Last year, when Newport Beach-based venture capitalist Alan True and his business partner wife Twila put their enormous Harbor Island mansion on the market with a brain-disintegrating $60 million asking price, the Orange County power couple bet big that a billionaire buyer would be mesmerized by the property’s irreplaceable location and overlook its dark past.
Originally built in 1990, the 14,000+ sq. ft., limestone-clad neoclassical manse is unquestionably the largest and most lavish villa on the guard-gated island, which sports fewer than 30 homes — many of them owned by billionaires. Yet it’s also the most infamous, due in no small part to a sordid ownership history littered with financial problems, marital woes and even suicide.
The home’s original owner, a prominent developer and banker named Leroy Carver III, reportedly spent $8 million building the mammoth structure. But he never moved in — during the construction process, his bank was seized by federal regulators and declared insolvent. Forced to sell his brand-new house, Carver transferred the property to Taiwanese billionaire George Yao for a reported $13.6 million. Archived news stories from that time stated it was the most ever paid for an O.C. home.
But Yao had financial problems of his own. In 1995, he lost his prized residential masterwork to foreclosure, and it was subsequently sold to a former FBI executive who soon died of old age. His estate subsequently sold the property in late ’99 to a New Jersey-based couple named Arnold and Debbie Simon.
The Simons, who paid $14 million for the house, moved into the property together but soon began an exceptionally hostile divorce that dragged on for nearly a decade. Arnold Simon moved out, while Debbie Simon remained in the giant home essentially alone. By 2009, the property was once again mired in foreclosure proceedings. Later that same year, Debbie Simon hung herself in the mansion’s foyer by tying an extension cord around her neck and leaping from the upstairs balcony.
In 2010, despite all its baggage, the mansion fetched its highest price yet — $18 million — when it was purchased by the Trues, a Hong Kong-based American couple who built a successful overseas office furniture company, True Innovations, before selling it for an undisclosed sum to Chinese conglomerate Li & Fung.
The Trues subsequently invested substantial sums of money — millions, no doubt — to completely renovate every inch of the notorious home’s interiors. Chic new contemporary finishes replaced the decidedly rococo decor of yore, and every effort was made to whisk the bad energy — real or perceived — out and away.
And after nearly 1.5 years on the market with an unchanged $60 million pricetag, the Trues have sold their monster house, albeit for a relatively paltry $37 million, a 38% discount off the ask. Still, that sale price ranks among the biggest O.C. residential sales so far this year, just ahead of Qualtrics billionaire Jared Smith’s $35 million splurge and just behind mega-developer Carl Panattoni’s $38 million Newport Coast transaction.
The new owner is Chinese tech billionaire “Eric” Siliang Tan, the CEO, chairman and co-founder of Qutoutiao, a mobile content aggregator. Based in Shanghai, Qutoutiao went public last year following a well-received IPO and heavy investments from Chinese internet juggernaut Tencent. According to Forbes, Tan — a former Yahoo engineer — now has a personal net worth of $1.7 billion.
Completely gated and surrounded by a many-columned wall, the half-acre property boasts a nine-car subterranean garage, manicured trees, formal lawns, more than 300 feet of water frontage and a large rectangular lap pool. A sizable boat dock can accommodate a 120-foot yacht.
Contemporary interiors include an all-marble foyer with a skylight-topped curved staircase, a sleek kitchen with custom appliances and cabinetry, family room, billiards room, and a vast living room with rows of French doors opening to shaded terraces overlooking the harbor. Upstairs, a titanic owner’s suite houses the water-view master bedroom and skylit bath. Downstairs, the finished basement contains a spacious lounge with wet bar.
Despite the heavy-duty sale price, the property falls short of the largest transactions in Orange County history — back in 2016, billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong paid $45 million for a remarkable Laguna Beach property aptly known as Twin Points. And last year, auto dealership mogul Larry Van Tuyl shelled out a record-busting $55 million for a two-parcel compound in Newport Beach.
A peek through records reveals this is hardly Tan’s first big real estate splurge. Back in 2017, he paid $16 million in an off-market deal for a 1906-built mansion in San Francisco’s impossibly posh Pacific Heights neighborhood. And in late 2016, he threw down another $18.5 million for a spectacular blufftop mansion in Pebble Beach, Calif., sitting right on world-famous 17 Mile Drive.
Tara Foster Shapiro of Sotheby’s International Realty held the listing.