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The Wild History Behind Brad Pitt’s New $40 Million Carmel Highlands Home

Brad Pitt in a tux doing a point with his fingers.
Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

Brad Pitt is moving on up. Well, up the coast of California, at least. According to The Wall Street Journal, Pitt splashed out $40 million for a historic home in the quiet cliffs of the unincorporated Carmel Highlands area (think Big Little Lies). While Pitt still owns a 50 percent stake in the French chateau Miraval, and is still believed to own his longtime home in the Los Angeles area, the new purchase adds a seaside retreat to Pitt’s property portfolio.

But this isn’t just any old home. Alternatively known as “Seaward” and “The D.L. James Home,” the pad is an architectural marvel with an intriguing history that involves cameos from former residents Jesse James, Charlie Chaplin, and Joan Didion.

The Home’s Original Owner was Related to Outlaw Jesse James, Whom Pitt Famously Played

Construction on the home began in 1918 at the behest of its original owner, Daniel Lewis “D.L.” James, Sr. James was a wealthy businessman specializing in fine china and silverware who originally hailed from Kansas City. The man also had some creative aspirations. He wrote plays on the side, some of which were staged in New York.

Despite his respectable status, James’s father was first cousins with the infamous Jesse James (and his outlaw brother, Frank). As history tells it, the more proper wing of the James family never talked about their connection to the Confederate gangsters.

Interestingly enough, Pitt actually played Jesse James back in the 2007 Western, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Pitt Would Be Neighbors With Nicole Kidman’s Big Little Lies Character

While not next-door neighbors, Pitt’s new home is in the same area as the one used to film the home scenes of Nicole Kidman’s Big Little Lies character, Celeste. (The same home was also used in the filming of Basic Instinct.) According to Google Maps, the properties are just a two-minute car ride away from each other. In fact, the BLL home is actually currently for sale as well—for a cool $29.6 million.

Carmel Highlands is far closer to San Francisco than it is Los Angeles, though the nearest incorporated towns are Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey (where most of BLL was filmed). Celebs like Clint Eastwood and Betty White have also owned homes in the area.

Obviously, It’s a Significant Architectural Treasure

Pitt is widely known as an absolute architecture nerd. So you know he’s not interested in just any slapped-together McMansion. Although Pitt is known to have a few favored architectural styles, he’s particularly interested in the American Arts & Craft style. Seaward is generally considered one of the masterworks of the California architecture firm Greene and Greene, one of the definitive cultivators of the Arts & Craft movement.

The Home’s Second Owner Was a Hollywood-Connected Literary Scandal-Maker

When the original D.L. James passed, the home was inherited by his son, D.L. James, Jr. While Senior was a noted businessman, Junior turned out to be something of a creative gadabout rich kid and Communist sympathizer. After college, he moved back to Seaward and was actively involved in the local theater community there.

Junior eventually became friends with Charlie Chaplin, and was an assistant director on The Great Dictator (Chaplin, of course, was a guest at Seaward from time time). He also wrote some screenplays for monster movies under the pen name Daniel Hyatt (including one that would directly inspire Godzilla). His work in Hollywood, notably, got him called before the House of Un-American Activities Committee at one point. He was also friends with the married writers John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion.

In later life, James turned to novels. Writing under the new pen name “Danny Santiago,” he published work about Mexican-American characters. His novel Famous All Over Town was well regarded. When it was eventually revealed in the ”80s that Santiago was a fictitious name and James was not actually Mexican-American, you can imagine the controversy. It was Dunne that had encouraged James to come forward.

In Between, the Home Was Owned by Financier Joe Richie

The younger James died in 1988, and his widow continued to live in the home until her own death in 1998. In 1999, a holding company associated with the Chicago-based financier Joe Richie bought the home. Richie died earlier this year—perhaps explaining why it was for sale.

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