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USC Buys $8.6 Million Santa Monica House to Use as Presidential Residence

seller: David G. Brown
location: Santa Monica, Calif.
price: $8.6 million
size: 4,710 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms

Last July, former UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Carol L. Folt formally took office at USC, becoming the university’s first female president in its 139-year history. Rick Caruso, chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees, heralded Folt’s appointment as “the beginning of an inspiring new era for the University of Southern California,” underscoring the strategic choice of president at a time when USC is still reeling from a series of high-profile scandals.

In addition to a sweeping array of key changes that have already been implemented — various staff appointments and a new sustainability push — one of Folt’s biggest pivots thus far is eschewing the 40-year tradition that saw previous USC presidents take up residence in the USC-owned Seeley Mudd estate, out in the posh San Gabriel Valley city of San Marino, Calif. Instead, Folt has moved to Santa Monica, where property records show USC recently closed on an $8.6 million, strikingly angular house.

“Last year, the university made the decision to purchase a smaller, more sustainable property for the president’s residence.” USC said in a statement provided to Variety, noting that there were significant costs associated with upkeep on the 8-acre Mudd estate. “It made financial sense to downsize to a less expensive, more efficient property.”

Though the luxe Santa Monica property hardly qualifies as cheap, the .19-acre lot’s footprint is indeed more than 40 times smaller than the Mudd estate. The house itself is also far more eco-friendly, with a full array of solar panels and a structure that’s barely a third of the Mudd mansion’s size.

And the architectural style is radically different, too. While the Mudd estate is a 1930s Colonial-style manor that rambles across 14,000 square feet of living space, the Santa Monica home is a 4,700 sq. ft., organic-themed contemporary with a blocky, modern aesthetic and walls trimmed in monolithic sheets of exposed wood and glass.

The house was sold to USC by David G. Brown, a mostly low-profile hedge fund tycoon who made headlines last year when he paid $19 million for Ari Emanuel’s architectural Brentwood estate. Brown had picked up the property in 2014 for $6.75 million, and tax records indicate the current residence was built in 2012.

Designed by noted architect Ray Kappe, the modernist structure offers an open-concept floorplan and open dining, living and media rooms. A state-of-the-art kitchen has designer Miele appliances, Caesarstone countertops and an open seating area. Upstairs, the master bedroom opens to a slim balcony with views to the Pacific Ocean. The mostly hardscaped, low maintenance backyard includes a dark-bottomed plunge pool with raised spa.

The house is located on what has frequently been considered one of the most prestigious residential streets in Santa Monica, where some of Folt’s nearest new neighbors include actor Jonah Hill, “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening and Mona Simpson, sister of the late Steve Jobs.

USC is currently in the process of listing the Mudd estate, which would mark the very first time that the 88-year-old compound — which includes a full-size tennis court, formal gardens, a detached guesthouse and acres of lawns and oak groves — has been available for sale. Even in today’s high-end real estate market, which is currently subdued by coronavirus woes, it’s likely the historic property would fetch at least $15 million. And it’s certainly conceivable that it could break San Marino’s residential sales record, which is currently held by a 2.7-acre estate that sold in 2012 for $17.5 million, to a family from Mainland China.

  1. USC2023 says:

    One thing remains true at USC no matter the administration: it is the most TONE-DEAF institution in the country. Crazier still is that Carol Folt has shown herself to be even more out of touch and tone-deaf than her predecessor, mister opulence himself Max Nikias.

    Selling this as having anything to do with sustainability and cost is absolutely comical. The truth is this has everything to do with Carol Folt, who has made it clear since day one that Santa Monica is the only city suitable to her, even though university already owns a 14,000 sq-ft estate in San Marino donated to the university under the condition that it would house future USC Presidents. That 15 million dollar house just isn’t fancy and contemporary enough for her highness though!

    Don’t get me wrong, she should be able to live wherever she wants if she pays for it herself. But for her to force the university into a million dollar short-term lease under the auspices of an “earthquake retrofit” at the San Marino house only to a year later pressure the board into buying her a nearly 10 million dollar Santa Monica contemporary, while angling to sell a home donated for USC’s use, is bordering on criminal. But at USC it’s just business as usual.

    Whatever happened to the need to find a large rental with ample square footage, parking, etc…for all the “entertaining” your job entails, Carol? By the look of your new house you’ll be able to accommodate all of 5automobiles. The truth is that Carol Folt considers herself to be way too hip to live in San Marino, so USC came up with excuse after excuse (earthquake retrofits, million dollar short-term leases, lies about cost, sustainability, and the president needing a large, central place to “entertain,”) for Carol so that she could buy herself the time needed to score her dream, contemporary beachfront home at the school’s expense.

    Seriously, just how ridiculous can USC get?

  2. Leslie Hope says:

    I couldn’t agree more, except that the property is not beachfront although it has a spectacular ocean view.. It appears to be located on Adelaide Drive. You’re right, there is virtually no parking. They’ll have to use a valet service for any parties she might give. Adelaide Drive is not exactly party central.

    1. Janice PostTroy says:

      So extremely sad to see USC have such blatant disregard for the beautiful estate the University was gifted. The President’s house is supposed to be able to entertain for the University’s purposes. Where will she hold these gatherings now that she has had the School pay through the nose for her new tiny .19 acre parcel? Everything thus far in the changing of the guard at SC has wiped out what was great about it’s strong traditions; academically, athletically and socially. Why is no one listening to what the USC family and supporters want?

  3. Gerald C. Davison says:

    I have no problem with this purchase. Folt is the new president of a troubled university and was charged with putting it on a proper course. And I believe she has been doing just that.
    Like it or not, jobs at this level carry with them extraordinary responsibilities *and* great rewards. Yet she is still earning far less than the head football coach!
    I’m a 40+ year USC faculty member. I’ve seen four USC presidents. I like what I see so far. We should wish her the best rather than tossing snarky remarks at her.

  4. Gavin Elster says:

    If USC can’t use the elegant San Marino, Seeley Mudd estate,(and I have visited there several times: PURE CLASS!) maybe they should find descendents of Mr.and Mrs. Mudd and GIVE IT BACK. It was donated in good faith for school use, not a cash cow to help settle USC’s numerous, sleazy law suits. Does USC have any credibility or community respect left?

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