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

Carol Folt House Santa Monica
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  • 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.