It was a beautiful sunny Friday here in Southern California — a perfect time to embark on a weekend getaway. Wouldn’t a peaceful island destination be just the thing?
Unfortunately, Hawaii and the Caribbean are much too far for a quick trip, but Yolanda’s got the perfect remedy — right here in SoCal! Down behind the Orange Curtain, just off the coast of Newport Beach, lies one of the most expensive (and exclusive) islands on the whole dang globe. Welcome to Harbor Island.
The small and semi-artificial island was formed about 100 years ago and is connected to the mainland by a 24/7 guard-gated bridge. This high-security land mass has some of the most exclusive and desirable residential real estate in the OC — there are fewer than 30 homes on the island, many of which sport killer views over Newport Harbor. Thus, this wee slice of paradise has attracted many of the OC’s wealthiest peeps. Residents have included billionaires like Bill Gross, Donald Bren and George Argyros.
Today we shall discuss the largest, most lavish and by far most (in)famous home there — a hulking beast at the island’s tip. Astute real estate watchers may know the property is currently listed with a fat $60 million pricetag. ($59,995,000, to be precise.) Should the house sell for anywhere close to that number, it will rank as the most ever paid for an Orange County home — besting the $55 million that auto dealership magnate Larry Van Tuyl paid for his historic Newport compound back in 2017.
But despite the sunny skies, crisp sea air and sparkling aquamarine water that surround it, the landmark manor has a dark past littered with sordid financial troubles, marital problems and even death.
Originally completed in 1990, the house currently features 6 beds and 10 baths in approximately 16,000-square-feet of living space. (That’s huge.) The manse was built by a prominent real estate developer named Leroy Carver III, a guy who owned his own bank — Carver Savings & Loan — and loaned himself $7.9 million to build the behemoth.
Just before the house was completed, however, Mr. Carver fell into deep financial doo-doo. His bank was seized by federal regulators and declared insolvent, so he sold the brand-new estate in 1991 for $13,600,000. Archived news stories from back then suggest it was the most ever paid for an OC home.
The buyer was Taiwanese businessman George Yao. But like Mr. Carver, our Mr. Yao had some serious financial problems. Within two years, the property was in default and folks were chasing him for money.
In 1995, Mr. Yao officially lost the property to the hungry maw of foreclosure. An investment group then flipped the house in April ’96 for just $8 million — or about 60% of what it fetched five years prior — to the next owner, former FBI exec William G. Simon. But our Mr. Simon didn’t have much chance to enjoy his big new home, either — he died only one year later at the ripe old age of 84.
In mid-’99, Mr. Simon’s estate sold the home for $14,000,000 to a New Jersey couple named Arnold & Debbie Simon. The Simons (no relation to the prior owner) had made a lot of money in the apparel industry and were craving some California sunshine, or so it would seem.
Though the Simons were already been having marital problems, things reportedly worsened soon after their move to Newport Beach. Not long after their big real estate splurge, they began exceptionally hostile divorce proceedings that would drag on unresolved for the better part of a decade.
Compounding the Simons’ issues was the economic recession of 2008, which strained their finances considerably. The following year, the property fell into foreclosure. And Mrs. Simon — who remained in the home while her hubby relocated elsewhere — found herself flat broke. In fact, things became so desperate that she left the home’s air conditioning off during even the hottest summer days — she couldn’t afford the electric bill.
On a scorching afternoon in September 2009, Mrs. Simon tied a heavy-duty extension cord to the grand staircase’s balustrade and hung herself above the mansion’s foyer. Her death made big waves in Orange County society — not just because of her wealth, but because she was a major social figure in the area, throwing numerous charity fundraisers at the property.
But we digress. Despite its dark past, Mr. Simon managed to unload the property in June 2010, less than a year after his estranged wife’s demise. Records show the buyers paid a whopping $27,000,000 for the house, one of the highest prices ever paid in the OC. And this was in the midst of a recession, y’all.
Though technically owned by a blind trust, the property’s current owners are Alan and Twila True.
Mr. and Mrs. Trues are both lifelong entrepreneurs who didn’t grow up in glamorous circumstances. Our Mr. True originally hails from Colorado, but moved to Chicago to work on the Mercantile Exchange after college. By the late 1980s, he was living and working in Asia.
The couple have four children: three biological and one young daughter adopted from the same Sioux tribe where Mrs. True was raised.
Before moving to their impressive Newport Beach digs, the couple long resided in China and Hong Kong, where they made their first fortune in the furniture business. The couple founded office furniture manufacturer True Innovations, a company that was acquired for an undisclosed (but undoubtedly massive) sum by Chinese conglomerate Li & Fong.
Since moving back to the US, the Trues have dumped loads of money into the residential real estate market. By Mrs. True’s own admission, the couple preside over a portfolio of 1,000+ rental properties, most of them small Midwest homes priced in the $70,000-$80,000 range. That means the couple have dropped more than $70 million on real estate alone — not counting their $27 million OC house.
And speaking of the OC, the Trues have become tremendously involved with the local community since they moved into the neighborhood — they regularly host charity luncheons and galas at their home, and it appears they also throw an annual holiday party for their employees on the premises.
Our gurl Mrs. True recently invited the folks at Modern Luxury into her Newport home, where she chatted about her new line of high-end nail salons (and more).
Now, about the real estate and that $60 million asking price. Some of y’all may be inclined to scoff. But before you judge, keep in mind that the Trues completely renovated the home. And after all, this is one of the OC’s premier estates. So take a peek at the photos — whatever you think of the home’s style, the spread is certainly somethin’.
The limestone-clad neoclassical mansion is completely walled and gated for privacy and security. There’s a nine-car underground garage, which is pretty cool, but the real star of the show are those spectacular views. The house sits on more than a half-acre of land and features formal lawns, rows of trees and a large swimming pool. There is more than 300 feet of water frontage plus a boat dock large enough to accommodate a 120-foot yacht.
Mr. and Mrs. True poured a great deal of money into home renovations, so the newly contemporary interiors look totally different from when the Simons owned the place.
The elegantly curved staircase is topped by a large skylight. The master suite features a mega-bedroom (it’s big enough to be a damn ballroom, seriously) and a marble-soaked bathroom.
How serious are the Trues about selling? Yolanda does not know — but the property has been listed since last May (2018) with an unchanged asking price. Maybe they’re just testing the waters — so to speak — or perhaps they’re holding out until the right record-breakin’ buyer saunters on over.
This future buyer — whoever he or she may be — isn’t just buying the most impressive house on SoCal’s most coveted island. They’re buying a very — ahem — “colorful” legacy, too. A mostly tragic legacy, but one with an upbeat ending. After all those distressed previous owners, the Trues have lived here for eight years and are happier — and richer — than ever. Or so it would seem.
Listing agent: Tara Foster Shapiro, Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty