A century-old Silicon Valley estate is on sale for $135 million

Published on Feb 27, 2021 08:38 PM IST

The Fleishhacker family’s Green Gables, a 74-acre compound with seven houses and three pools, has stayed in the family since it was built.

The main residence at Green Gables was constructed in 1911.(Christie's International Real Estate)
The main residence at Green Gables was constructed in 1911.(Christie's International Real Estate)
Bloomberg |

At the turn of the 20th century, industrialist Mortimer Fleishhacker Sr. was looking to escape two things: San Francisco’s foggy summer weather and his in-laws. “They had a home on the north side of the bay, in San Rafael,” says his great-grandson Marc Fleishhacker. “So he drove south.”

At the time, the California coast was comparatively undeveloped and Mortimer, who founded the Anglo California Bank and the Great Western Power Co., was in a position to buy whatever land struck his fancy. In what his great-grandson calls a “quest to build a family compound,” he quickly amassed nine parcels in Woodside, a town that’s now the heart of Silicon Valley.

Inspired by a trip to England’s countryside, he hired architects Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene to build the compound’s main house, which has the general air of a Cotswolds cottage, albeit one that was staffed by a minimum of five servants at all times. Green Gables, as the property came to be known, opened for leisure in 1911. 

Today, the 74-acre estate has seven residences with a total of 32 bedrooms, three swimming pools, a tennis court, an orchard, and several gardens. Most important it has remained a family compound for over a century, just as its founder intended. Until now.

Currently, three branches of the family, totaling 10 cousins, own shares of the land. “And as we look at the next generation, and we think of the inevitable passing of this to our children, well, that number goes from 10 to 17,” says Fleishhacker, a marketing executive who lives in Florence, Italy. “And that becomes 34 if everyone has a significant other, so you can imagine how difficult that is to manage.”

And so, to preempt any discord, the Fleishhacker descendants have decided to put the compound on the market.

At first, they listed it without a price, but the offers they received were, in the family’s estimation, too low. So now they’ve officially listed the home for $135 million with Zackary Wright of Christie’s International Real Estate and Brad and Helen Miller of Compass. “We’re doing the next round of estate planning,” Fleishhacker says.

The Property

After Mortimer built the main house, the property was unaltered for about a decade, at which point, “despite the magnificent gardens in front of the main house, my great-grandfather decided to put in the showcase piece of the property, which is what we refer to as the Roman Pool,” Fleishhacker says.

This football field-sized expanse of water, which is preceded by a lily pond, is framed by symmetrical curved stone stairways on one end and on the other, by a grotto of arches reminiscent of a crumbling aqueduct. Flanking the pool are olive and oak trees.

Mortimer continued to build on the land. He built the “tea and dairy house,” a rustic-looking stone structure in which Mortimer’s wife Bella served tea. (The “dairy” part of the name came from the basement, where dairymaids churned butter and stored milk.)

Next, he built for his daughter a six-bedroom house designed by William Wurster, which also has its own pool. “That became the second prominent house on the property,” says Fleishhacker. 

Two craftsman-style homes from the 1860s were already on the land; those were gradually updated and used by staff.  An additional house—originally the butler’s residence—is now used by the estate manager. 

The last major structure to be built on the property is the so-called “oak valley home” that was constructed in the 1970s. It, too, has its own pool, along with a mother-in-law unit that was added recently.

Small social areas dotting the property include an artist studio Mortimer built for his wife, “an amateur, albeit quite accomplished, painter,” Fleishhacker says, plus picnic grounds and “a beautiful cactus garden, which we’ve recently revitalized.”

To give a sense of the property’s scale, he says that when “we decided to refresh our spring flower bulbs a few years ago,” some 25,000 bulbs had to be ordered.

A Harmonious Retreat

Despite the abundance of living space, Fleishhacker says that the property has only served as a full-time residence only twice in the past century: once when family hunkered down there during World War II and once when Fleishhacker lived with his wife on the property for a year before moving to Italy. 

Instead, the family has used it, in Fleishhacker’s telling, “harmoniously” as a vacation retreat.

“Geography helped us more than anything,” he says. “The way the various homes are situated is that you’re not that far from one another, but no one house sees the other. And the best way to get along with your family is not to see them that often.”

They did, however, see the world’s politicians and grandees on a near-constant basis.

The 20th anniversary of the United Nations was celebrated on the grounds. “My grandfather, the second generation to live on the estate, was asked to chair the festivities of that commemoration, which culminated in the gala event being held at Green Gables,” Fleishhacker explains. And lunches with dignitaries were a near-constant feature of life on the property.

Fleishhacker recalls his grandparents inviting him to luncheons with the crown prince of Sweden and the consul general of France (not at the same time), and “a flow of politicians and aspiring politicians and people from the world of arts and culture,” he says. 

Every two years, the family holds a Fourth of July picnic, “the criteria for which was: Invite anybody you know,” Fleishhacker says. More than 650 people would attend, “and I can tell you, when you have that many people there, it’s not crowded.”

In recent years, it has been rented out a few times as a wedding venue and a few others as a corporate retreat, including to “a computer company based in Silicon Valley that has an interesting doughnut-shaped headquarters,” Fleishhacker says, and that “has used the property a number of times for approximately 1,000 people.”

Mostly, he says, “the estate serves as a wonderful summer home for family.” 

No Pressure

As a result, the family isn’t in a rush to sell. “There’s no pending financial pressure, there’s no rift in the family,” he says. And without any pressure, arriving at a price wasn’t easy.

“There are no comparables,” Fleishhacker says. “Go show me 74 acres in Silicon Valley with seven homes and a Roman pool, and then we can do comparables.”

Instead, they looked at Green Gable’s acreage and setting against other estates in the area—Larry Ellison, Charles Schwab, Laurene Powell Jobs, and Masayoshi Son are all said to have homes nearby—and came up with a number.

“Until we get an offer we think is fair and reasonable, we won’t sell,” Fleishhacker says. “But we are ready to sell.”

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
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