Till death do us part

The sale of a $100 million Californian estate with a catch


If you were to spend $100,000,000 on a house, you’d expect something impressive. I imagine you’d want acreage, vast amounts of space and something luxurious. Stunning views and a prime location would be a must but at the bottom of your list, no doubt, would be something that someone purchasing a place for even a $1 would expect – that being that you’d be able to actually move in.


Christian de Guigné pictured with HRH The Prince of Wales in San Francisco at a dinner at at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in April 2006
Christian de Guigné IV pictured with HRH The Prince of Wales in San Francisco at a dinner at at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in April 2006


Christian de Guigné IV, however, is a man who has opted to do things differently. The 16,000 square foot Mediterranean style property that this 76-year old is selling, Guigné Court in Hillsborough, California, was built as a wedding gift for his great-grandfather Christian de Guigné II and his wife by the groom’s father in 1918 (though some reports suggest it was built as early as 1913). As part of the stipulations of the sale, de Guigné IV will retain exclusive use of the property for the remainder of his lifetime.


Guigné Court, Hillsborough, California, CA 94010
Guigné Court, Hillsborough, California, CA 94010

One of many reception rooms in this vast residence
One of many reception rooms in this vast residence

The hallway
The hallway

The swimming pool
The swimming pool

Terraced gardens and 47.5 acres of land surround Guigné Court
Terraced gardens and 47.5 acres of land surround Guigné Court

The setting
The setting


Standing on a 47-acre plot, near the western San Mateo border, on a secluded hillside between Crystal Springs Road and Parrott Drive, this grand private estate forms part of land that came into the ownership of Christian de Guigné I when he married Mary, the daughter of Gold Rush millionaire banker John Parrott, in 1879. De Guigné I founded the Staufer Chemical Company and also co-founded another company, the Leslie Salt Company, that eventually came to control the world’s largest solar evaporation plant for the production of salt.


Christian de Guigné III married Eleanor Christensen in 1935 and with this union an era of elegance began at Guigné Court upon their taking up residence. “Madame de Guigné” as she was called, was referred to as a “stunning and perfect” trendsetter and in 1982 Town & Country Magazine went as far to describe her as “one of the most powerful women in the world”.


Eleanor Christensen de Guigné
Eleanor Christensen de Guigné


With a wardrobe that numbered gowns by Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel, Hubert de Givenchy, Cristobal Balenciaga and Pierre Balmain, Madame de Guigné was listed by the fashion arbiter Edward Lambert as “one of the world’s 10 best dressed women”. On her death in 1983, it is reported, that she left $200,000 to manager of the Tiffany’s store in San Francisco as well as a large proportion of her archival wardrobe to The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.


Designer Anthony Hail, right, with Andy Warhol in 1981
Designer Anthony Hail, right, with Andy Warhol in 1981

The Anthony Hail designed interior of "The Pavilion" at Guigné Court (photo from ID&D '66 edited by Jacqueline Inchbald, 1965)
The Anthony Hail designed interior of “The Pavilion” at Guigné Court (photo from ID&D ’66 edited by Jacqueline Inchbald, 1965)


De Guigné III and his wife hired the celebrated decorator Anthony Hail (1925 – 2006), whose clients and circle of friends numbered Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, David Hicks, Andy Warhol and James Garner, to work on the interiors of Guigné Court. He created what architectural historians have described as a “timeless look” that, in the main, is still present in the house to this day.


In succession, Guigné Court passed to Christian de Guigné IV, who married Vaughn Hills, daughter of Hills Bros. coffee heir Reuben Wilmarth Hills III, in 1984. The couple brought up two daughters, Allison and Eleanor, at the house before separating in 1996.


Vaughn and Eleanor de Guigné
Vaughn and Eleanor de Guigné


Valued at between $25 and $30 million that year, de Guigné IV unsuccessfully attempted to gain permission to sub-divide the estate to make way for 25 additional residences. Neighbouring residents and environmentalists objected on the basis that “new homes [would] disrupt views on the scenic hillside, create fire hazards, disrupt an unique environmental habitat and tax an already overtaxed school system”. De Guigné IV withdrew the plans in 2009.


Court documents relating to the 2002 divorce of Christian and Vaughn de Guigné illustrate the vast size of the property and the expenses of running Guigné Court:


“The house has multiple bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a ballroom, pavilion, formal dining room, library, and swimming pool. It contains valuable artwork, jewelry, furnishings and other items of personal property collected by Christian’s parents and grandparents… The family maintained an opulent lifestyle. The house was staffed by two housekeepers, three gardeners, a laundress, chef, childcare provider and a part-time chauffeur”.


Vaughn de Guigné was awarded $15,000 a month in child support and a further $12,500 in spousal support whilst her husband got to keep his ancestral home. Now, according to Aaron Kinney of the San Mateo County News, de Guigné IV is selling for the purposes of “estate planning” as his daughters are said to have no interest in living at Guigné Court. Bizarrely, though, whoever has the necessary funds to buy the estate will not be able to take control of the property until he is dead.


Of the unusual way in which Guigné Court is being marketed, Gregg Lynn of Sotheby’s, agents for the sale, commented:


“That’s the way all property used to trade up until the 20th century… I think the specialness here is the sheer size. To have 47.5 acres 20 miles from San Francisco and 5 miles from (San Francisco International Airport) is something that’s incredibly rare… It has to be someone interested in the long-term… You must wait for the big acreage.”


Prospective buyers must take a gamble in considering this property. If Mr de Guigné IV were to last another 25 years, the purchaser could even be dead before him.


“Rare”, indeed, Guigné Court maybe; a good purchase, it perhaps may not.


For more information about Guigné Court, Hillsborough, California, CA 94010, USA, contact Bernadette Lamothe of Sotheby’s International Realty’s San Francisco brokerage on +1 415 793 1175 or +1 415 296 2226.


View more details about the estate at: http://www.sothebysrealty.com/eng/sales/detail/180-l-1190-0085443/estate-and-lands-of-deGuigné -hillsborough-ca-94010

  1. Thank you for the well written article which also gives the reader an inside look at some of the family history as well as current pictures of the property along with current members of the family.


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