Pasadena’s Record-Breaking Arden Villa Lists At A Massive Loss

August 26, 2019

The city of Pasadena, located in LA’s oft-overlooked San Gabriel Valley, is renowned for its old-world charm, the annual Tournament of Roses, and the area’s historic architecture — particularly that of homes in the southernmost part of the city. Down yonder, below the bustling 210 freeway, the tree-dotted streets are broad and the lots exceptionally spacious. Walk down one of these roads and you’ll smell the distinct neighborhood scent — that pungent whiff of old money.

Atypical for LA, a significant portion of Pasadena’s housing stock is East Coast-style grand mansions — gracious Colonials and such. Thus, the area has become a popular filming location for all sorts of movies, TV shows, and various other productions — particularly those set back East or thereabouts.

One of the noblest old homes in all of Pasadena is the Arden Villa, a 106-year-old Palladian-style manse better-known for its appearances in movies and TV shows than for any of its actual owners. Perhaps the property’s biggest starring role was in the legendary (and legendarily campy) 1983 Dynasty lily pond catfight. “A couple of female mud wrestlers,” indeed. Watch and see for yourselves.

The estate has popped up in numerous other entertainment industry productions — including commercials, TV shows like Matlock and Knight Rider, films like Billy Madison and Terms of Endearment — but Linda Evans and Joan Collins’ Dynasty splish-splash romp remains its career-defining role.

Built in 1913 for mining tycoon and railroad heir William Kennon Jewett, the estate’s main house was designed by the acclaimed Pasadena-based architects Marston & Van Pelt. At the time, the home’s construction cost — an estimated $50,000 — was considered appallingly extravagant. Though the original estate spanned 9 acres, it was eventually subdivided and dwindled to “just” 2.5 by the 1950s.

In 1957, according to online reports, the house came to be owned by the late Coleman Morton, an investment manager for Capital Group, one of the world’s oldest, largest and most secretive hedge funds. Our Mr. Morton and his longtime wife Jane lived and entertained at the home for several decades.

Fast forward to 1993, when the house was purchased for $2,750,000 by a semi-mysterious man from Mainland China named Guang “Geoffrey” Ren. Though we know very little about Mr. Ren’s background or wealth, he is an important character in today’s story and we’ll come back to him imomentarily. Anyway, records indicate Mr. Ren lost the property to foreclosure in 1997, just four years after his purchase.

By the early 2000s, the house had passed to prolific TV/film producer Peter Tolan, who sold it (in 2006) for $11,666,000 to David Zander, a bigshot TV commercial producer. Three years later, Mr. Zander paid $1,530,000 for the half-acre lot next door, making his approximate total outlay $13.2 million.

Then in May 2013, Mr. Zander quietly sold the expanded Arden Villa estate for an unprecedented $28 million, an amount that remains the most ever paid for a house in any of LA’s valleys — both San Gabriel and San Fernando. For comparison purposes, that’s millions more than Kim and Kanye originally forked over for their giant Hidden Hills place. And it certainly made Mr. Zander’s wallet smile.

But there were a couple very odd things about that $28 million transaction.

For starters, the record-breaking buyer was none other than Geoffrey Ren, the very same enigmatic fella who apparently lost the property to foreclosure in the 1990s. We’re unsure what Mr. Ren’s attachment to the Arden Villa is, but we do know that he did not pay cash for the estate this time ’round — he financed at least $18 million of the enormous purchase price. (Yikes! That’s one hefty mortgage.)

But here’s something even more bizarre. Yolanda happens to know that Mr. Ren never moved into the Arden Villa. That’s right, kids. For the last six years, this record-breakingly amazing — and absurdly high-maintenance! — spread has sat empty and vacant. How strange is that?

Thankfully, however, it appears that the grounds and the house itself are still being nicely maintained, despite the vacant nature of the premises. The three-acre spread is supremely private, tucked away behind multiple layers of giant hedges and trees. The main house itself is amazingly preserved, despite some modern interior updates. And yes, the famed lily pond remains.

Back in June 2017, the compound unexpectedly popped up for sale with a $28 million pricetag, the exact same price that Mr. Ren paid back in 2013. Yolanda thought that was kinda odd at the time, but the fast paced nature of LA real estate made us quickly forget about the place, which did not sell.

But then — this January (2019) — the asking price dipped sharply to $19.5 million, an amount that represents a small fortune’s loss. Yes, that is $8.5 million less than Mr. Ren paid under six years ago.

Fast forward to just the other day, when we were breakin’ bread in a coffee shop with a real estate friend. As we idly chit-chatted about the market and such, our friend casually let it slip that the Arden Villa is (or was recently) in foreclosure.

What?! Yolanda nearly spit out her overpriced, lukewarm coffee. Foreclosures, y’all, still happen. But they have become increasingly uncommon since the economy recovered some years ago, and a $28 million house foreclosure is an extremely rare thing. Matter of fact, this is the biggest foreclosure we know about, second only to the Bradbury Estate mega-mansion that went under a couple years ago.

Anyway, Yolanda hopped on the internet — and boom! Records indeed confirm foreclosure activity on the Arden Villa, beginning back in 2017. At that point, Mr. Ren was already more than $3.5 million behind on his mortgage payments — yikes. There was even a public foreclosure auction scheduled for late March (2018), though it appears that was cancelled at the last minute and some refinancing was performed. In any case, Mr. Ren remains the Arden Villa‘s owner of record. For now.

So if you’re a billionaire scouting for a majorly awesome spread in LA — and you don’t mind living in Pasadena — well, you’ve got a chance to make a great deal here.

But here’s the $28 million question: why would Mr. Ren shoulder the massive mortgage payments (and maintenance costs) for an enormous luxury home he never used, only to let it sink into foreclosure four years later? That’s an utter mystery to Yolanda. But ours not to reason why, ours to simply enjoy the beautiful photographs.

A few stats: the compound has two large pools, maze-like gardens, and a total of 17,586-square-feet of living space within the two separate structures. And even at the mega-reduced $19,500,000 ask, this is still — by far — the priciest home for sale in Pasadena or even in the more expensive neighboring city of San Marino, which is just one block away. But then again, no other compound in this area compares.

As for our Mr. Ren, here’s a peek at his current main residence (which is not the Arden Villa).

Mr. Ren spends most of his time in China, but when in the USA he and his wife Dongbai Han reside in a very remote section of Pasadena: the northeast foothills bordering Angeles National Forest, on a hidden celeb-pedigreed estate. His four-acre compound is located in the little-known Villa Heights gated community and (easily) ranks as the largest and most lavish property in the enclave.

In late 2003, Mr. Ren paid former film producer Tom Shadyac — the guy who brought us blockbusters like Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor and Bruce Almighty — $7,250,000 for this estate, which was designed by iconic architect Paul Williams way back in 1928. The compound includes a main residence of approximately 7,000-square-feet, a guest hacienda, detached garage/staff quarters, pool, pool house/cabana, formal gardens, rolling lawns and a proper north/south tennis court.

It is here where Mr. Ren currently bunks up, and we imagine where he’ll remain even after the Arden Villa is sold. For his sake, Yolanda hopes that is soon. But remember, even in the event of a full-price $19.5 million offer, Mr. Ren is staring down an $8,500,000 loss — not counting taxes, closing costs, realtor fees, upkeep bills and much more. Ouch!

Listing agents: Nicholas Cacarnakis & Jack Chang, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices