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The Aristocratic Saga of Hillsborough's $100M Mega-Manse

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From the Curbed inbox:

What's the deal with the estate in the middle of the Parrott Drive area of Hillsborough? It's in the center of a large forested area and I cannot even find the driveway entrance anywhere. Do they own that whole green space? Is it off Glenbrook Drive or Crystal Spring Road? I use to live nearby and have been curious about it for years. The mega-manse in question has a complicated history full of long-standing San Francisco social royalty, botched subdivision plans to cover divorce fees, and dreamy interior design, plus some high-end architectural pedigree to boot. This one's a doozy, so let's dive right in (to the small but nicely landscaped pool).
Count Christian de Guigne, born of French nobility, came to California in 1879 and was soon engaged to Mary Katherine Parrott. While not European nobility, she was as close as you could get in San Francisco back then. Her father, John Parrott, was a Gold Rush pioneer who amassed a mega-fortune through banking and landholdings, quicksilver mining, and ranching. The Parrotts had their own monster estate on the Peninsula known as Baywood, a white wedding cake of a house near San Mateo. That estate was eventually carved up into subdivisions and is still one of the swankiest residential areas in town.

While Count de Guigne kept up his 16th-century estate in France—known as Chateau Senejac—he and Mary Katherine eventually settled on the Peninsula at a great estate paid for by the Parrotts (torn down in 1923 and now part of downtown San Mateo). Using investments from his father-in-law, the count established the Stauffer Chemical Company and cofounded the Leslie Salt Company, further expanding the family's fortune. She died in 1902 and he eventually moved back to France in the 1930s, but they had one son, Christian II. Junior sounded like a real wild child—going off to Harvard, where he was fined for crashing his car on a "little joy junket," partying it up in San Francisco on his return. Eventually he married the daughter of a senator, and they had one son, Christian III. Christian II and his wife were the ones who had SF starchitects Bliss & Faville (of St. Francis Hotel, Oakland Public Library, 400 California Street, Flood Mansion, and Richmond Library fame) design Guigne Court in 1916 on another portion of the estate. (Some reports, however, say Christian I had it built for them as a wedding present.)

The 16,000-square-foot Guigne Court was designed with seven bedrooms, eight and a half bathrooms, a ballroom, a flower-arranging room, a servants' wing with four maids' rooms and two chauffeurs' rooms. Landscape starchitect Thomas Church later designed the pool and pavilion.

The couple had a nasty divorce; in 1927 Christian II died of a "mystery" illness. Christian III, then in his early 20s, inherited the estate and threw himself a giant welcome-home ball after traveling the world. In 1936 he married Eleanor Christenson, who came from wealthy Peninsula stock herself and was a veritable force on the San Francisco social scene. Often referred to as the grand dame of the Bay Area, she was listed in 1982 among the most powerful women in the world and as one of world's 10 best-dressed women. She would travel to fashion salons in Paris for the latest couture, and, according to one report, was the who's-who of fashion in SF:

No California woman possessed a finer or more vast accumulation of fashionable fur pieces, her most notable having been a set of exceedingly rare platina (silver) foxes—one of the few sets known to exist. When she first wore them to a luncheon in San Francisco at the St. Francis Hotel in 1940, she generated a genuine fashion frenzy. Society writers ecstatically reported that an almost identical set had been worn by the Duchess of Windsor.

Rumor has it she had such a close relationship with the manager at Tiffany's that she left him a couple hundred thousand dollars in her will. She also bequeathed her entire collection of haute couture to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Christian III and Eleanor hired famed midcentury interior decorator Anthony Hail to design the interiors of the estate in the 1960s. The spread was featured in Interior Design & Decoration in 1966, and amazingly a lot of the pieces are still in the house. Even more amazingly, some of those photos look pretty fresh by today's interior design standards. Velvet tufted couches and leopard print rugs? Kelly Wearstler is dying of jealousy right now.

The couple had two sons: Christian IV and Charles. While Charles went off to run his great-grandfather's Chateau Senejac in France (having remained in the family since 1850, it eventually sold in 1999), Christian IV took over Guigne Court. After dating some big-time SF names like Danielle Steel, in the early 80s he married Vaughn Hills, daughter of Hills Bros. coffee heir Reuben Wilmarth Hills III, in 1984. They lived a lavish lifestyle despite the fact that neither worked, and, as it's all spelled out in their 2002 divorce papers, the expenses to run the estate were $450K a year. The divorce settlement took a crazy turn, calling for the subdivision of the 47-acre estate into 25 parcels to raise cash for spousal support. The neighborhood and environmentalists went bananas, saying new houses would "disrupt views on the scenic hillside, create fire hazards, disrupt an unique environmental habitat and tax an already overtaxed school system." The plans were withdrawn in 2009.

But that's not the end, not by a long shot. Last February Christian IV put the estate on the market for a cool $100M. Not unheard of considering its pedigree, the acreage it includes, and the bonkers real estate in the Peninsula lately, but it had one very important caveat—he'd retain a life estate in the property, meaning he'd have exclusive use of the house until he dies. So basically you'd be buying a $100M estate you couldn't use until he kicks the bucket (and at only 76 years old, that could be a while). Apparently the listing was an effort for his "estate planning," but shockingly there weren't any bites and the property has since been taken off the market.

· After 150 Years, de Guigne Heir Lists NorCal Estate for $100M [Curbed SF]
· Guigne Court and Anthony Hail [The Devoted Classicist]
· The sale of a $100M estate with a catch [The Steeple Times]
· Christian de Guigne IV Estate [Burlingame High School Class of 1955]
· Christian De Guigne Pays Record Fine [SF Call via California Digital Newspaper Collection]
· Bravo Balenciaga [The Style Saloniste]
· A Woman of Elegance [The Gentry]
· Eleanor Christenson de Guigné [Hillsborough Newsletter]