Monday, June 6, 2011

Let's Talk Larry Ellison: Trees and Other Things

Let's face it, children, rich people are different from other people. We're not talking about the run of the mill rich people who make half a million or two million a year, we're talkin' the super-papered and über-pampered peeps for whom money really does grow on trees.

Take for instance billionaire tech tycoon Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of software supernova Oracle. The bearded and buff 66-year old claims a reported net worth near forty billion dollars. Say it slowly and let that sink in, butter cups. Forty. Billion. Dollars. Sorta makes a person need a nerve pill just to contemplate that sort of money, don't it?

In 1988 Bay Area-based Mister Ellison, paid $3,900,000 for a 10,742 square foot contemporary mansion on Billionaire's Row, a particularly posh stretch of street of the supuh-swank Pacific Heights 'hood in San Francisco, CA.
The four-story residence sits high on a quintessentially steep San Francisco hill where a quartet of very old trees that include an 80-year old acacia have grown tall enough to obstruct Mister Ellioson's otherwise unobstructed panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay. (See above for actual photo of the obstructed view from Mister Ellison's third floor living room.) The tall stand of view-wrecking trees are not, alas, in Mister Ellison's backyard but rather root into the yard of his down-hill neighbors, the von Bothmers. Mister Ellison and the von Bothmers have long been in a protracted legal tangle over Mister Ellison's strong desire to top the von Bothmer's trees in a manner that preserves his panoramic view. For truly a fascinating blow by blow, the children can peruse the Wall Street Journal's recent account of the tree top dramatics that ensued between Mister Ellison and his tree-loving neighbors.
Reports surfaced that after a decade of dispute and legal wrangling Mister Ellison has become so frustrated that he planned to spend a staggering $40,000,000 to purchase the giant mansion immediately next door (rear exterior shown above at left), a spectacular and storied four-floor residence with sober exterior, magnificently ornate interiors and bays views blessedly unimpeded by any of those naughtly ol' trees. Mister Elliman later released a statement claiming he is not now nor has he any plans to purchase the mansion next door to his for $40,000,000 or any other amount of money.

All this brouhaha comes hot on the heels of another stupefyingly expensive real estate acquisition by Mister Ellison. In mid-March 2011 the property mad tycoon shelled out a gut-wrenching $42,900,000 to acquire a 249-acre high-maintenance estate in Rancho Mirage, CA with a private 18-hole golf course and an 18,000+ square foot main house plus four guest casitas and four two-bedroom guest houses of nearly 2,000 square feet apiece. Didn't we tell you that rich people are different from regular people? Presumably this is a lavish spread that Mister Ellison will use, at best, a few weeks of the year when he's in town for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, CA and maybe a few more weeks a year when he wants to golf without the interruption of other golfers.

Anyhoodles poodles, the mansion Mister Ellison says he is definitely not buying for forty million clammers or any other amount is a fascinating piece of San Francisco history, built in 1916 and owned since 1979 by the high-society matriarch, art patroness and haute couture dynamo Dodie Rosekrans and her second husband John, an heir to the the Sprekels family sugar fortune. Mister Rosekrans–who went on to earn his own fortune manufacturing and selling Frisbees, boogie boards and hacky sacks–met his maker in November 2001 and the iconoclastic Missus Rosekrans carried on until November 2010 with the dignity of a woman of her station and a daring, horrifically expensive and sometimes wacky sense of personal style.

The glittering and glamorous Missus Rosekrans and her wealthy Mister had the Willis Polk-designed mansion done over by San Francisco's legendary decorator Michael Taylor. Many years later Missus Rosekrans claimed never to have altered a damn thing that Mister Taylor had done. And why would she? What ever would be wrong with a decorative vignette comprised of a snug arched corridor lined with meticulous mill work that bursts into a capacious living room with towering plaster pilasters that line the walls, herringbone-patterned wood floors, gilded 18th-century arm chairs upholstered in chartreuse silk-velvet and a curving sofa with fringed skirt and a leopard skin–with the head–tossed across the back? Oh, and let's not forget the Picasso that lords over the thrilling tableau. Okay, the actual leopard skin makes us feel squeamish and icky but Michael Taylor was a genius, hunties, and Missus Rosekrans's San Francisco mansion explains why he owns a high place in the pantheon of legendary decorators.
He may not be the buyer of the Rosekrans mansion (at right above) that's slammed up hard to his current crib (at left above) but, hunnies, it really wouldn't be such a surprise if had bought or did in the future buy the palatial pile; Mister Ellison has previously purchased ludicrously expensive adjacent properties in high-priced California communities. Mister Ellison owns well over $100,000,000 in Malibu real estate including a handful of homes on Carbon Beach, also known as Billionaire's Beach due to the number of high profile billionaires (Jeffrey Katzenberg, Haim Saban, David Geffens et al) who own homes along that particular stretch of sand. Three of the homes five homes Mister Ellison currently owns on Carbon Beach sit right in a row and records show they were purchased between June 2008 and August 2003 at a toe-curling total cost of $33,250,000. He also owns another small house down the beach a bit that actress Jennifer Aniston leased for some time after her bust up from Brad Pitt in the early naughts.

Anyone who follows the high-end of the real estate market in Lala Land knows that Mister Ellison's real estate apple didn't fall very far from the tree. Earlier in 2011 Mister Ellison's budding film producer daughter Megan completed the pricey purchase of a third contiguous property high above the Sunset Strip. According to property records, previous reports and Your Mama's bejeweled abacus, we figure that young Miss Ellison–presumably with money received from her property obsessed father–has spent an astonishing $32,850,000 on her three contiguous clean-lined contemporary cribs that combined have three swimming pools, 10 bedrooms and 14 full and 1 half bathrooms.

Naturally, we have no idea what Miss Ellison plans to do with the property. Given the money-is-no-object real estate attitude of the Ellison it would not surprise Your Mama in the least if Miss Ellison planned to knock one or more of her three homes down to make way for an estate designed and optimized for her precise life and life style. Stranger things have happened.

Just look what billionaire hedge hog David Tepper has done out in Southampton, NY. Last year he spent $43,500,000 to acquire the 6.45 acre ocean front estate of the ex-wife of former U.S. Senator and governor of New Jersey Jon Corzine. This year, peeved he was unable to see the ocean from the first floor of the existing house, Mister "I want what I want at any cost" Tepper demolished the existing residence and the estate's various out buildings to make way for a much more substantial mansion of around 15,000 square feet, nearly three times the size of ex-Missus Corzine's former and now no longer existing beach house.

In addition to the massive main house, Mister Tepper's new beach front getaway, according to plans filed with the town of Sagaponack Village Building Department will also include a 1,000-ish square foot 3-car garage with basement, a 550-square foot pool house and a 270-square foot tennis pavilion.

Sagaponack, once the quiet domain of potato farmers, artists and beach-going others who willfully opted out of the staid old money scene in Southampton and the glittery new money extravaganza of East Hampton, has become inundated over the last 10 or 15 years with prodigious amounts of Wall Street money that has swept in like a tidal wave and transformed the once bucolic and relaxed farming community into a crush of newly erected mega-mansions.

The current issue of Vanity Fair includes an article about the mesmerizing real estate tale of a Houston businessman engaged in a decade-long dispute with an old Sagaponack farming family that illustrates how money–really big money–has infiltrated, re-shaped and re-defined–and some might argue infected and destroyed–the once sleepy and scenic seaside enclave.

Back on the west coast showbiz mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg paid an astounding $35,000,000 in early 2010 for an 8,704 square foot mid-century modern mansion on a prominent 6.34 acre hilltop in Beverly Hills. He immediately razed the existing house to make way for something bigger and better rumored to be designed by the folks at Gwathmey Siegel, the same firm responsible for his impressive post-modern ocean front compound on Malibu's Carbon Beach.

As extraordinary as these things may seem to ordinary folks and mere financial mortals, billionaires (and near billionaires) who spend vast sums of money to acquire contiguous high-priced properties and/or purchase shockingly expensive but perceptually sub-par residences they replace with newer, bigger and shinier ones, appear to be the new normal for the super rich.

Do not, without aid of a cocktail and a mood altering substance, even begin to attempt to make sense of the capricious real estate ways of the famous and/or the filthy rich. Your Mama–under the influence of an illegal substance and with a tall gin & tonic in hand–wonders then, if some money-is-no-object buyer will snatch up Jennifer Aniston's $42,000,000 house in Beverly Hills or Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi's sixty million dollar compound in the Hills of Beverly only to tear everything down and start again. Anyone care to weigh in on that bone chilling possibility?

NOTE: This post revised late same day in light of crucial and more current information we failed to uncover during in our earlier (and inadequate) research.

photo(top): Google
photo (middle): Ellison v. Von Bothmer case file from the Wall Street Journal
photo (bottom) Google


Anonymous said...

so how does this fit into this story?

Anonymous said...

FYI, Miss Ellison is living in one of the houses, using another as the home of her production company. The third is used to house he post production/editing facility.

angie said...

The von Bothmers are unwilling to budge an inch toward reaching a neighborly compromise, which tells me they are 1st rate jerks. They are probably secretly jealous that they can't afford $40MM for a home with a view like Mr. Ellison's, so they enjoy ruining his view. Disgusting.

Anonymous said...

Mama.. you are simply fabluous and keep us well informed for cocktail party chit chat on fabulous realestate! xxoo

Anonymous said...

The lady and the $40M house next door to Larry Ellison is featured in the article linked below. I think the picture in Mama's blog is of the back of this mansion.

Anonymous said...

the Picasso in question is "Couple a la Guitare". Last month Sotheby's auctioned Mme. Rosekrans' collection, the painting brought a "disappointing" $8.5 million. Faring better was another piece from her collection, "16 Jackies" by Andy Warhol, which fetched $20.2 million, just about half the reported sale price of her SF house.

very interesting read today, Mama.

Anonymous said...

Dodie Rosekrans was a most remarkable woman. Quick wit, generous, quirky, refined, lovely intelligent and most of all, fun.

Her passing created a great void in the lives of those who knew her. Thanks Mama for your wonderful post today.

Anonymous said...

Angie, I don't think the von Bothmers are the jerks in this case. The estimable Mister Ellison offered to buy their house, presumably so he could then legally top the trees, and when they refused to sell he filed the lawsuit in a towering snit at not getting his way. The vonBs also found a tree trimming crew in their trees one fine day, which of course they hadn't requested, but Mister E is rumored to have done.

Does Mister E not have eyes with which to see? Did he miss the presence of great big redwood trees when he toured the property before he bought? I'd guess he never toured the property; he undoubtedly has people to do that for him, so a head or 2 has probably rolled on Mister E's discovery that trees, yes, grow taller. All by themselves. He has been, after all, busy the past few years overseeing the construction of a Japanese village in otherwise quiet and low key Woodside.

His lawsuit is basically a nuisance since it's pretty well established in California law that there is no such thing as the "right to a view." Particularly if that which is "blocking" the view already existed when the complainer bought the property.

-- Cranky Old Foop

angie said...

Cranky, I understand what you're saying. Still, the von Bothmers have stubbornly refused any compromise, ruining Ellison's view, negatively impacting the enjoyment of his home and it's value, and maintaining a 10 year long protracted battle with their neighbor - all over some trees which they are only being asked to trim. All things considered, it's a reasonable request.

Their repudiation of a reasonable resolution makes them unreasonable by default, which begs the question, Why? There is more going on here than just trees. They are enjoying the control they are able to exert over a mega rich billionaire on some level, and for less than noble reasons.

micanichi said...

I love that neighborhood.

nursedeb said...

I wouldn't top those beautiful trees. He would just have to get over it.

Anonymous said...

Their trees and property, not his. Screw these billionaires. Ellison thinks he is god. god in the lowercase suits him just fine.

Anonymous said...

Ellison makes Gates seem modest. As far as I know Gates has one (big and lavish) house that he inhabits and that is enough for him. Of course Ellison has enough moola to buy a lot more houses if he wanted them, unlike Nic Cage who just imagined he was super rich. (BTW Oracle, Ellison's company, has done better long run than Microsoft that has gotten stagnant in the stock market with no appreciation much as all in the last ten years). Gates total wealth still tops Ellison I gather but not by much. I don't know how charitable Ellison is; Gates at least is very given to charity. I suspect Ellison is more into self indulgence (a la Paul Allen) and is probably a less admirable human being. I am not surprised he would be in a nasty conflict with his neighbors.

Anonymous said...

angie - there is a difference between "trimming" trees and "topping" trees. the latter will probably kill them.

I'd be bummed if my view was being obstructed, but in this case I hope the trees and less-lawyered neighbors win.

Guess money can't buy everything after all.

Anonymous said...

The "horrifically expensive" link doesn't work for me, but the "wacky" one does. Just thought you'd like to know, Mama.

midTN said...

What a load........super richies in a super snit over trees.

My God, how will the world continue to spin?

Welcome to the Left Coast.


Anonymous said...

The neighbors sound like assholes ... is a few ft off the top of those trees really going to have any impact on their lives? No! They probably just like the fact they're pissing off a billionaire. I'd have just chopped them, dealt with the consequences afterwards.

Anonymous said...

I wish that folks who tear down perfectly good houses, especially the show stoppers, would first dismantle and recycle all those doors and windows and tiles and appliances. Tear downs don't need to be such a waste.

Also, topping trees does not kill them.

A perspective -- EVERY historic house, mansion, castle, chateau, villa or pile ever built was once considered a exercise in ostentatious taste and too much money. History repeats itself. For a great read get Bill Bryson's AT HOME.

Anonymous said...


