It’s widespread data in actual property circles that Jay Leno and his spouse of 40 years, Mavis, purchased a Newport, R.I., mansion for $13.5 million in 2017. But the story of how the previous “Tonight Show” host discovered Seafair, a 15,861-square-foot Louis XIV impressed chateau, is much less identified.
Seafair was designed and constructed by British architect William Mackenzie Jr. for Vernor Zevola Reed Jr., a banker and inheritor to a mining fortune.
The property sits on 9 acres and encompasses a slate roof and rubble-stone development. The residence boasts an inimitable crescent-shape design that follows the curve of the land and permits for expansive views of the Atlantic. The gated compound has a tennis courtroom, an infinity pool, a carriage cottage, a six-car storage and personal seashores.
The 15,851 predominant residence has 12 bedrooms and 13 bogs and encompasses a paneled library, a proper eating room and a chef’s kitchen.
In the years earlier than and after Jay Leno ended his NBC “Tonight Show” run in 2014, the comedian icon has purchased lots of stuff. Leno’s famed Burbank storage is residence to 199 automobiles, 68 bikes and a small workforce of devoted mechanics. The admitted gearhead drives each car and is usually seen taking a Duesenberg or his McLaren F1 for a spin. So it might be acceptable that Leno, who moved to Los Angeles from Andover, Mass., to pursue present enterprise within the 1970s, would uncover the Newport mansion whereas having fun with a scenic drive alongside Ocean Avenue.
During a second away from taking pictures his sixth season of CNBC’s automotive present “Jay Leno’s Garage,” Leno spoke to Forbes about discovering Seafair, proudly owning a historic residence and the key to by no means having purchaser’s regret.
Michelle Hofmann: How did you come throughout Seafair? Were you on the lookout for a second residence?
Jay Leno: No, I wasn’t planning on transferring again east. I used to be with my spouse, visiting household in Newport in October 2017. We had been driving round Ocean Avenue, which is sort of like 17-Mile Drive, a scenic street via Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove in California. Ocean Avenue is a flowery place. I had my cousin with me and we had been driving alongside and Mavis stated, ‘Look at that house. Look at that house. It is unbelievable.’ And I stated, ‘You’re proper. It is unbelievable. It seems to be like a fort.’ So, I stated to Mavis, ‘Do you want that house? Let’s see if it’s on the market.’
I turned the automotive round to return to the home. Just as we drove by, the gate opened and the gardener got here out. We all checked out one another and stated, ‘The gate is opening. It’s an indication.’ So, I drove in and rang the bell. The caretaker answered and stated, ‘You’re Jay Leno. Jay Leno!’ Then I stated, ‘Hey, it’s good to fulfill you. Is this home on the market?’ And the caretaker stated the home was on the market however not listed at present. I requested if we might go searching, and the man offers me a tour. Then, I requested him to get the proprietor on the telephone. So, we get the proprietor on the telephone, and I stated, ‘Will you sell the house as-is, with everything, all the furniture, the ketchup in the refrigerator, the salt shakers and just walk away?’ And he stated, ‘Yeah, I’ll stroll away.’ We agreed on a worth, and I purchased it. We closed in 30 days.
Hofmann: The home had been listed for $19 million not lengthy earlier than you got it, so it seems to be such as you made a sensible enterprise transfer.
Leno: I don’t know if this was a sensible enterprise transfer. I purchased Seafair as a result of I appreciated it. The factor about me is I don’t purchase issues for funding. I purchase issues as a result of I like them, and in the event that they go down in worth, I nonetheless like them. If they go up in worth, that’s superb, however I don’t need a promote them, so it makes completely no distinction to me whether or not the value goes up or down.
Obviously, I prefer it when issues go up in worth. I purchased my McLaren F1 in 1998 for $800,000; the final supply I received was $17.5 million. And one simply offered for $20 million. I’ve automobiles that I purchased that aren’t as beneficial, however I don’t like them any lower than the McLaren. Some go up, and a few come down. But in case you at all times purchase what you want, you’ll at all times be joyful since you did it for the fitting causes.
Hofmann: How does Seafair examine with properties in Beverly Hills?
