Stonebrook Court Manor: The sale of a Californian mansion where it’s more about patience than price
Stonebrook Court Manor in California’s Los Altos Hills has been on and off the market since January 2008. Its owner, a “television executive turned Internet investor” and investment banker named Kelly Porter, though said to be “in no hurry to sell”, has reduced his asking price from £28.1 million ($45 million) to £16.8 million ($27 million) through Arthur Sharif & Associates.
Porter and his then wife, an interior designer named Christina, are said to have paid around £3.1 million ($5 million) for the 30,000 square foot house – originally known as Lantarnam Hall and subsequently Morgan Manor – in 1999 against an asking price of £4.4 million ($7 million). They spent some seven years and “tens of millions” remodeling the mansion and created a stunning property that now features 7 bedrooms, 9 bathrooms, a ballroom, a library and a 20-car garage. In separate buildings there are such amenities as a staging area for banquets, leisure facilities and a 3-bedroomed housekeeper’s cottage.
Stonesbrook Court Manor now stands on a somewhat reduced 7.5-acre plot and supposedly cost $400,000 – the equivalent of £5.7 million (or $9.2 million) today – to build in 1914. It was constructed for a London born businessman named Percy Morgan (1862 – 1920) who amassed a fortune working in first Montana and Colorado before settling in California.
Morgan, who was also a trustee of Stanford University, married into a wealthy Oakland family when he took Fanny “Daisy” Babbit Ainsworth as his wife in 1894. Soon after, the couple purchased a 132-acre plot in what is now part of Silicon Valley and it was here that they developed Lantarnam Hall after returning from a three year “sojurn in Europe” with a vast collection of paintings and objects d’art.
Designed by Bay Area architect John H. Powers, the building was based upon the National Trust owned Elizabethan Speke Hall in Lancashire, England but also incorporated modern building techniques such as a concrete foundation designed to withstand earthquakes. It is Tudor-Jacobean revival in style and features, retained and restored by Mr and Mrs Porter, number 16th century gilded Venetian ceiling paintings, a grand oak staircase and extensive oak paneling.
Despite his standing and success, Morgan was a man troubled by the black dog of depression. A car crash in February 1920 tragically resulted in him sinking into such despondency, as, believing that he might be crippled for life and unable to walk again, he decided to shoot himself in the library of Lantarnam Hall in April of the same year. He died instantly and though his widow remained there until the late 1920s, she eventually sold up and relocated to Southern California where her sons opened Hollywood’s Cock ‘n Bull “British style pub” and created the now famous Moscow Mule cocktail.
In the coming decades, the estate had a series of owners including a “flamboyant San Bruno nightclub owner” named Gypsy Buys. Her plans to turn the estate into a hotel and country club were thwarted and the next custodian, “a real estate man” named William E. Doud, began his brief tenure by selling off 10 of the original 100 acres. He lasted until 1952 and as Morgan Manor, the building then became home to the Ford Country Day School.
After remaining as an educational establishment for 33 years until 1988, the school closed. It “deteriorated badly” in the following 11 years and was then sold to Kelly and Christina Porter in 1999. At the time, Mr Porter is said to have described it as “looking like a beat-up fraternity house” but, with the help of architect Richard Beard of BAR Architects and a landscape designer named Stephen Suzman of Suzman & Cole Design Associates, he and his former wife restored it to the spectacular residence that is for sale today.
During his years at the house, Porter, managing director of Woodside Capital Partners and the former chairman and CEO of CatchTV Inc., has used Stonesbrook Court Manor in the manner that suits it most. In 2010, Bloomberg reported that his “unusual way of finding his next deal” was based on inviting “CEOs of startups to his $28 million mansion for dinner”. He commented:
“I want to know what’s happening in the market, what people are interested in, what companies are doing… There’s a unique opportunity to bring people together in this setting that I don’t think you can do really anywhere else. They’re not at a trade show, which is a big massive thing, and you’re not at an office, which tends to be a little more transactional… We’re all just kind of sitting there doing deals… That concept, which would be called collusion in any other industry, and yet here you all get together and share ideas… I always wanted a place where I could bring people together”.
Though it looks likely that Mr Porter will have to remain patiently based at Stonesbrook Court Manor for some time yet, we’d put money on the next owner taking a similar view on how best to use this fine residence. After all, who wouldn’t want to entertain in a house like this?
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