When the creators of the new show “American Mansion” on the National Geographic Channel (NatGeo) were looking for a host, they reached out to the agent of former Texas A&M University student David Applebaum, saying they had a really good show, but the 50 potential hosts they’d auditioned so far were all wrong. They wanted a real, working architect ― someone who knows something about mansions.
“Good thing I had that agent,” says Applebaum. “He sent me out on plenty of auditions ― me…short, bald, over 40 and the only one in the room with that description. Everyone else is a 20-something, tall, chiseled model that took a drafting class in high school. In other words, it’s all about eye candy and I’ve never gotten more than a call back.”
But this time, when NatGeo called, “my agent says, ‘I have the perfect guy,’” recalls Applebaum, who graduated from Texas A&M in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental design. In 2010, he was selected as one of the College of Architecture’s “outstanding alumni.”
Applebaum works out of the design studio he founded, David Applebaum Architect, located in Bel Air, Calif. He works with clients mostly on large residential projects, starting in the design phase and continuing throughout the building process.
Known as the “Architect to the Stars,” Applebaum has designed homes for a long list of celebrity clientele, including Frank Sinatra, Rupert Murdoch, Cuba Gooding Jr., Seth Green and Diane Keaton.
With a client list such as this, needless to say, Applebaum has designed some opulent digs.
The premiere episode of "American Mansion" on NatGeo will feature Kykuit, The Rockefeller Estate.
But even he was awestruck when his first assignment as host of “American Mansion,” premiering on NatGeo on Friday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. CT, turned out to be Kykuit, The Rockefeller Estate in Westchester County, N.Y.
The four-story, 40-room stone mansion was home to three generations of the Rockefeller family, starting with John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil. The house overlooks the Hudson River and Kykuit means “lookout” in Afrikaans.
“The show is about houses that have stories,” says Applebaum, “and the Rockefeller Estate has a great one. John D. Rockefeller was the richest self-made man ever. His father was a travelling salesman and his mother was an amazing woman who taught him to work hard, be humble and righteous. John gave a percentage of his first paycheck to charity and continued that practice to his death.”
In addition to featuring the home’s spectacular architecture, furnishings and fine art, the premiere episode will tell the dramatic history behind the mansion’s construction. “At the beginning, Rockefeller and his son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., had very different ideas and four different architects, which is a recipe for disaster,” Applebaum explains. “The construction also came about as the mafia was starting in America, so there was murder, arson and kidnapping threats all taking place as the Industrial Revolution was kicking into high gear. The history books only tell a small part of the story and we will tell a bit more.”
Applebaum says he’s not only the show’s host, he’s part of the team. “The producer let me re-write much of the script in my own voice, I art-directed all of the animation, I shot B-roll at my office with my son on camera,” he laughs, “and what do you expect from an Ag ― of course, I also carry lights, cameras, booms and sound equipment.”
And he even had to brave weirdly dangerous conditions at the birthplace of John D. Rockefeller. “At Senior’s birthplace, I had to deal with snakes and biting insects. My protector (who is otherwise Clint Eastwood’s bodyguard) asked if I was OK wandering in such conditions. I replied, ‘These are pets in Texas!’ But I won’t spoil what you have to see to appreciate,” he teases.
Applebaum says he’s counting on his fellow Aggies to watch the show and contact NatGeo with positive comments so he can continue on as the only former student hosting a national television show.
“Next we start looking for 19 more mansions with interesting and dramatic stories as we have a commitment for 20 shows a year ― if we get picked up, so please help,” he says. “I have a few in Texas on the roster because I’m hoping to combine the show with a chance to come back home, visit friends and enjoy the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush.” David Applebaum flashes a Gig 'Em
And at least one professor at Texas A&M has not forgotten Applebaum: Professor of Architecture Rodney Hill has fond memories of his former student and the two continue to maintain contact to this day. “David was in my beginning design class and was one of the most talented students I have encountered,” Hill notes. “His personality is magnetic and his energy level is off the charts. When he was a senior, he became president of the student architects club and I was the faculty sponsor. I asked him to be my teaching assistant in my new beginning design class and he was awesome. We have kept in touch all these years; rarely do we go over two weeks without an email or Facebook conversation.”
Applebaum treasures his roots as a Texan and an Aggie, saying, “The great state of Texas is second to none with a rich history and a story around every corner. Texas made me who I am and Texas A&M helped me become the person I wanted to be.”