Leno: For the value of a condominium on Wilshire Boulevard, I received a fort in Rhode Island on the ocean. There is not any equal in California to that home for lower than $100 million. I’ve received neighbors in Beverly Hills with houses down the road from me that price $168 million, and there’s not even any water. You’re proper in the course of Beverly Hills, however there isn’t a view and the identical quantity of land, 9 acres.
Seafair is totally furnished. I wouldn’t have purchased one thing the place I had the look of swatches of material and maintain them as much as the wall and say, ‘No, not that one. Let me see another one.’ I didn’t wish to try this. I like that this home was superbly furnished with the very best of every little thing, and every little thing was included within the worth. So, after I go there, it’s like going to a resort. I test in, and I take a look at. I’m not continually transferring tables and chairs. If I couldn’t have purchased it as-is, it might have taken without end to make it a house as a result of I would not have furnished it.
Hofmann: Why Newport?
Leno: Since I’m from the world, it’s an important assembly place for all my family to come back and have enjoyable. They all get to remain there and it’s nice. I really like the place.
Hofmann: Can you inform me in regards to the historical past of Seafair?
Leno: Seafair can be referred to as the Hurricane Hut by the locals and historical past buffs as a result of there was an enormous hurricane—in actual fact, many hurricanes—that killed a bunch of individuals. There is a few fascinating historical past. There is that this spectacular metal and lead peacock statute [about 4-feet tall] that was on the entrance garden that received worn out to sea throughout a hurricane. The proprietor, who survived the hurricane however misplaced a really good peacock statue, offered the property, returned 25 years later to go to and observed that the peacock statue was again on the entrance garden. She rang the bell, informed the present house owners who she was and stated, ‘Did you have another peacock made? How did you know about the peacock?’ And the brand new proprietor stated, ‘No. We didn’t have one other peacock made. We had one other hurricane about 5 years in the past, and that lead peacock washed up on the garden.’ So that’s sort of fascinating. There are lots of tales like that about Seafair.
Hofmann: I perceive the home is typically referred to as a Newport cottage. Can you clarify this? I’m not judging, but it surely appears a bit giant for a cottage.
Leno: Yes, it was initially referred to as Terra Mae. The second proprietor named it Seafair [with the hope there would be fairer times and calmer seas ahead]. But Seafair is named the final of the Gilded Age cottages. During the Gilded Age [from the 1870s to about 1900], wealthy individuals used to name these mansions ‘summer cottages.’ The Newport ‘cottage’ reference was a tongue-in-cheek joke. Most of them had been constructed within the late 1800s or the early days of the 1900s and the 1920s. Seafair is the final grand one, in-built 1936, and I believe it might be nearly unimaginable to duplicate right now.
Hofmann: It seems like the home has a little bit of magic. It seems to be like a fort, and even the concept you had been driving by and the gates opened appears mystical.
Leno: Yeah, I imply, it was an impulse purchase, however I knew it was proper. I’ve solely completed a few impulse buys. Most occasions, once you’re on the lookout for a home, you’re on the lookout for one factor, and also you accept one other. Like in California, I at all times thought it might be cool to have a home on the ocean, however with many of those homes, you are proper subsequent to Pacific Coast Highway. That at all times appeared loopy to me. This home is correct on the ocean and has a few non-public seashores. I’ve to snort each time I’m going to the home and the gate opens as a result of I really feel like I’m within the opening of “Downton Abbey.”
When I requested myself if I might have any home in Newport no matter price, that is the one which I’d purchase. How typically does one thing like that really occur? The thought of discovering exactly what you need is nice. My spouse loves Victorian novels set on the English coast with the woman with the bonnet and the Fabio man on a windswept bluff, so it makes me snort as a result of Seafair is the home I’d have needed. It actually is.
The good factor about it’s that it seems to be like a fort. Even although it’s a mansion, with Seafair, all of the rooms are small and have particular person fireplaces. There are like eight or 9 chimneys. When I had the chimney sweep come, the place seemed like a scene from Mary Poppins.
Hofmann: Do you’ve got a favourite room in Seafair?
