Walt Disney famously once said “Money doesn’t excite me – my ideas excite me.”
We wonder if Mr. Disney had any idea that decades later, a gender-bending future young resident of his LA estate would publicly and wistfully espouse similar theories about money’s limited capabilities, as she was photographed (sometimes literally) swimming in millions of dollars worth of luxury goods. Could he have guessed that? If so, would that idea have excited him? Hmmm.
To set the stage for this particular tale, we’ll first need to rewind the clock back to early 2013. It was then that users of the social network site Weibo (basically China’s answer to Facebook) stumbled across a profile showing what many folks initially assumed was a teenage boy enjoying a ludicrously lavish lifestyle.
There was an Aston Martin as a birthday present. Flying on multiple private jets. Diamond-studded iPhones. Bags of goods from every luxury designer in existence. And the “boy” was constantly surrounded by a boatload of waifish Chinese models and actresses.
But perhaps most ostentatious of all was the ever-so-modest name of the person flaunting this incredible wealth. Ready for this? This person calls “himself” King Zhang. Weibo gawkers, for their part, soon labeled him the Chinese Justin Bieber. We like that comparison. We think it still fits.
As this particular social media personality skyrocketed in popularity, thousands of Zhang’s followers openly wondered where this young “guy” got his money. Eventually, someone uncovered the truth. Not only was the Weibo account’s subject not a teenager, “he” wasn’t a man at all. “King” Zhang was actually a nickname for Zhang Jiale, a lesbian Chinese heiress in her early twenties.
Meanwhile, Miss Zhang continued to display limitless levels of spending, she quickly amassed more than tens of thousands of followers on the website. It was not long before her account went internationally viral, eventually spreading to the entirety of the Western world – the Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Buzzfeed, and many other media outlets. The initial tide of wonder and amazement soon turned to simmering anger and jealousy, as her life drew unflattering comparisons to the infamous Rich Kids of Instagram.
Eventually, the international scrutiny apparently became too much to bear for Miss Zhang. She soon gave up Weibo altogether. But although our King’s account is now abandoned, her taste for extravagant living has only increased.
Now let’s briefly turn time way, way back to the late 1940s. In the middle of this postwar, growth-focused era, popular animator Walt Disney and his wife Lillian went looking for a new house. They located a Holmby Hills property of their dreams and quickly built a residence. For all you geography-challenged dweebs: Holmby Hills lies directly between Beverly Hills and Bel Air. Together with those two world-famous neighborhoods, it makes up what is today known as the “Platinum Triangle” of high-priced LA real estate.
The sprawling Disney residence, large for the day but microscopic by today’s supersized mansion standards, apparently did not have a pool, tennis court, or a de rigeur football field-sized lawn in the backyard like so many manors of today. Instead, Disney decided to live his private life as fantastically and unconventionally as his unique one, so he built a full-on railroad in his backyard.
Walt died in 1966, but his widow Lillian continued living in the house for the rest of her long life, including throughout her marriage to her second husband (whom she also outlived). Upon her death in 1997 at the ripe old age of 98, her preservation-minded heirs thankfully rescued the train and its accompanying barn. It now has a new museum home over in Griffith Park, in case you’d care to have a look.
The following year, the house was sold for $8,450,000 to Mexican billionaire (and new Houston Dynamo majority owner) Gabriel Brener. Mr. Brener quickly razed Disney’s former home, citing asbestos concerns. He then acquired a vacant lot next door to bring his estate to nearly 4 acres of ultra-prime dirt. From there, he commenced constructed of what was to become a colossal 35,000 square foot mega-mansion.
The result of Mr. Brener’s efforts was completed in 2001 and contains three stories with 8 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms (incontinence alert!). It’s actually fairly tasteful… at least about as tasteful as a 35,000 square foot palace can be. And it continues to be called the “Carolwood Estate”, the name Disney originally gave the property.
