By JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief
The buyer of the most expensive house ever sold in Pacific Palisades has been identified as Bui Simon, a former Miss Universe winner turned philanthropist.
The sale of The Riviera mansion, recorded on MLS last week at $33.8 million, suggests that extraordinary house prices and “museum” quality once associated with Holmby Hills and Bel-Air mansions has moved west to the Palisades, the seller’s Realtor, Elisabeth Halsted of Berkshire Hathaway, told the Palisadian-Post.
Situated between the homes of actress Jennifer Garner and director and Palisades Charter High School alum J. J. Abrams, the seven-bedroom, 13-bath “English Mansion-style” white brick house was completed in 2005.
The original $11 million home on the 1.39-acre lot bought in 2002 was transformed by New York architects Ferguson & Shamamian for the late Michael King, a Jersey-born salesman who became wealthy syndicating TV shows such as “Wheel of Fortune” and “Oprah,” and his wife Jena.
The price leapfrogs over the previous record-holder, a nearby $32 million home, and took a cut from $38 million and 20 showings over the last six months to seal the deal. But it confirms trends that fortunes earned in real estate, as well as legal, hedge fund and show business cash, are flowing into the higher reaches of the town.
Born Porntip Bui Nakhirunkano in Bangkok she is known as Bui, or “sleep like a baby.” She was brought to the United States by her Thai parents in the 1970s and, at the age of 19 in 1988, was crowned both Miss Thailand and Miss Universe—leaving rivals from the United States, Norway and Mexico in her wake.
She established herself in Malibu, earning a psychology degree from Pepperdine University before joining its board. She also became a United Nations Goodwill ambassador and runs the Thai-based children’s charity, Angel Wings Foundation, which educates children and built 100 homes for families devastated by a 2004 tsunami.
She was famed in philanthropy circles before she married property development billionaire Herbert Simon in 2002, with whom she has two children. They also adopted three children left behind when her sister died.
Simon and his older brother Melvin, sons of a Jewish immigrant tailor, created the Simon Group to develop strip malls in the 1960s—it remains the largest mall operator in the country.
Melvin lost millions of dollars dabbling in film business, but made that up in 1983 when the brothers bought the National Basketball Association’s Indiana Pacers for $11 million. The team is now valued at $269 million.
Like her home in Malibu, Bui has purchased The Riviera house solo but is expected to also spend much time with her husband in their Montecito mansion.