Leno: I just like the library. I at all times needed to have a correct library. My spouse and I’ve about four,500 books, and the library can accommodate all of them, in order that’s sort of enjoyable. The residence got here with books. Someone was a Zane Grey aficionado. We’ve additionally received books by the Brontë sisters [of Wuthering Heights fame] and that entire gang. They are usually not essentially my factor, however they’re fascinating to have. There are lots of books on artwork historical past.
Hofmann: Can we discuss what it takes to take care of a house of this measurement and stature?
Leno: Of course, I thought of what it might price to take care of the property after I purchased the home. It’s large. I’ve but to flush each bathroom within the place. There’s somebody on the property on a regular basis, and it in all probability prices about $50,000 a month to take care of the house in case you rely all of the bills.
Hofmann: Does that embrace washing all these home windows?
Leno: Yes. The home is on a peninsula, so that you’re proper towards the ocean, and all that salt kilos the home windows. Consequently, the home windows nearly change into opaque from the wind and rain and salt, so that you do have to switch them each different 12 months or very often.
Hofmann: Any recommendation for any individual shopping for a historic residence?
Leno: Yes, don’t purchase a home like Seafair as an funding; purchase it since you like it. Because in case you love one thing and get caught with it, you’ll nonetheless prefer it. And that’s my recommendation on every little thing. Occasionally, I’ve paid an excessive amount of for issues, however that’s OK as a result of I nonetheless like them.
Hofmann: The wild life on the residence should be superb.
Leno: Yes, we’ve got deer and rabbits on the property, and the ocean life is fascinating. One day, I used to be on the home, and I began listening to this noise and thought somebody was attempting to interrupt in or throwing rocks on the home windows. Then, I noticed what was occurring. The seagulls had been selecting up clams and dropping them on the balcony off the bed room that’s flagstone. They drop them from some top to crack them open. Then, they arrive down and eat the clams.
Hofmann: You are well-known to your love of automobiles and your automotive assortment. What do you drive once you’re at Seafair?
Leno: The home has a six-car storage, however I don’t preserve any automobiles there as a result of there’s nothing worse for an car than to sit down within the salt air. It will simply rust by itself except you’ve got humidifiers going all day lengthy. When I’m at Seafair, I lease a automotive.
Hofmann: You spend lots of time working in your storage in Southern California. What you do in and round Seafair in case you are not tinkering on automobiles?
Leno: Actually, I’m working with automobiles in Newport as a result of I’m very concerned with the Audrain Automobile Museum. Nick Schorsch [one of the museum’s co-founders] is an effective buddy, and we work collectively to pick automobiles for the museum and plan occasions like events, concours reveals, and automobiles and occasional gatherings. The Audrain Newport Concourse & Motor Week was canceled within the fall due to COVID, however it’s set to return from Sept. 30 to Oct. three.
Hofmann: Anything else?
Leno: We’ve been taking pictures a present in Newport referred to as “Audrain Mansions and Motorcars” with Donald Osborne, a TV presenter on “Jay Leno’s Garage.” We showcase classic automobiles and classic mansions with the brand new present and put the 2 of them collectively. We take a journey within the automotive and speak in regards to the automotive and showcase the mansion.
Hofmann: What can we count on from “Jay Leno’s Garage” this season?
Leno: We received a late begin due to COVID with “Jay Leno’s Garage.” We simply did a shoot with musicians Huey Lewis and Kelly Clarkson and have a couple of thrilling individuals this season, so it’s nice enjoyable. The present focuses on individuals interacting with and speaking about how automobiles have affected their lives and their first automobiles or the primary automotive they drove once they went on a date and different private issues as effectively, so it’s slightly little bit of every little thing.
Hofmann: I hear you is perhaps coming again to primetime. Care to share?
Leno: Yes, we’re doing a brand new spin on “You Bet Your Life,” a question-and-answer sport present hosted by Groucho Marx [from 1947 to 1961]. We begin filming 180 reveals in June. The present is syndicated on Fox and Fox associates and has offered in additional than 85 p.c of the nation, so it’s doing fairly effectively. It’s thrilling. We will see what occurs. It ought to debut within the fall.