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  • Writer's picturePrinceton North

February celebrity notable sales

Natalie Portman Quietly Sells 10-Acre Montecito Estate

While the transaction actually went down last year, word has just now slowly begun trickling down the real estate grapevine that Natalie Portman is done with Montecito. Or at least done with this particular Montecito home, which records confirm has been sold, despite it never appearing on the market. Siteline Santa Barbara first reported the transfer.

Perhaps the house was privately shopped around to a select group of qualified buyers, or maybe an unsolicited buyer came through with an offer Portman just couldn’t refuse. Either way, the “Thor” and “Black Swan” actress and her husband Benjamin Millepied appear to have made money on the deal. The couple acquired the Barton Myers-designed architectural in 2017 for $6.5 million, and the recent sale netted them exactly $8 million. The all-cash buyer was Chicago-based tech entrepreneur David Kalt, the cofounder of online stock-trading company OptionsXpress, which went public in 2005 and was subsequently acquired by Charles Schwab for north of $1 billion.

Built in 2008 as an homage to midcentury modernism, the ex-Portman pad is a blocky structure hewn from steel and concrete, with walls of glass flaunting views of the Pacific Ocean. The single-story house spans just under 4,000 square feet, and includes four bedrooms and five bathrooms. But its defining feature is arguably the central “great room,” a giant space with shared living and dining areas that features three side-by-side garage doors that roll up to the ceiling, creating a seamless indoor-outdoor flow.

As interesting as the house itself may be, it’s the estate grounds that really impress. The house is set far from the public road, at the very end of a quarter-mile-long, blacktopped driveway shared with three other properties. The hillside lot spans more than 10 acres, with epic views that directly overlook Montecito’s eastern end, plus the $33 million Bali-style compound that Ellen DeGeneres sold to Groupon’s founder in 2020.

Portman and Millepied’s main residence continues to be a 1930s-era house in the gated and historic Laughlin Park enclave of Los Angeles’ Los Feliz neighborhood.

Ellen DeGeneres Drops $21 Million on Montecito’s Villa Tragara

The Montecito-Santa Barbara area has been one of the country’s hottest luxury real estate markets since the start of the pandemic, but this estate lingered on the market for nearly three years, since summer 2019. Perhaps that was due to the home’s very custom style — unlike most other area mansions, which tend to be Tuscan-inspired, this Moorish-influenced spread was modeled after the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain.

A more likely culprit is despite its nearly 12,000 square feet of living space, the house is currently configured with only three bedrooms, probably a turn-off for the sort of people with tens of millions to spend on a second or third home. (Those folks usually roll around with an army of kids, live-in personal assistants, nannies, security or other assorted hangers-on.)

But there’s a behind for every saddle and the house has now sold for $21 million — much less than the original $35 million ask, but still a lot of money. And the new owner is the local top trophy property-collector herself, Ellen DeGeneres, who already owns at least three other Montecito homes but apparently still has funds to burn.

Villa Tragara, as it is called, was designed and built by Kinka Usher, perhaps best known to the general public for directing the 1999 superhero caper (and box office bomb) “Mystery Man.” But the French-born director’s millions came not from creating full-length films but rather exceedingly lucrative television commercials for the likes of HBO, Nike, Pepsi, Nissan and Sony. During the height of his career, Usher’s income from his commercial spots exceeded $4 million a year.

Set on a knoll with clear views of the Pacific Ocean, Villa Tragara boasts a very prime location. And the place is an easy jog away from the five-star San Ysidro Ranch resort, home to the beautiful (and popular with area locals) Stonehouse restaurant. Out front, a long driveway hewn from crunchy pea gravel leads past lush landscaping to a formal motorcourt. Nearly everything in the rouge-colored mansion itself is ultra-bespoke and dashingly expensive, from the hand-carved front door, to the intricately crafted windows, to the gorgeous floors, most of which were imported from Europe. There are hammam-inspired bathrooms, numerous Corinthian columns and radiantly heated floors throughout.

Outside, the nearly 2.4 acres of terraced grounds are fully landscaped and include a heated swimming pool that cost Usher $400,000 to install, a pickle ball court, bocce ball court, koi ponds, a 16-seat covered pergola for al fresco dining, tennis court and expertly maintained gardens filled with exotic plantings.

In addition to Villa Tragara, DeGeneres and her longtime wife Portia de Rossi also maintain a $14.3 million ranch elsewhere in Montecito, plus a smaller cottage in the area. They also still own a luxury flip estate that they bought last fall for $12 million and currently have up for sale with a $13.9 million asking price. (Per the MLS, that place is currently tied up in escrow with an unknown buyer.) The couple also maintains a midcentury modern “crash pad” tucked away within a guard-gated community in the rugged mountains above Beverly Hills.

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