Celebrities attracted to some of the most expensive real estate in the country
By Kyle Kelly
Over the years, Marin has unquestionably remained a special place for some of the world’s most successful people and brightest stars. In a most recent report published by the S.F. Gate, Marin County surpassed the hefty sum of $120,000 per joint income tax return. This figure, seemingly high to most people, fails to represent the true virtuosity of Marin’s wealth. Many of the rich and famous here remain distant from the public eye.
Only a handful of higher end properties may truly be considered anything less than reclusive. This seclusion around much of Marin’s finest of realty gems has inspired a wholesome sense of privacy, harbored in turn by a great many celebrity inhabitants such as: famed directors, David Fincher (Social Network) and George Lucas (Star Wars); actors, Sean Penn (Mystic River), Robin Williams (Dead Poets Society,) and Peter Coyote (E.T.), renowned chef Julia Child; prominent political figures, Barbara Boxer (Senator), and Gavin Newsome (Lt. Governor); Olympic gold medalist, Johnny Mosley; authors Anne Lamott and Isabella Allende; and legendary musicians, Sammy Hagar (The Red Rocker), James Hetfield (Metallica), Janis Joplin (Big Brother & The Holding Company), Tony Bennett, and Carlos Santana (Santana).
Marin however, has done more than attract its fare share of famous figures and public personalities. It has given rise to a great many of its own as well. Recent news would highlight the work of Pete Carol, an often-revered opponent of the Bay Area’s 49ers. Carol attended Redwood High School before taking courses at Kentfield’s College of Marin.
Some of Marin’s prominent public figures have moved. In the last few years, both Bennett, and Penn have chosen to reside elsewhere, having sold their homes for a combined $35 million respectively. In 2011 Mr. Bennett listed his property for $27 million on the coastal outskirts of Belvedere, while Penn who purchased his home in 1996 with then wife Robin Wright, carried a significantly lower price of only $15 million, selling in 2010 for a modest $8 million, approximately $6 million above their original purchase price.
Bennett’s five-bedroom, seven-bath Belvedere estate falls shy of some of the more expansive hillside castles. It more than makes up for it with a tremendous amount of charm and classic Italian allure. Designed by early Twenthieth-Century architect Warren Callister, the 9,500 square-foot humble abode offers a premium array of sweeping Bay Area views. Included is the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s finest skyline, and Mt. Tamalpais.
Bennett’s home includes a plethora of finer amenities: an office, a library, five fireplaces, an upscale living and dining area (boasting an elegantly designed set of French Doors that lead to an assortment of side terraces,) and a three-leveled lawn. It also includes a one-bedroom & one-bath guesthouse.
More than a year before Bennett’s hillside manor was listed, Sean Penn had already sold his Spanish style home in the heart of Ross. The Penn’s spent more than two years reconstructing the 7,557 square-foot Spanish villa originally built in 1933, before relisting it on the market in 2008. The home, residing on a little more than two acres came with a number of fanciful amenities, which included a renovated home gym, pool, tennis court, gardens, dog run and Au Pair quarters.
Barry Zito, once beloved pitcher of the Oakland A’s turned San Francisco Giant, has claimed recently that the commute from Kentfield to San Francisco has been proving problematic, as it is simply too long a distance to be of comfort to him. With his contract expiring at the end of this season, it may be a prelude to a more complicated matter. Whether or not he will remain a Giants team member by next season is yet to be determined. At 35-years-old, with his career winding down, these are likely factors in his residential decision-making.
Listing his property in the hills above Phoenix Lake has proved problematic. The market place has balked at just about every offer thrown their way. The initial listing price was in many respects overzealous, at nearly $12 million. Mr. Zito, who has widely discredited his Bay Area reputation with a number of less than stellar seasons for the Giants, has been slashing millions from his homes listing price over the years. Zito’s current contract with the Giants stands at seven years, $120 million. Most recently the four-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath home has been listed at slightly below $10 million.
Through his silent charity and humbling presence, there is one notable figure that single-handedly epitomizes the legacy of the rich and famous in Marin. That individual is George Lucas. Although he maintains an undeniably overwhelming presence throughout the community, both with charitable donations to education and community parks, his appearances are few and far between. He joined the small community of Marin in the mid 70s after his film American Graffiti, and before Star Wars was known to the world. Lucas wrote some of his most famous works while residing in his old Victorian home on the hillside above Park Avenue in San Anselmo.
During his crowning inauguration of the new “Imagination Park,” he donated to the downtown area of San Anselmo in 2013. There he stated, “Both Star Wars and Indiana Jones were created here just down the street. They were both written and made here, Star Wars especially was made here, the actual film was made here in San Anselmo, and now we have a monument to remind people that this is where the whole thing started right here in San Anselmo.”
Before his overhaul of one of San Anselmo’s premier downtown regions, Mr. Lucas extended his generosity to a small music shop on the Miracle Mile, directly across from the United Market. This little shop, Amazing Grace, went on sale in 2004 after concerns grew that it might be going out of business. It was promptly purchased by Mr. Lucas, resulting in him pouring copious amounts of funding into the redevelopment of both the 1936 building and its surrounding landscape. Today Amazing Grace remains a pleasant jewel on its original dividing median with the same gentleman who had been running the shop before.
The culmination of his presence in Marin, perhaps more than anything else, is his famed Skywalker Ranch in Lucas Valley. According to the Wall Street Journal, the 4,700-acre property with a man-made lake, Lake Ewok, has cost Lucas an impressive $100 million in development since its purchase in the later half of the 70s. Occupied by his 50,000 square-foot main house designed to replicate an 1860s rancher abode, the residence is sure to humble anyone who is privileged enough to enter.
When David Grega of Sotheby’s Realty was asked about what he felt were the bigger reasons behind such high profile figures joining the Marin scene, he offered a number of prime elements he believes may be contributing factors.
“Certainly, good schools, low crime and people tend to gravitate towards the city,” Grega said. He later spoke on some of the inspiring architecture around Marin as well, noting works primarily by famed designer John Marsh Davis. These homes can be seen at 625 Lovell, Mill Valley, and 16 Crest Road, Belvedere.
If walls could talk, perhaps they would tell tales of Marin’s wildest 60s bashes, famed movie sets, embarrassing tales of celebrity youth, questionable habits and glorious stage performances. These homes, virtual beacons of titanic accomplishment, embellish Marin.
They have had a profound effect on the perspective of Marin County on a national scale, as its very name commands for its residents an acknowledgement of well-being.