For more than a decade, the Brener family occupied the rather blandly-decorated premises. They got good use out of the house, too – Yolanda happens to know they hosted many a swanky cocktail party here. On occasion, the property would even become a paparazzi magnet. Mr. Brener has a lot of famous friends, as billionaires often do. The first time Sandra Bullock was seen in public following her highly-publicized marriage breakup announcement was when she visited the Breners, her longtime BFFs, at this estate.
At any rate, whispers began to circulate in 2011 that Mr. Brener wanted to sell his personal Xanadu. The asking price of $90 million elicited laughs at that time. No way would that place ever fetch that price, most folks thought.
An online listing eventually popped up and the house was marketed rather loudly, though it never officially hit the MLS. Finally, in June 2014, at the height of the recent LA mega-mansion sales boom, the property sold for a brain-deconstructing $74,000,000. Cash. As tremendous as that amount of money may seem – and it is a sanity-defying amount – the sale was somewhat overshadowed that year by a couple other huge sales. One of those is the $88,300,000 cash exchange of Fleur de Lys directly across the street, sold by socialite Suzanne Saperstein to something called “FDL Property LLC”. (Most folks believe FDL is a front for Michael Milken). Then there was the wild Trousdale Estates spec-mansion that Bruce Makowsky sold for $70,000,000 to Markus Persson (again, all-cash), the most expensive house ever sold in Beverly Hills.
As far as Yolanda knows, no one has ever publicly identified the buyers of the Carolwood Estate. The Wall Street Journal mentioned they were rumored to be “international” and left it at that. To Yolanda’s dismay, it seemed as though the owner’s identity might remain a mystery.
But y’all should know by now what a psycho beotch your gurl is. We weren’t about to go down without a fight. We couldn’t sleep, couldn’t work, could barely even eat with the burden of worrying about who plunked down the big bucks on this place weighing on us! So we got on the horn and started slapping fools. “Tell us who bought that ol’ bitch or we’ll slap the crap outta you,” we threatened everyone we knew.
Everyone we talked to – literally everyone – told us the new owners were from Mainland China. But no one could – or would – give us a name. So we waited. We wept. We screamed. Tossed and turned. And finally, one sweet day, the heavens opened up. The birds sang, the cats meowed, and we got our answer.
Yes, Yolanda happens to know the house is owned and occupied by Her Royal Highness Miss King Zhang and her family. Need we say more?
By now, we know you’re probably wondering whose money all this is. Well, sit tight and keep your granny panties on because Yolanda is gonna tell you. Miss Zhang’s father is a guy named Zhang Jun. Mr. Zhang is a life insurance magnate from Shenzhen, China. His company, Sino Life, reportedly has more than $42 billion in assets. That’s right, beotches. Mr. Zhang made the bulk of his fortune through selling insurance. We feel like there’s something rather poignant ’bout that point but whatever it is escapes us at the moment. Perhaps we’ll revisit this another day.
Despite his obvious otherworldly wealth and his children’s sky’s-the-limit spending style, Mr. Zhang remains somewhat of an enigma. We searched everywhere and asked everyone but as of yet we are unable to locate a photo of this fellow. Even most of the big business people in China and Hong Kong know next to nothing of him, as a January 2015 article in Bloomberg affirms. For their part, Forbes lists a bare-bones bio of him on their site and estimates his current net worth at $1.1 billion. But given that he paid $74 million cash for this estate – plus another $4 million for a house in Orange County – Yolanda wonders if that valuation might be on the very conservative end of the spectrum. But who knows, right? Well, Mr. Zhang does.
After seeing all these pictures of Miss Zhang and the folks and things she surrounds herself with, we couldn’t help sitting back and pondering what Walt Disney would think of this, were he alive to see it. Would he be rolling over in his grave to see a Mexican man raze his beloved home, replacing it with something better suited for one of his theme parks? What about a Chinese lesbian drag-racing a lime-green Lambo in his old driveway? What about the lady-on-lady lovin’ that’s probably going on in the estate’s spa? Is he howling now from beyond the grave, right at this very moment?
No. Yolanda thinks not. Disney was a wise, foresighted man – ahead of his time in so many ways. “Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future,” he sagely said himself. “And,” he later added, “if nothing changed, there’d be no butterflies.”