The original mansion at 401 El Cerrito Ave. wasn’t what we see now. In fact, it wasn’t even located in the same spot. According to real estate writer Bradley Inman, cattle rancher William Henry Howard built the home in 1878. The next owner was silver baron Charles Frederick Crocker, whose family eventually sold to Burlingame contractor Charles Lundgren.
As Inman wrote, Lundgren “physically moved the home a quarter mile away to El Cerrito Street in 1915. The relocation was to take advantage of the lush landscaping and the creek on El Cerrito Street. Hailed as an engineering achievement, the house move was written up in Popular Mechanics magazine.”
In the late 1920s, a fire seriously damaged the mansion. Its next owner, George Hearst — the eldest son of William Randolph Hearst — commissioned Julia Morgan to re-envision the home in the style of the presidential White House in 1930.
George Hearst clearly sought Morgan’s expertise in building the Western White House because of her work on the similarly opulent Hearst Castle. Both of these startlingly over-the-top mansions represented a departure from Morgan’s signature style of elevated Craftsman-inspired homes composed of natural materials like wood and stone.
Nowadays, the Western White House is a 25,00-square-foot, 24-room mansion standing on almost 3 acres of land at 401 El Cerrito Ave. Its Georgian Colonial design echoes Washington’s White House, as do its cherry trees and its Oval Office-like library.
Inside, there’s an abundance of marble and silk. According to Inman’s 1995 profile, the home’s four floors are served by both dramatic staircases and an elevator. Hanging from the ceilings are three cut-glass chandeliers, at least one of which is purportedly a Waterford, Inman wrote. Morgan even cut a trap door in the third floor above the formal dining room so that workers could raise and lower the chandelier in order to clean it. The latest real estate listing shows the home has 11 bedrooms, 10 full bathrooms and four half-bathrooms.
While the latest listing doesn’t detail any potential changes to the interior, it does detail a thoroughly modern exterior life, including, “the pool, bathhouse, gazebo solar array.”
Hearst eventually sold the Western White House without ever having lived in it. “According to an old newspaper account in the San Mateo Times, John and Yoko Lennon intended to buy the house in the early 1970s but they backed out of the deal at the last minute,” wrote Inman.
Though the history here is impressive, the mansion is no time capsule. The kitchen is very much an updated affair, as are the luxurious bathrooms. There’s also a solar heating system.
The home listed for $25 million in late October of 2021. While waiting for its next owner, it suffered multiple price cuts, finally selling early this September for $15 million. Compass agent Alex Buljan, who represented the buyer in this transaction, didn’t find such a long stint on the market unusual: “The property, because of its size and significance, required a buyer willing to put time, effort and capital into preserving its rich history.”
Anna Marie Erwert writes from both the renter and new buyer perspective, having (finally) achieved both statuses. She focuses on national real estate trends, specializing in the San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Northwest. Follow Anna on Twitter: @AnnaMarieErwert