Video gamer Jeff Strain plops out $12 million on some Old Hollywood glamour

We’ve recently been getting a small trickle of hate-mail from a couple of whiners. (You know who you are.) Seems they don’t care for most of the homes Yolanda has posted about recently — too “trashy” and “new money” for their delicate real estate sensibilities, apparently. Listen, y’all, start your own damn site if your palette can’t handle anything built after 1965. Buzz off!

All the same, it’s good to switch things up now and again. And admittedly, we’ve been writing about a lot of spec-mansions. So, in the spirit of equality, we went searchin’ for a suitably historic home to gab about today. Luckily for us, we soon found an ideal candidate in the Hollywood Hills, set just above the eastern end of the Sunset Strip and very close to the legendary Chateau Marmont. It’s old, it’s got turrets, it’s been christened “The Castle“. And it has just sold for nearly $12 million — $11,950,000, to be exact. That’s the full asking price and a whole ton of moolah.

For whatever it’s worth, this place happens to be on the very same dead-end road where Demi Lovato’s infamous mansion — the place where she nearly died from an O.D. — is also located. But we digress.

Three years ago (February 2015), The Castle transferred for just $3,725,000 to husband-and-wife design team Robert & Cortney Novogratz, whom you may recognize from their 9 by Design TV show on Bravo. They’ve renovated and flipped dozens of homes over the years.

Mr. & Mrs. Novogratz have seven children — five boys and two girls, including two sets of twins.

Yowza! That is a whole gaggle of kiddos. We have a migraine, an ulcer, and need a drink just imagining that. How do they cope? How does that even work logistically? Perhaps they own a school bus for family outings?

The Novogratzes… all nine of them

Just kidding about the migraine part. We’re sure the Novogratz kids are all well-behaved and obedient.

Anyway, the big happy family gave their Hollywood Hills house a thorough freshening and update. They modernized things by knockin’ down walls and installing organic, unvarnished hardwoods and such. Perhaps most shockingly, they transformed the cramped seven-bedroom structure into a spacious four-bedroom abode during their ownership! Nine people to four bedrooms?! Good Lord, we can’t imagine. But the couple made it work, as they detailed: the two oldest boys share a room, as do the two girls. Then the three younger boys bunk up in the third bedroom, while the lucky parents take the master suite.

Yet all good things must come to an end. The Novogratzes saw an opportunity to make millions. So they signed off on the deed, loaded up the school bus and clunked down the hill one last time, leaving The Castle an ever-shrinking speck in their rearview mirror. It’s onto the next project, the next stop on the highway of life for them. Never look back, kids.

Now, you might think that The Castle would be sad to see the Novogratz clan go. No more modern Brady Bunch? No more kids falling out of every nook and cranny? Now he might sit all by his lonesome up there on the hill. That’s no fun.

But all is not lost. Though the $12 million buyers’ identities are concealed behind a blind trust, Yolanda did a little askin’ and sniffin’ around. We can now reveal that the new owners are a couple from New Orleans named Jeff & Annie Strain. And the Strains have five young kiddos, which The Castle will certainly be glad to hear. Fun and games have returned to this address.

Jeff Strain (illustration: Engadget.com)

Though they have lived in New Orleans for the last year or two, the Strains have actually spent most of their lives dwelling in Seattle, Washington. It was there that Mr. Strain’s career as a video game programmer really took off. He initially worked at Blizzard, where he rose to become lead programmer of the hugely popular World of Warcraft game, and he was also one of the main fellas behind the equally-popular StarCraft franchise.

Way back in 2000, Mr. Strain left Blizzard with two of his two fellow programmers to found ArenaNet, the developer behind the inordinately successful Guild Wars game. The game proved so profitable that ArenaNet was bought out by NCSOFT for an undisclosed (but likely substantial) amount in 2002, just two years after its founding.

Guild Wars: the video game that helped finance a $12 million house

In 2009, Mr. Strain departed NCSOFT to once again start a game development firm, though this time he flew solo. Undead Labs — his company — focused solely on creating zombie-based video games. His 2013 State of Decay “horror stealth” game proved mightily popular and has since sold over a million units.

Just a couple months ago — in June 2018 — Undead Labs was sold to Microsoft for an undisclosed amount. We can’t guess as to Mr. Strain’s net worth, but based on his $12 million LA house purchase — which appears to have been all-cash — we are guessing Microsoft paid dearly for his little company. Congrats, Strain fam.

Originally built in 1926 for an unnamed silent film star, the rambling 7,732-square-foot contemporary French Normandy mansion features the aforementioned 4 bedrooms and 5.75 baths. A four-car garage sits right alongside the roadway, and there is a separate gated motorcourt that can accommodate a couple more vehicles. The .42-acre mostly flat lot — large for this neighborhood — is completely gated and shielded from prying eyes by thick hedges.

We don’t know much more about The Castle’s history, and we can’t say whether any big celebs have ever called it home. But it certainly looks like the sort of spot where Lauren Bacall would’ve gracefully descended the staircase, or where Bogart would’ve puffed on a cigar in the parlor.

Out back, there’s a classy oval swimming pool (and an oval spa) set amidst the verdant lawns, terraced gardens, and the back patio is tiled. It’s perfect for a party with the BBQ, pizza oven, outdoor fireplace, and numerous seating options.

As part of their renovation, the Novogratzes eliminated formal spaces like the parlor and dining rooms — with seven kids, good luck with getting them all seated at once — and transformed the main floor into a series of airy, casual pitstops. There’s a seriously swank Boffi kitchen with what appears to be a La Cornue range, a super-pricey SubZero glass-fronted fridge, and a Carrara marble-topped center island. Elsewhere there’s a step-down family/living room with a fireplace and a breakfast nook facing a wall littered with artwork.

The sinewy spiral staircase leads to the master suite. Up in there are vintage light fixtures, a fireplace, a wee private balcony with city lights views, and a completely redone bathroom w/ soaking tub and glassy shower.

Other fun features on the mini-estate include a home theater (with some rather austere seating that resembles church pews), a game room/area, and a wine storage area with fridge. Somewhere outside there’s supposedly a basketball court, but we don’t see that in the listing images.

It would seem that Mr. and Mrs. Strain have a particular taste for historic old homes. In May 2017, they threw down $1,795,000 to buy a church rectory in the lovely Garden District of New Orleans. The Strains quickly transformed the rectory into a private home for their family, then generously opened up the place for public tours during the 2017 holiday season.

Built in 1952, the well-maintained red brick structure features a commodious 5,853-square-feet of living space with 4 beds and 4.5 baths. The front yard has a broad grassy lawn, and the backyard includes an equally oversized swimming pool.

That’s all she wrote, kids. Y’all have your cool old house for the week. Happy now?

Listing & Selling agents: Daniel Dill & Joshua Nixon, Westside Estate Agency

  1. brian E parker says:

    Hey Yolanda – Love the column!
    However I just read David Niven’s biographies recently – He was close to Bogart and Bacall – and Bogart was NOT one for fancy houses or grand spaces. He and Lauren lived relatively modestly in Holmby Hills at 232 North Mapleton Drive:
    You can find more period pix online, I’m sure – just don’t confuse yourself with the house he lived in w/ his first wife, Mayo, over in the Hollywood Hills.

    1. Lisa says:

      Thanks for the link. I love reading about the golden era and the Big Sleep is one of my favorite films. Surprised Bogart and Bacall lived so modestly.

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