A week ago I was going to suggest that you critique the Ellison-von Bothmers kerfuffle in your own inimitable style, and am delighted that proceeded on your own.

I am very familiar with San Francisco and with the Pacific-Broadway-Vallejo Street blocks of the featured Pacific Heights families and their residences. Let me concur with many of the Children in stating that views are not legally protected in San Francisco. New construction frequently blocks decades or even century-old views once accessible from older homes, and old trees gradually grow and eclipse views as well. Very infrequently, well-connected San Franciscan home owners are able to prevail in a special-use or site-review hearing and downscale proposed new construction.

I find it equally surprising and refreshing that Ellison was unable to "buy" his Pacific Heights representative on the Board of Supervisors, or another well-placed City official to "influence and/or motivate" the von Bothmers to trim their trees, under the guise of preventing possible future damage from falling limbs.

Rabbi Hedda LaTess

Trixie von Trott said...

I love those trees, they are the ONLY things on that street that don't smell like piss...

lil' gay boy said...

Proof positive that money is indeed the great equalizer. No one person's money is "better" than any others' ––– and some people cannot be bought at any price. Back in the dark ages in catechism class we called that "integrity"; the good Rebbe echoes my sentiments.

Sticking to you guns, whether because you're a bona fide tree-hugger, a staunch property rights supporter, or just out of sheer cussedness, seems to me to be the quintessential Amercan Way ... (cue "Stars and Stripes" here)


On a business trip, this lil' gay boy was privileged, a decade or so ago, to attend a rather swish dinner party with Ms. Rosekrans; she was definitely of the old school, where one employed their breeding & manners in making others comfortable; something sadly archaic & anachronistic these days. And she was a hoot, too!

Out of Gates, Jobs & Ellison (PCs, Macs & the networks that connect them), only Jobs seems to have been unaffected by billionairetiasis in opting for a sensible, 4 bedroom $8.5MM home (if he lives that long) ––– all the rest is just gravy, and nice if you can afford it; but without a certain discipline, you wind up with a rambling egofest like Gates or a private amusement park like Ellison's Japanese village.

As for the others, Ellison's daughter, with a leg up & daddy's seed money, is making an attempt not to lead the life of a dissolute wastrel, with a compound of homes that comprise an enviable workspace. Here on LI one may be surprised to find that Tepper's demolition of the Corzine pile has been met with anticipation; it was an architectural eyesore, and folks are eager to see if the new house is even worse than the one demolished.

chris said...

Ellison's got more money than he knows what to do with. Maybe an offer of 100 million or so (loose change to him) would persuade his neighbors to relent. Why doesn't he try? I'd love to see Ellison pay 100 million for his view.

Pat Johnstone said...

In 2004, VBs purchased home with massive, mature trees (In 2004, 80-100 year old acacia was listed as largest in the state and is now 2nd largest, redwoods planted 1959. VBs had thinned and lowered trees over years, much per LE's requests, (spending over $18K and over 300 Certified Arborist hours), and offered to top them even further prior to lawsuit, but offers rejected. VBs decided it wasn't worth going to trial over trees, so redwoods topped to 2nd level floor + 2 feet of LE's house (topped 22+ feet) and acacia is 2nd level + 7 feet. All other trees on property must be topped/maintained bi-annually and/or annually to LE's the floor of LE's 2nd level.

No money changed hands.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous commenter who called the neighbors assholes who enjoyed pissing off Ellison:

Did it ever occur to you that they have rights too, and that they loved their trees and privacy? It's not as if they haven't been topping their trees for Ellison for years now.
What this is really about is Ellison bullying the family because they wouldn't sell them their house.
I admire them for standing up to this bulldozer.

Anonymous said...

Anon June 7, 2011 6:44 AM, kudos to you: your post is the first time I've seen "charitable" and "Ellison" in the same sentence. Just for fun, now I'll go google it & see what comes up. He might well be a major donor somewhere (Americas Cup doesn't count). Stranger things have happened.

And thanks to other chirruns for pointing out that the vonBs have done more than many would've to please the lovely Mister E. They were there first, and the trees were there long before either they or Mister E, unless we are speaking of him in his alter ego, God, in which case he really was there first.

Cranky Old Foop

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced what Ellison really wanted was the von Bothmers' lovely, very private home with views and gardens with big old redwoods for himself. When he finally realized they were not going to sell to him at any price, he decided to go after their trees instead. Wonder how many days a year he really spends at this Broadway home anyway?

Anonymous said...

Larry needs to spend less time in SF and more time on that fancy yacht of his...
But really, cut back the trees dear neighbor and stop the fighting. Larry has a right to the view and you're no doubt some too-rich snot that just wants to yank his chain.