The estate was founded in 1906 by James Waldron Gillespie, a visionary hailing from New York who came to the West Coast looking for a location with a landscape and a climate that rivaled that of the Mediterranean. Originally known as a botanic garden, the estate boasts 10 acres of exceptional grounds offering the utmost in privacy and a variety of trees, many of which are over 100 years old. The estate was inspired by Gillespie’s world travels, and designed by renowned architect Bertram Goodhue, known mainly for his churches, museums, and monumental buildings.
Goodhue’s works include the Los Angeles Central Library, Saint Thomas Church in New York City, the Nebraska State Capitol, and the Chapel and Original Campus of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
El Fureidis is known as Bertram Goodhue’s outstanding Mediterranean Revival masterpiece.
A Grand Roman Villa
Together, Gillespie and Goodhue embarked on a yearlong trip to Europe and the Mediterranean region to gather inspiration for the estate; a significant portion of their journey included over 500 miles on horseback from the Caspian Sea to the Gulf of Persia. This journey birthed the concept of a grand Roman villa with Persian gardens, a very progressive architectural style for the time.
A Careful Eye for Detail
Constructed of steel-reinforced concrete and retaining the original layout footprint, Goodhue built El Fureidis to last. The main house recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation with a careful eye for detail, preserving the historic elements of the estate, while equipping the estate for modern living in a new era.
Piéce de Résistance
The estate itself forms a rectangle with a bright atrium terrace at its center, and is accessed through an entry hall and a “conversation room,” a Byzantine-style alcove crowned with an 18-foot-high central dome that is decorated with a floral hand painted, gold and blue design in 24k gold-leaf modeled after the church of St. John Lateran in Rome. The conversation room has remained the piéce de résistance of the house.
Offering numerous areas for entertaining, the public rooms of the estate are grand in style. The formal dining room is unique with a barreled ceiling painted in 24k gold leaf and depicting a scene of Alexander the Great conquering Persepolis by Henry Wadsworth Moore. The original signature by the artist remains intact. A musician’s balcony overlooks the formal dining room and is accessed via a glass door.
Each public room is bathed in natural light from the numerous sets of double doors, which open to the central courtyard and other patio areas.
From the entry, one may enter the formal living room with lovely blue paneled ceilings, representing the heavens, and the neoclassical era of the estate.
From the living room, the floor plan continues to a library, a sitting room and a lounge.
Many of the original fixtures and appointments remain, and are coupled with fully modernized and deluxe appointments in the bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry facilities, such as radiant floor heating, a steam shower, and top-end appliances. The renovation includes a second floor configured with three guest suites.
Upstairs, an exquisite rooftop with three access points provides 360-degree views of the lavish ten-acre property, Pacific Ocean, and the Channel Islands. The desirable Montecito climate allows the rooftop to be enjoyed year round, while expansive space for rooftop lounging and sunset views provide the perfect setting for events.
The property is bordered by a seasonal creek and offers significant gardens and landscaping, originally Persian in design, and reflective of Gillespie’s fondness for palm trees. At one time, the gardens boasted more than 100 different varieties of palm and other trees, and today the expansive 10-acre grounds still harbor several century-old tree specimens, including a massive Chilean wine palm, Montecito’s largest Moreton Bay fig tree, magnificent king palms, a grove of coast redwoods, citrus and walnut orchards, and many others.
The many terraces, reflecting pools, and gardens are enhanced by Lee Lawrie’s nine bas-reliefs located at the rear of the estate. Lee Lawrie and Bertram Goodhue collaborated on many projects, bringing Lawrie to the forefront of the architectural industry. Lee Lawrie known as one of the United States’ most influential architectural sculptors and likely best known for the sculpture of Atlas at Rockefeller Center. The nine bas-reliefs depict scenes from Arthurian legends, which form a band between the tops of columns on the south side of the estate and feature Lawrie’s signature etched in stone.
The south elevation of the estate is dominated by a dazzling terrace of herringbone brick and turquoise reflecting pools, which descends via a walkway graced with additional water features—ending at a stately Roman temple or casino.
The prevalent rectangular shape of the pools, terraces and walking paths in the gardens provide a tranquil atmosphere while water transports from one place to the next via narrow, shallow channels that are terraced to create cooling water.
The estate includes numerous original brick pathways offering opportunities to take in the lovely trees, and to reflect on the peaceful atmosphere across the grounds.
El Fureidis is a place of legendary provenance and has at times received credit for playing host to many memorable tenants and visitors, including Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Charles Chaplin, and John F. Kennedy. It is perhaps best known in recent years as a location for the 1983 film “Scarface,” and the wedding scene of Michele Pfeiffer and Al Pacino. The estate is one of only three residences in Montecito designed by Goodhue, and is a true piece of art history.
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