One of the finest properties in California, El Fureidis is a grand, predominantly Roman-style villa sitting in 10 acres of lush, landscaped gardens in Montecito, with a history that makes it as fascinating as it is desirable. Rarely on the market, El Fureidis, built in 1906, was one of the first estates to be created in this premier residential community on the US West Coast. The distinctive country house, whose name translates as “tropical paradise”, has recently undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation.
Before the property was built, the estate was a renowned botanical garden that served as the wedding spot of Charlie Chaplin and Oona O’Neill
“The classic architectural styles of El Fureidis, together with its idyllic grounds, set it apart from other magnificent estates in Montecito,” says Zackary Wright, Senior Vice President, Western Region at Christie’s International Real Estate.
The estate was founded by New York businessman James Waldron Gillespie, who moved to California for its Mediterranean-like climate. Gillespie’s inspiration for the home came from his travels around the world. He spent a year visiting the Mediterranean, Persia, and India with renowned architect Bertram Goodhue, who created the Los Angeles Central Library and New York’s Saint Thomas Church, among other high-profile buildings. El Fureidis (originally called the James Waldron Gillespie Estate or Gillespie Palace) is now acknowledged as Goodhue’s outstanding Mediterranean Revival masterpiece.
A DECORATIVE VISION
The villa is designed around a bright central atrium and reflects Gillespie’s love of architecture and art. These passions are much in evidence in the formal dining room, which has a barreled ceiling painted in 24-karat gold leaf. The room also boasts a work of Alexander the Great conquering Persepolis signed by Henry Wadsworth Moore.
The gracious living room, the main space for entertaining, has a neo-classical-inspired paneled ceiling in pale blue with a gold motif and French doors that open out to a courtyard, creating a light and airy feel. “You can go outside from almost every room in the entire house and you can enjoy the breezes blowing » through,” says Emily Kellenberger of Village Properties Realtors-Christie’s International Real Estate, who is marketing the property. At the far end of the room, Roman-style pillars define the music area, which leads to the library and informal sitting room beyond. Above are three luxurious guest suites, complete with views of the gardens. On the first floor, the palatial master suite occupies a prime corner setting, with access to the gardens.Crowning the residence, an expansive rooftop provides 360-degree views taking in the Pacific Ocean, Channel Islands, and Santa Barbara’s mountains. “The views of the mountains are very impressive. The skies turn purple, blue, and pink, depending on the lighting at different times of the day,” says Kellenberger.
Before the property was built, the estate was a renowned botanical garden. Today the grounds boast several centuries-old trees including a towering Chilean wine palm and Montecito’s largest Moreton Bay fig tree. The tropical gardens reveal a Persian influence, a result of Gillespie’s year-long tour, which is reflected in the many terraces with pools and fountains, as well as feature water channels. “You can hear running water in multiple places in the garden,” says Kellenberger. One of the most tranquil features is a series of four turquoise pools set within a large terrace of herringbone brick on the southern elevation. A seasonal natural creek also borders the property.
Explore the magnificent estate of El Fureidis. Photography by Roger Davies
The property is constructed around a bright and airy inner courtyard. Photograph: Roger Davies
The estate’s abundance of plant specimens create light and shade. Photograph: Roger Davies
A decorative mosaic terrace provides the ideal spot for al fresco dining. Photograph: Roger Davies
Within the gardens are artworks by Gillespie’s close collaborator and celebrated sculptor Lee Lawrie – best known for his sculpture of Atlas at New York’s Rockefeller Center. Nine bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Arthurian legend feature on columns in the grounds.
The elegance and beauty of the estate has attracted many notable visitors. The gardens served as the wedding spot of Charlie Chaplin and Oona O’Neill, while Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, and John F Kennedy have all been guests.
The home’s lasting fame was ensured when it appeared in the 1983 film Scarface. Tony Montana, the lead character played by Al Pacino, needed a home of taste and splendor, and the property obliged.
The El Fureidis estate is one of only three residences that Goodhue designed in Montecito and is a true piece of art – and cultural – history.