It’s finally time for a new chapter in San Marino, where one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest and grandest estates has sold — and for the very first time ever. Built in 1934 and known officially as the Seeley Mudd Estate, the gated property spans more than seven contiguous acres in the city’s poshest neighborhood pocket, backing directly up to the historic Huntington Library. A 14,000-square-foot, vaguely Monterey Colonial-style mansion designed by Reginald Davis Johnson serves as the centerpiece.
But to the public, the Seeley Mudd Estate is probably far better known as USC’s longtime presidential mansion, where every president since 1979 has lived during their tenure at the university. Mudd, an accomplished physician and dean of USC’s medical school, willed the house and its acreage to the academic institution upon his death in ’68. Since then, the various presidents have frequently hosted fundraising events and other Trojan-related gatherings at the property, most notably the annual USC Thanksgiving dinner for hundreds of out-of-state and foreign students who stayed in L.A. over the holiday.
Carol L. Folt took office as USC’s new president in July 2019 and swiftly implemented a series of key changes, among them a new sustainability push and notable staff appointments. But the biggest change involved the presidential mansion, as Folt eschewed the tradition of settling on the San Marino property in favor of L.A.’s Westside. Last March, USC paid $8.6 million for a strikingly contemporary house in Santa Monica to use as the new presidential residence. “It made financial sense to downsize to a less expensive, more efficient property,” a USC spokesman told Dirt, adding that there were “significant costs” associated with upkeep on the giant Seeley Mudd residence.
Be that as it may, any maintenance costs don’t seem to have deterred potential suitors. The historic property has just sold for exactly $25 million in cash, a full $500,000 over its $24.5 million asking price — a strong indicator there may have been other seriously interested parties, despite the huge number. Records reveal the buyer is high-profile businessman and philanthropist Tianqiao Chen, a Mainland Chinese billionaire who made his fortune in online gaming and is now based in Northern California’s Silicon Valley.
Back in 2016, Chen and his wife Chrissy donated $115 million to Caltech, a prestigious Pasadena research university that lies just a five minute drive up the road from the Seeley Mudd Estate. Earlier this year, Caltech completed construction on the The Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Neuroscience Research Building (CNRB), a 150,000-square-foot glass-and-wood extravaganza that also hosts the couple’s Chen Research Institute.
The Chens appear to have developed a fondness for historic mansions. Three years ago, they paid $39 million to the estate of the late Johnson & Johnson heiress Libet Johnson for a magnificent red brick townhouse on New York City’s Upper East Side. The 12,000-square-foot, four-story mansion was also once owned by Vanderbilt heiress Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt — hence its local nickname “Vanderbilt Mansion” — and had been renovated by noted designer Peter Marino.
But since 2016, when he bought it for $34.5 million, Chen’s main residence has been a multi-acre estate in the stunningly expensive Silicon Valley town of Atherton, Calif. His 12,000-square-foot, Tudor-style mansion was built in the 1930s and is surrounded by lush gardens, stone fountains, three motorcourts and a large swimming pool.
As for his new San Marino digs, the 1934 sprawler includes original walnut floors, plus 17th-century wood paneling. There are 8 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, an elevator, and a master suite with oversized sitting and dressing rooms. Outside, vast lawns are dotted by dozens of ancient oak and sycamore trees. There’s a guesthouse, a kitschy log cabin, and a carriage house with a car wash bay on the grounds. At the far rear of the property, a full-size tennis court lies seemingly suspended among the trees.