Sunday, September 21, 2014

Suisun Valley’s grandest villa set for September auction

Villa de Madre

A couple walks into the Villa de Madre, a multi-million-dollar home on Suisun Valley Road that will be auctioned in September. (Steve Reczkowski/Daily Republic)

From page A1 | July 26, 2014 |

FAIRFIELD — Randy Franklin knows the story of Villa de Madre better than anyone. He’s the nephew of the owner, saw it built and may see it sold.

For millions of dollars. In September.

Franklin is the nephew of Willis Johnson, founder of auto auction company Copart and owner of Villa de Madre, the 22,882-square-foot house on Suisun Valley Road just north of Rockville Road. It’s in an 80-acre vineyard and is available for $18 million – what Franklin calls the “buy it now” price.

The problem? Villa de Madre’s been on the market for more than four years, during which time few potential buyers have looked at the property. That led to a new approach: A Sept. 10 auction that could see the home change hands – and could end Franklin’s residency in the caretaker home on the property.

“I have mixed feelings,” Franklin said during an open house at the property last weekend. “I’m kind of sad it’s going to change hands, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to live here and for the generosity of Willis Johnson. He is a fantastic provider for his entire family.”

The home has plenty of amenities. In addition to the large working vineyard and three large barns that Johnson used to showcase his classic auto collection, the large home features a great room with a cathedral ceiling and six bedroom suites, including a 2,000-square-foot master bedroom suite. There is also a large indoor pool, several fitness rooms and six fireplaces.

The home and property have been on the market since May 26, 2010, and were originally listed at $22 million.

“It’s the highest price I’ve ever seen in Solano County,” said Denise Kirchubel, a Realtor for ReMax/Gold in Fairfield.

Actually, the Suisun Valley Road home of Jay Adair, Johnson’s son-in-law and successor as CEO at Copart, was briefly on the market for $28 million. He pulled it back and still uses it as his California base – Copart moved its company headquarters to Texas in 2012, but retained a significant employee presence in Fairfield.

Villa de Madre is unusual for the area. Suisun Valley doesn’t have a lot of multimillion-dollar estates, particularly like this.

“This property is different for the marketplace,” said Ed Kaminsky, president of Premiere Estates Auction Company, the Manhattan Beach-based company that will handle the auction. “There aren’t two of these, let alone 10 or 100. That’s one of the reasons people consider the auction process – it’s hard to determine the true value by similar sales. The fair way to identify the value is auction.”

Bob Ogan of Country Estates, who has represented the property with his wife Rosemarie, agreed about the home’s unusual status.

“If this property were in Napa, Marin or on the peninsula, it could be a $50 million property,” he said.

Instead, it’s in Fairfield – which requires creativity to market and sell it. Thus, the auction.

Bidders will be required to register and submit a cashier’s check for $100,000 before bidding. There is a reserve amount known only to Johnson and the people at Premiere – although Kaminsky, the founder of Premiere, said that Johnson could still negotiate a deal with a bidder if no one reaches the minimum.

Kaminsky said it’s no surprise that an unusual approach is needed.

“In the Suisun Valley, we have to look a little more outside the marketplace than we would in Beverly Hills, for instance,” he said. “In Beverly Hills, we wouldn’t have to look outside of the greater Los Angeles area. (For Villa de Madre,) we have to expand our reach to Napa, San Francisco, the East Coast – anywhere a buyer could exist.”

The home was built at the peak of Johnson’s expansion of Copart to a Fairfield-based international auto salvage auction company. He decided in 2000 to build his home in a vineyard previously owned by Cadenasso Winery, not far from his company’s headquarters on Business Center Drive.

“I was ecstatic,” said Franklin, who moved into the 1,896-square-foot caretaker house shortly after the purchase was final. “I knew it was going to change the area. It was good for the area and good for the company (Copart). Somebody was going to build a 22,000-square-foot house – you know that is exciting. To be on the property and see it go up every day was great. It was the talk of the town.”

Franklin took residence in the caretaker house and watched Johnson’s home be built. It was completed in 2002 and Johnson, his wife, Joyce, and Johnson’s mother moved in.

The caretaker home created a challenge because Johnson wanted to build a “mother-in-law” home adjacent to the main house for his mom, but zoning laws limited him to two homes on the property.

The solution? Villa de Madre is like two homes – a 2,000-square-foot, self-contained residence with a full kitchen that shares a wall with the rest of the home. His mother lived there, while the Johnsons lived in the rest of the house.

It’s a large, spectacular place: The six bedroom suites, 11 bathrooms, a “restaurant-quality” kitchen, a wine cave and more. Much more. It also has the large indoor pool area with a hot tub, cooking stove and fireplace, as well as a secure play area for children, with video games. There are hand-painted ceilings and murals all around the building.

