In what’s believed to be the most ever paid for a home in the area, Brad Pitt has shelled out a whopping $40 million for a century-old estate in California’s unincorporated Carmel Highlands community. The house comes with a seriously impressive pedigree: it was built by famed architect Charles Sumner Greene, of Pasadena-based Greene and Greene, known for pioneering the American Arts and Crafts movement.
The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the off-market deal, noted that the landmark Carmel property bears little resemblance to many of Greene and Greene’s most famous works, including the Gamble House. Built for wealthy Kansas City businessman D.L. James, the clifftop home took five years to complete, and renovations continued for decades afterward; the Monterey County Weekly once wrote that the place looked like Greene “couldn’t decide between a grand Spanish Mission home and a stone cottage.”
What Greene eventually built more closely resembles a medieval castle than anything else, with elaborate stonework throughout and an intricate layout of rooms with turret-like windows. Situated atop a perilously steep and rocky bluff on the ocean side of California’s famously scenic Highway 1, the structure is also somewhat of an engineering marvel.
Following D.L. James’ death in 1944, his author son David Lewis James Jr. (“Famous All Over Town”) moved into the Carmel house, known as Seaward, with his wife. The younger James died in 1988, and his widow sold the idiosyncratic house in 1999 to Chicago-based options trader Joe Ritchie and his longtime wife Sharon.
The Ritchies paid $4.5 million for their vacation digs, which at that time required substantial updates. While a handful of interior photographs taken in ’99 are floating around the internet, the house has reportedly been renovated since those photos were snapped, and so the current floorplan and interior decor remain a mystery, at least publicly.
Even tax records are vague about the size of the house and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms on the premises. Previous reports have said the house measures about 3,000 square feet, though it appears larger from some angles. There are a service wing for live-in help and a basement-level library on the property.
Because the 2.5-acre lot consists of a nearly sheer cliff tumbling down to a rocky beach far below, ocean access from the house is sketchy at best. In 2001, the Ritchies attempted to dig a large tunnel from the house down to the beach below. While the local planning commission approved permits for the tunnel, which would include a long staircase and electric lights within, the California Coastal Commission objected and filed an appeal to the couple’s plans. The final outcome of that squabble isn’t clear, but recent aerial photos suggest the Ritchies may have gotten their way in the end, tunneling to their hearts’ content.
From the highway, the only portion of the property visible is a big wooden gate set into a stone arch, with the house set privately on the cliff far below.