and township officials, however, felt otherwise.
‘To be spit in the face …’
By late 1982, the Northampton Township Board of Supervisors, citing zoning issues, rejected Pileggi, Rivers, and Rosenberg’s proposal to make Two Ponds into a mixed-use development. Rivers did not take the rejection well, telling The Inquirer that she was “very hurt.”
“I love Bucks County and its people. I have a strong desire to come East and work and live in the clean and beautiful place, and then to be spit in the face is cruel,” she said. “They just didn’t know what the hell we were talking about. I don’t understand the stupid township board.”
The zoning allowed houses to be built only on one acre or more, which ruled out condos. Commercial activity — such as that which would take place in a movie studio — wasn’t permitted.
Residents, however, said they didn’t believe the movie studio would ever be built: They called the plan a “ploy to put high-density housing” in the mostly rural area.
“If we can’t do it in Northampton Township, I’ll be glad to go to Tennessee or North Carolina, where they would not just approve it, they would subsidize it,” Rivers told The Inquirer. “I won’t hang around much longer.”
As it turned out, she would.
A call for secession
After failing to get the Two Ponds zoning changed, Pileggi and Rivers came up with a new plan: They would secede from Northampton Township.
That way, they could form their own municipality — the Borough of Two Ponds — where they could build as many condos, studios, and golf course holes as the development could handle. In 1983, Pileggi filed a petition in Common Pleas Court with Rivers and Rosenberg’s blessing to establish Two Ponds as its own locality — complete with its own government, police, and zoning ordinances. It would be Bucks County’s first new borough since 1928, when New Britain Borough was incorporated.
It’s “a rather imaginative way of getting what they want,” a township manager told The Inquirer. “Not too many people file a petition to start their own government when they don’t get zoning the way they want it.”
A judge denied the initial petition after a one-hour hearing, writing in a 17-page opinion that although “rich snobs, we suppose, should be entitled to their own place,” establishing Two Ponds as its own borough was “tantamount to request that this court institutionalize a Developers Act of Revolution.”
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, however, essentially overturned that ruling, according to a 1986 Inquirer article, granting Pileggi, Rivers, and Rosenberg another day in court to have their petition considered. While Rivers was reportedly “extremely excited,” opposition from the township ultimately won out.
Two Ponds redux
In August 1987, Rivers’ husband was found dead in a room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia. Reports indicate that Rosenberg, who was suffering a number of health issues, had died by suicide with an overdose of prescription drugs. He was 63.
By then, the trio had abandoned plans to incorporate Two Ponds as its own borough. In lieu of that project, they resurrected the plan to build single-family houses, which were under construction when Rosenberg died.
“He had passed on before he had the chance to see it completed,” Pileggi said. “They never moved in because we had only just got the roof on. [Rivers] had seen the home, she loved the home, but with Edgar passing on, there was no reason to live there.”
The house took several more months to complete and later sold to the owner who is selling now. For all the battling Pileggi did over Two Ponds, he said, he has not been back to there in nearly 20 years. The rest of the development never became “little Beverly Hills.” Instead of a movie studio, the area is filled with single-family houses.
“You reach a point where you say, ‘Fine, I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted,’” she told The Inquirer in 1982. “The sad thing is, I enjoy Bucks County so much and its beauty and people. God, it would be so wonderful.”