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Color Me Barbra

Officially, I was booked on the 1 p.m. Garden Tour at Ramirez Canyon Park in Malibu. In the privacy of my shallow, starstruck head, I had been jumping up and down for weeks, thanking heaven for my reservation on the perpetually sold-out Omigod-I'm-Going-to-Barbra's-House-in-Malibu Tour.

Let's try not to call it that, though. This is Ramirez Canyon Park now.

Barbra Streisand called it The Ranch. She decorated and gardened here with her legendary precision from 1974 until 1993, when she donated five buildings on 221/2 acres to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which manages the property today. No formal connection to Streisand remains, so her former home is obliquely named and characterized as a nature preserve. There is only one tour for the public each week, on Wednesday afternoon, limited to 40 people. It costs $30 and lasts 1 1/2 hours. It has never been advertised, but it is usually sold out at least a month in advance.

"We're not going to tell you about Jason's bar mitzvah," I was warned by Marsha Feldman, director of special events. "We're all about this beautiful place." Like Hollywood, Malibu exists mostly in the imagination. Visitors get there but never quite feel they've found it. Here is a chance to lift the veil, to venture down a winding, mile-long canyon road and peer behind the Aubrey Beardsley gates, where the fuchsia and bougainvillea and copa de oro grow extravagantly.

A high-minded sentiment, but nobody drives an hour from Los Angeles just to see bougainvillea. I was there to see The Barn, which Streisand bought with Jon Peters during her "Evergreen" period, and The Peach House, with the Art Nouveau media room, and The Meadow, where she sang for the Democratic Party in 1986, and The Art Deco House made famous by a cover story in Architectural Digest nine years ago. And my antenna was up, all the way up, because this is one of my favorite games. If you want to get to know somebody famous, don't read People or the National Enquirer; look at her house. The furniture never lies.

There was an opening-night thrill as our group gathered, though it was clear that references to the singer would be few and circumspect. "We've always tried to respect Ms. Streisand's privacy about her personal life and how she used the property," said Lisa Soghor, the director of the park for the past seven years. "A lot of questions begin, 'Isn't it true that...?' We always say, 'We have no idea,' since we really don't have the answers." Not everyone, she added, cares only about celebrity. "People are interested in how high the creek gets," Soghor said. "People ask about fire in the canyon."

Not the people on my tour.


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