Downton Abbey in Silicon Valley
A venture capitalist and his wife rescued an amazing property from the jaws of decay. Now they're moving on. (Are they nuts?)
Calling anything in California "old" or "historic" invites a certain derision. This is the disposable coast, after all, where midcentury modern qualifies as antique — as compared to back East, with its warrens of Colonial alleys cluttering up odd corners of cities, or England, where you can dig under a cathedral to find Roman ruins. So Stonebrook Court Manor, a massive estate on 8 acres in tony Los Altos Hills in Silicon Valley, is like a unicorn. A unicorn with nine bathrooms.
Originally built in 1914 by Percy Morgan, an Englishman who moved to San Francisco to make an even bigger fortune than he already had, it was based on a true Tudor mansion called Speke Hall near Liverpool. He dubbed it Lantarnam Hall and lived there with his wife, Daisy, and their two sons until he died there in 1920.
Eventually Daisy moved down to Southern California to join her boys, who had opened a restaurant and invented the Moscow Mule. It was almost impossible to maintain such a huge estate, and the place changed hands many times over the years, with bits and pieces of the land being sold off to pay property taxes, finally landing with the founders of the Ford Country Day School in 1955. It was a beloved institution, but these things have a way of winding down, and the school closed down in 1988.
Tour Stonebrook Court ManorView All 14 Photos
Over the next 10 years it deteriorated, and by the time venture capitalist Kelly Porter and his then-wife Christina happened upon it, it looked like "a beat-up fraternity house." They snapped it up for $5 million and embarked upon a restoration that had them touring Europe for the right details, bringing in artisans from around the globe and hiring some 1,000 people over 7 years.
The Porters never said how much they spent, but one could estimate a sum of Bruce Wayne proportions. Rechristening it Stonebrook Court Manor, they entertained lavishly there, hosting venture-capital clients and photo shoots for the Los Altos Opera. Every inch of the 8 acres is lushly landscaped, and the 30,000-square-foot home contains seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a wine cellar, a ballroom and a 20-car garage. There are two outbuildings: one is the gym, the landscaper's office and a staging area for banquets, and the other is a three-bedroom home for the groundskeeper and his housekeeper wife, who would love to remain on staff for the new owners. (Mr. and Mrs. Bates, if you please.)
It's also listed on the National Historic Register, which means all those renovations had to meet exacting standards. It also means that the purchaser is getting a bargain: Property taxes would be 1/10 of a comparable sale without that designation. You know: a bargain at $27 million!
Actually, this Hope Diamond of a home has struggled to find its new owners: Listed at $45 million in 2008, it was reduced to $29 million before being taken off the market. It returned this year as the market heated up again, and inquiries are reportedly coming from Europe. (But they probably just want their stuff back.)
Some lucky duckling who loves throwing parties, drools over burnished wood and has a king's ransom to spare (sadly, I've only got two out of three) is going to snap this place up soon, so have a walk-through before you have to wait for a yearly house tour to do so.