Eric Schmidt, the veteran tech executive primarily known as Google’s longest-serving CEO, is the previously unidentified buyer who paid a whopping $30.8 million for the so-called Villa Solana, a palatial historic estate in the foothills of Santa Barbara, the Wall Street Journal reported. The transaction closed earlier this summer, but it’s only now that Schmidt — a longtime fan of the Santa Barbara/Montecito area — has been revealed as the massive compound’s new owner.
While a huge number, the sale price is not quite record-breaking for the county. But it’s worth noting that the small handful of more expensive area estates are all located in the unincorporated Montecito area. (While it’s frequently grouped in as part of Montecito, Solana is actually located within Santa Barbara’s city limits, and thus it almost certainly ranks as the most expensive house ever sold in that seaside city.)
Despite the record deal, Schmidt negotiated a hard bargain on the property. Originally asking $57.7 million years ago, the pricetag had been slashed to $49 million by 2013. Years passed and the ask eventually plummeted all the way to just below $37 million before the tech tycoon scooped up the high-maintenance residential white elephant in an off-market deal.
Perched on an 11-acre promontory overlooking the sea, the sprawling complex ranks as one of Santa Barbara’s oldest and grandest grand dames. The main house was originally built in 1915 for prominent apparel businessman Frederick Forrest Peabody, before it passed to a series of non-famous owners. From the late 1950s until the late ’70s, the estate served as the headquarters for well-known think tank Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, entertaining guests such as John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1999, the then-bedraggled property was sold for $5.25 million to Amway executive Bill Nicholson and his wife Sandi. The couple subsequently spent an enormous amount of money — as much as $20 million, they’ve previously claimed — restoring the faded lady to her former residential glory. Today, the property looks more akin to a bonafide palace on the French Riviera than the slightly more plebeian mansions typically associated with California.
Privately situated at the very end of a discreet cul-de-sac, Solana offers two separate gated driveways, one a glamorous formal entrance for guests and the homeowners, the other a more modest hidden drive for staff and vendors.
At-home amenities are essentially limitless and include such necessities as a beauty parlor, 20 bathrooms, a fitness center, antique chandeliers, formal library, and a wine room. Outside, the manicured grounds include numerous loggias, formal gardens, a turtle pond, swimming pool, and more than 500 rose bushes.
Schmidt, 65, was famously hired at Google in 2001 as a CEO and “parental supervisor” for youthful company founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. He became a billionaire after receiving company stock as part of his compensation package; today, Forbes estimates his net worth at more than $15 billion. Last year, he stepped down from the board of Alphabet, Google’s holding company.
Long based in up north in Atherton, Calif., where he still owns a multi-acre compound, Schmidt keeps a number of other lavish homes and toys, including a $22 million estate in L.A.’s Holmby Hills neighborhood, a Gulfstream V jet, a superyacht christened Gladiator, a $15 million Manhattan penthouse, a Miami waterfront villa, and a Nantucket mansion that is primarily occupied by Wendy Schmidt, his longtime wife.
And back in 2007, Schmidt paid Ellen DeGeneres $20 million for a George Washington Smith-designed home in Montecito. Tax records show he continues to own that estate, though it seems logical to assume the posh property will soon be up for grabs.