Outside, Johnson built the three car barns for his collection of more than 100 autos – an 8,500-square-foot building that was built with the home, then a 12,000-square-foot hall erected in 2006 and a 22,000-square-foot building built in 2007. They feature three maintenance bays, car lifts and a retro gas station – plus a fully functional retro diner and entertainment stage.

The attraction is obvious for some people.

“We showed it to (San Antonio Spurs basketball star) Tony Parker,” Ogan said. “He’s from France and this property has wine and cars, which he loves. That’s the ideal type of person to buy it.”

The working 63-acre vineyard, mixing “old-growth” grapes and others planted after Johnson moved in, is a business opportunity, too.

Tuvia Sablosky, the point man for Premiere on the auction, said he is focused on four targets: someone interested in the wine industry, “ultra-high-worth individuals”  interested in a winery, Bay Area corporations seeking a retreat and wealthy individuals who may purchase the property and donate it.

Ogan said that when Johnson decided to list the property four years ago, he knew it would be a challenge.

“I didn’t know what to expect – it’s unique,” he said.

When Premiere approached him after four years with just a few nibbles, including NBA star Parker, he was skeptical.

“I’m usually open-minded, but when Premiere called, ‘auction’ was a negative word,” Ogan said. “But then Tuvia asked me how expensive artwork and cars are sold – and I had to admit it was through auctions.”

Johnson wasn’t hard to convince. Here was a man who made his millions through auctions – mostly selling salvaged autos.

“You couldn’t talk to a better person about an auction than Willis Johnson,” Ogan said. “He understood it well.”

Sablosky agreed.

“You could say he was a knowledgable consumer,” he said.

Now it’s a waiting – and marketing – game. there will be a final tour by appointment Sept. 9 and the next day, the sealed-bid auction will take place at noon. Within a few minutes, assuming the reserve amount is reached, Johnson may have a deal.

“Decisions happen quickly,” Kaminsky said.

Four years of waiting – and 14 years at the site for Franklin – could come down to an auction for a man who made millions by holding auctions.

Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or Follow him on Twitter at

Inside Villa de Madre

  • Asking price: $18 million
  • Year built: 2002
  • Acres: 80
  • Square footage of main house: 22,882
  • Bedroom suites: 6
  • Bathrooms: 8 full, 3 half
  • Fireplaces: 6
  • Auto barns: 3, totaling 44,195 square feet
  • Acres of vineyard: 63
  • Cabernet wine produced annually: 150,000 bottles
  • Website:

Note: Corrects spelling of Rosemarie Ogan’s first name and corrects title of the real estate firm’s name to Country Estates.

Brad Stanhope

Brad Stanhope

Brad Stanhope is the Daily Republic's news editor. He began his career at the DR in the last millennium. He spent 17 years as a sports editor and three years as the associate editor before spending three years away from the newspaper (though continuing as a columnist). He returned in December 2010 as news editor. Brad lives in Suisun City with his wife, Mrs. Brad, and two sons. He enjoys cheese.

Discussion | 17 comments

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  • elleryJuly 25, 2014 - 11:44 pm

    Would any one of us who has 18 million dollars for a house, live near Fairfield ?. plz. This was built by a billionaire with more money than brains.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • truth'nJuly 26, 2014 - 12:00 am

    His business was here, and he was going to live his life out in this home, until .. the Dem-Wits kept raising taxes and chasing business out of California. I don't blame him a bit for moving the business to Texas. Time to vote out the tax mongers.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Lynn HenricksonJuly 26, 2014 - 1:48 pm

    truth'n give it a rest, it was because of the destroyed economy of the Republicans, that forced the sale. We need to raise taxes on the millionaires who only pay taxes on the first 100,000 and nothing above. And if companies, CEO's, and so forth want to move, let them go, but they will have to pay to sell their goods in my state. Tired of the 1% give us back door treatment.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Roseanne DamboiseJuly 26, 2014 - 8:12 am

    Fairfield may not be great but the surrounding Valley of Suisun Valley Green Valley Gordon Valley are a lot like Napa Valley. Take a drive out sometime and see for yourself. I give credit to any person that build s a successful business from the ground up, employs local workers and gives back to his community. That takes brains.....choice of lifestyle and how one spends that money is free will.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • 2realJuly 26, 2014 - 6:13 am

    Marvelous home. Stunning in all aspects.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • PornacJuly 26, 2014 - 7:14 am

    What does one do with 22000 square feet of home? The rich employing us to maintain it of course.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Ulises S. GuberJuly 26, 2014 - 9:56 am

    I offer you $1.00 you may write the difference off as a tax loss....

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • JoJuly 26, 2014 - 11:51 am

    It would make a great B&B. It's right outside Napa and if the Suisun Valley/Green Valley wineries want to expand, what a better way to do it. I don't thing there are any B&B's in the area.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • streetJuly 26, 2014 - 2:12 pm

    The couple that built the house started a business here with one tow truck and hard work. Thirty years later he had a Fortune 500 company. Only in America can you do that, and then get criticized for being in the 1 percent, where the government wants its share, and some want even more. Very sad.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • FairfieldSucksIhateItSooooooDepressingJuly 26, 2014 - 3:59 pm

    Does it come with an amour car? I live in Fairfield & get sick to my stomach everytime my husband leaves the apartment to pick up groceries. The gunshots I hear when he is gone, I always worry. This is such a dangerous area. Everynight my son sleeps on the floor, because I am afraid of him getting shot. I don't live here by choice. I live in Fairfield because its the best I can afford. If I had enough money to buy a house, I would never ever even think of buying one in this area. In fact, not a day goes by that I don't regret moving here. Now I am trapped. Man, if you have a choice why would you choose to live here? If I had that kind of money Id buy a house in a safe area, where I wouldn't have to worry sick everytime we leave the house. And where I won't feel it necessary to check the door locks before bed every night. I'm trapped. I don't have choices. You do. Moving to this area will be a lifetime regret. Then again if you do buy that house, chances are you can keep your kid away from where the window at night to lessen the chances of getting shot. And I suppose you could pay to have your groceries delivered. Then again you probably could pay to send your kid to a private school. Not the same one my son has to go to. The school is so bad we had to sign a paper saying it might be closed because they can't meet minimum requirements. Maybe you can pay someone to worry for you. Some things money can not buy.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Ulises S. GuberJuly 26, 2014 - 5:07 pm

    hi FairfieldSucksIhateItSooooooDepressing, lets face it if you lived in that house you wouldn't hear gun shots, your kid would be going to a better school and you might enjoy the view outside your window with no fear of being shot. It's not all of Fairfield that sucks it's just your neighborhood , apartments and all the damn gangs that live in those areas you might not be able to move for economic reasons but you should change your name in the comment section to GangbangersSucksIhateemSooooooDepressing or GhettosSucksIhateItSooooooDepressing or MyLifeSucksIhateItSooooooDepressing this is America, you get choices.....

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • TwoCentsJuly 26, 2014 - 6:18 pm

    Wasn't that the point of FairfieldSucks post? That in America we get choices so why buy a mansion in the hood? And you lied because all of Fairfield sucks. I live in a house in a "good" neighborhood in Fairfield. By good I mean its considered the safe area. Have you ever read the crime log? Crime here is city wide. To blame apartments and gangs is to be willfully ignorant.

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  • elleryJuly 26, 2014 - 6:25 pm

    More than likely Gallo wine company will buy the place for way below what price they dream they will get, and tear down the house and put up more grape vines. Or nobody buys it and then burns down a few years from now under suspicious circumstances. Another idea is to donate this thing to the county , and turn it into a tourist attraction, kinda like the Queen Mary.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • INeverLoseJuly 26, 2014 - 8:35 pm

    Ulises......My commentary was not meant to be taken literally. Oh & I am fimiliar with Fairfield. The crime is not concentrated to apartments. I knew if I placed the wordd "apartment" in my comment, I could pull one of you out of the woodwork.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Word CrimesJuly 27, 2014 - 12:41 am

    I have a feeling if you had used proper spelling and grammar, people would take what you have to say a bit more seriously. In fact, people would take you seriously if you just formed a substantive argument with fair supporting facts, rather than a veiled socio economic diatribe. :-) Just saying!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • ThoughtCrimesJuly 27, 2014 - 6:09 am

    I also have a feeling. I have a feeling I don't care how you received my post. It felt good to vent about my situation. And the fact that I shared some pretty sad things and all you cared about were the formation of the letters speaks volumes about you. Now here is the part where you're supposed to bash me for being poor. Because surely that makes you better than I. GO!!!!!!!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • BrianJuly 27, 2014 - 1:40 pm

    Oh, look, it has a "secure play area for children. With video games." That's pretty sad. I grew up less than a mile from where this obnoxiously grandiose estate was built and I don't recall any need for secure play areas. We spent our time playing in the hills, creeks and orchards that surround the area where "Villa De Madre" was built. God forbid should they allow the children outdoors. No, better to keep them "secure" and playing video games...

    Reply | Report abusive comment

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