Former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain’s Brentwood hacienda

We wanted to cap off the week with a healthy dose of interesting architecture, so we rummaged through the vault and finally located a suitable subject in the form of this groovy Spanish hacienda. And yes, this transaction actually went down several months ago, but it doesn’t seem as though anyone else has discussed it. We hope it’s fresh enough for y’all.

Back in 2016, husband-and-wife screenwriting team Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (American Graffiti, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) put their LA home of several decades on the market with a sweltering $16 million ask. After a couple years and a pricechop or two, the place eventually sold for $13,000,000.

Originally built in 1939 and designed by legendary architect Cliff May in collaboration with Wallace Frost, the “California Spanish Hacienda” is set on a pastoral (and very private) lot in the best pocket of Brentwood. Decades later, May would refer to the house as his masterpiece. It probably helped that the home was built for Westclox heir Fredric M. Blow, a man so wealthy that Mr. May never had to worry about pesky little-people problems (like a budget!) impeding his vision.

Anyway, the home’s new owners are Wall Street veteran John Thain and his longtime wife Carmen.

Mr. & Mrs. Thain

One of the most well-known bankers in America, Mr. Thain has had highly-publicized stints as CEO of everything from Merrill Lynch to CIT Group and even the New York Stock Exchange. Prior to those chief executive roles, he was COO of Goldman Sachs during the turn of the century. Now in his 60s, Mr. Thain serves as a director at Uber and is a member of the supervisory board at Deutsche Bank.

Mr. Thain’s undeniable Wall Street success allowed him to reap various accolades from the press and his peers — both his time at Goldman and particularly at the NYSE earned him the title “Mr. Fix-It” for his leadership during turnaround periods for those giants.

But despite his impressive resume, Mr. Thain has also attracted extensive criticism over the years — particularly during the last economic recession — for his profligate spending.  And in 2009, shortly after Mr. Thain resigned as Merrill Lynch’s CEO, someone leaked documents to the press showing that he had paid a staggering $1.2 million of the company’s money to redecorate his executive office. Keep in mind that Merrill Lynch was facing a financial crisis at that time, and Mr. Thain had been extensively cutting costs in all departments.

If y’all are wondering how it could cost $1.2 million to redo a single office, here’s an example: Mr. Thain spent $87,000 on a rug, $35,000 on a commode — that’s a fancy toilet — and $1,400 on a parchment wastebasket. Yes, kids, more than a thousand bucks for a trashcan.

Eh? For that price, the bin better sprout arms and legs to pick up all the garbage by itself. However, to his credit, Mr. Thain offered to reimburse Merrill Lynch in full from his own pocketbook. But the damage was done — and so, whether justified or not, Mr. Thain became a symbol of corporate American greed. It didn’t help that he campaigned for a personal bonus of $10 million right as the global economy was swirling the proverbial crapper, of course.

Mr. Thain has also been labeled ruthless by many people who know him — which has probably helped him achieve success, we imagine. But for a more complete personal portrait of Mr. Thain, we refer y’all to this Financial Times story. Time to discuss the real estate.

Though he has spent most of his life living and working on Wall Street, it isn’t really so surprising that Mr. Thain would be in the market for a large property in Los Angeles. At least two of his three adult children reside here in LA, and as such it’s only natural that Mr. Thain would want a convenient way to visit his grandkids and such.

And Mr. Thain has already grown quite fond of LA, apparently. As it turns out, this Brentwood casa is not his only multi-million-dollar spread way out west. More on the other place a little later.

Christened Los Vientos, the bi-winged house spans 5,200-square-feet of living space — decidedly roomy but not overwhelmingly gigantic. There are 5 bedrooms and4.5 bathrooms, and the home partially encircles a central courtyard anchored by rectangular swimming pool. The property is completely hidden from the street out front and features a long driveway leading to an impressive gravel motorcourt.

The listing includes only a handful of interior photos, none of which feature any of the beds or baths. But there’s an elegant step-down living room w/ fireplace, and the entryway features terra-cotta tile floors, a vaulted ceiling, and a long row of French doors leading out to the courtyard.

The property is situated high enough to have over-the-treetops views of Century City, and the 1.45-acre lot has plenty of space for outdoor events. There is also a tennis court and detached carriage house, and the home is admirably private — secreted away behind walls and gates, completely invisible from the street out front.

Speaking of the street, the Thains’ new residence is sited on Brentwood’s most prestigious road. The private Oakmont Drive has long been fabled as a haven for both celebrities and business tycoons, and some of the nearest neighbors include Disney CEO Bob Iger (he bought his house from Michelle Pfeiffer) and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad.

Oakmont Drive, Brentwood’s most prestigious street

As we mentioned, the Brentwood abode is not the Thains’ only LA residence. Back in April 2015, Mr. and Mrs. Thain paid $6,875,000 for an oceanfront home in Santa Monica that they have since renovated. Built in 1999, the vaguely Mediterranean three-story structure has 4 beds and 5.5 baths in 4,443-square-feet of living space.

The Thains’ $7 million Santa Monica beach house

Both LA residences — pricey as they are — pale in comparison to how the Thains live back east. Way out yonder, the Thain family seat has long been their colossal compound in the suburban New York town of Rye. The compound — which includes a mega-mansion main house — spans five different parcels on 10+ acres of land. The entire property is fully landscaped and exquisitely maintained. We wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Mr. Thain spends well into the seven figures each and ever year just on upkeep costs alone — clearly, he has a taste for lavish living.

The Thain Estate, New York (photo: cedarposts.blogspot.com)

Naturally the Thains also maintain an “in-town” pied-a-terre over in Manhattan. Their three-story penthouse is located at 740 Park Avenue, the venerable Upper East Side pre-war building that for decades has been considered to be one of the — if not the — premiere residential address in all of NYC. As it happens, the Thain’s 740 Park spread is currently for sale, asking $39.5 million (and has been for the past six months).

740 Park Avenue is a co-op building known for its highly selective board. Not only will prospective new owners need to be fully vetted, board rules forbid buyers from financing their purchases. No mortgages allowed, kids. And prospective buyers must also show proof of at least $100 million in liquid net worth.

Like what you see of the Thain condo? That’ll be $39.5 million in cash, please.

Listing agent (Brentwood): Cindy Ambuehl, The Agency
John Thain’s agent (Brentwood): David Offer, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices
Listing agent (740 Park Avenue): John Burger, Brown Harris Stevens

3 Replies to “Former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain’s Brentwood hacienda”

  1. Now that is a beautiful house.

  2. Let us keep in mind, exorbitant spending on traditional amenities (toilets, sinks, floor covering etc…) limits the market in which you will be able to recoup these costs. Upon resell, you must find someone who has the same “distinct personal preferences” as you do and recognizes the additional value as a result. http://www.TheRealEstateSalesAdvocate.com

  3. The $1.2m office remodel was overseen by President Obama’s White House interior designer Michael S. Smith (in fact, $800k of that cost was just his retainer fee).

    He also did both the Rye compound and the 740 Park apartment for the Thains, and I’m sure he will do their LA homes as well.

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