When USC’s presidential mansion set a San Marino record by selling for $25 million in early July, it was initially unclear who the buyer was. Real estate records now show it was purchased by Tianqiao Chen, a Chinese billionaire with deep philanthropic ties to the community.
Chen, who purchased the historic home through a limited liability company, founded Shanda Interactive Entertainment in 1999, an online gaming company that has since grown into an international investment firm known as Shanda Group.
It was pure circumstance how he first came to the area. While watching the news, he and his wife, Chrissy, saw a story of a Caltech scientist helping a quadriplegic man use his thoughts to control a robotic arm and grab a beer.
Shortly after, the couple flew to Pasadena to meet the scientist — a trip that led to Chen giving Caltech $115 million for neuroscience research, one of the largest gifts the university had ever received. In 2016, he founded the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech complete with a three-story, 150,000-square-foot facility on campus that was dedicated to the couple earlier this year.
He’ll have a short commute if he ever visits it, because his home sits about a mile away from the facility.
Known as the Seeley Mudd Estate, the mansion is virtually unparalleled in the affluent community. It covers seven acres on land donated by U.S. Army Gen. George Patton and railroad mogul Henry Huntington, who established San Marino’s Huntington Library a few miles away. For reference, no other properties on the market in San Marino have more than three acres.
At the center sits a 14,000-square-foot American Colonial-style mansion built in 1934 by Reginald Davis Johnson, a Pasadena-based architect whose other works include the Santa Barbara Biltmore Hotel and the Hale Solar Laboratory.
It has served as the home of USC presidents since 1979, but amid cost-cutting measures due to the pandemic, the school decided to sell the estate and spent $8.6 million on a smaller, sleeker home in Santa Monica to replace it last spring.
The sprawling compound includes forests of sycamores, oaks and Chinese elms, as well as a series of grassy lawns and rose gardens where USC hosted dinners and galas over the years.
Walnut floors, original steel windows and 17th-century wood panels are found in the 87-year-old main house, and other structures include a guesthouse, log cabin and carriage house with a gas station and car wash bay. There’s also an outdoor kitchen, swimming pool and sunken tennis court.
Chen’s purchase marks the first time the house has ever officially been sold. He paid $500,000 more than the original asking price of $24.5 million.
Brent Chang of Compass and Ernie Carswell and Austin Alfieri of Douglas Elliman held the listing. Richard Williamson of Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty represented Chen.