Living in the Presence of Greatness

It’s been a big year for NFL giant and former San Francisco 49er Jerry Rice. On Feb. 6, he stood on stage, fighting back tears, as it was announced that he would be one of the members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2010 class. The official induction ceremony won’t take place until Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, but it is certain to be a spring and summer full of cocktail parties and celebratory dinners leading up to the big day, ensuring that 2010 will be one filled with headlines for the league’s best receiver.

Just as a recap for those of you who are new to the game, Rice is not just one of the best receivers; he is the best. He holds the current reigning title of “All-Time Leading Receiver;” during his 20-year career, he racked up 1,549 receptions, 22,895 receiving yards, and crossed the goal line 197 times for touchdowns. The list goes on with three Super Bowl rings, 13 Pro Bowl selections, and earning a spot on the All-Decade teams for both the 80s and the 90s. You don’t have to be a sports buff to understand the extraordinary nature of those accolades.

But it is not just his historic football career that will be putting Rice’s name on people’s lips this year. It is also the listing of his 15,000-square-foot estate in Atherton, California, for $14.75 million that has football fans, real-estate enthusiasts, and potential buyers perking up and taking notice.

Haute Living caught up with the legend himself to talk about some of his favorite parts of the property. But before we get to that, a little background to set the scene. Naturally, when imagining Jerry Rice in his home environment, you would picture him snuggled up in the lap of luxury. As such, his reality does not disappoint the fantasy, with all of the accoutrements one would expect from a three-story French chateau-style mansion, including six bedroom suites, seven full baths and three half baths, a library, office, gourmet kitchen, state-of-the-art movie theater, game room with full bar, wine room, crafts room, seven-car garage, and Rice’s two favorite places within the not-so-modest abode: the family room with full bar, and the full gym with sauna and steam room. The home is fully integrated with a smart-home system, back-up generators, top-of-the-line lighting features, the most advanced music/sound system, and the latest Internet connection lines. Proudly perched on 1.4 acres and set 250 yards back from the street, the gated privacy that the Rice estate has provided over the course of the last nine years is one of the main attractions mentioned by realtors and Rice himself.

“The lot is really unique for the area,” says Rice of the property that took them a year and a half to find. “Because it is set so far back from the road, it’s perfect because it gives us privacy. You don’t want a house that sits right on Atherton Avenue because of the noise and the traffic. The beauty of the lot and the long driveway for us as a family was that the kids and I could play outside anytime without having to worry about security or privacy issues.”

Pierre Buljan with the Pierre Buljan Group of Cashin Company Realtors, Inc. is not only the listing agent for the multimillion-dollar estate, he has also been a close family friend for decades. He wears many hats for the Rice family, including that of former neighbor and godfather to their two youngest children. “Jerry and I go way back,” he says, detailing how he helped Joe Montana’s father get started in the real estate industry more than 20 years ago, and subsequently made connections with many of the 49ers from the Golden Years.

“It took us a year-and-a-half to find that perfect lot,” says Buljan, when speaking about the Rice property on Atherton Avenue. “.We actually enticed the seller to sell us this lot before putting it on the market. They were asking $1.995. We offered them $2.1 to get it before listing it, and that was 12 years ago. That was big money for a property where we tore the house down to build a brand new one.”

Lencioni Construction oversaw the custom build of the home, while Jerry’s wife Jacqueline worked with Malibu-Architects Ca. on the interiors. It took one year to design and three years after that to complete the build. “When Jerry played football, he would meticulously tie his laces again and again before going out on the field,” says Buljan, “so you can imagine the detailing inside with that kind of perfectionism ruling the roost.” No detail was left to chance when envisioning the perfect family home for the NFL great, such as the exotic mahogany wood (a species so rare that the cutting of it is now heavily regulated and in some places prohibited altogether) that outfits Rice’s office, creating the perfect home to display things like NFL trophies. The upstairs library is paneled in a custom-ordered mahogany free of grain streaks, stress marks, or other natural imperfections.

But if your name is Jerry Rice, and you have built a legendary career in the world of professional sports, then certainly the detailing of most interest to you would be the $2 million worth of electronic equipment, housed mainly in the family room. Citing it as one of his favorite places to spend time with loved ones, the family room is equipped with a huge plasma television as the focal point, surrounded by six smaller TVs. “The family room is for Sundays and watching a lot of football,” says Rice. “Especially when I was playing, if I had a Monday night football game and I was able to be at home on a Sunday, we would put all the games on and enjoy a sporting day together.”

And if you have spent a lifetime in a field that demands athletic prowess all throughout the year, a private gym would certainly be right up there on the list of must-have features. Of course, the Rice estate does not disappoint in that department either. “Because of my career in professional sports, I had to have an over-the-top personal gym,” he says. Though he didn’t confirm an exact number, the gym reportedly has more than $500,000 worth of equipment, including two treadmills, free weights, a sauna, and steam room with cold-plunge shower. “That has been the most important part of the house for me. If I’m up late and can’t sleep, I can just trot downstairs for a workout and then relax in the sauna or rejuvenate with the cold plunge. I love it for privacy reasons, too. I love being able to get into my workout without having to consider the social aspects of going out to a gym.”

According to Rice, the size of the house may lead some to envision the space as cold, empty, and spread out, but that is exactly what they safeguarded against when considering a floor plan that would support their needs as a family. “We wanted our kids to experience a home that had a lot of areas where they could get away when they needed some alone time, while still providing an environment that promoted the lifestyle of a close-knit family,” he says. When not spending time working out in the private gym, or hosting game-watching parties on Sundays with family and friends, Rice explains that the family spent time bonding either in the home theater or the game room. “It’s been great because our kids always felt comfortable having friends over, so those areas would see a lot of traffic and a lot of fun kid-friendly activities. They could get away and play while still under our roof. It was built that way for convenience and family togetherness.”

Perhaps drawing some of the most oohs and ahhs from friends who have visited the Rice residence throughout the years is the crafts room. A room just for gift-wrapping, and arts and crafts? But, of course. “People are always amazed when we tell them we have a room like that,” Rice says. “We spent many nights during the holidays down there wrapping up all the gifts. It’s a fun room to use to get away from everything.” And not just for the adults. The three Rice children took full advantage of the room as well. “It’s been great for when the kids wanted to paint, had a school project, or brought friends over to work on crafts.”

The Rice’s three-story home, equipped with an elevator, was designed to take full advantage of the outdoors as well. “We wanted a home that had a lot of scenery, so there is a lot of glass. The second you walk through the door you can see the natural beauty of the property from any room in the house.” A stroll across the grounds and the outdoor entertainment options include a dip in the pool or the spa, an afternoon reading by the fountains or under the covered veranda, or an after-dinner drink curled up next to one of the built-in heaters or outdoor stone fireplace. Oh, and has there been mention of the guesthouse with kitchenette and full bath? “You don’t have to leave the property to have that feeling of getting away from it all,” he says. “Everything that you could dream of, this home has.”

According to Rice, Atherton, sometimes considered the Beverly Hills of the Bay Area, has been the most idyllic neighborhood for raising his family. “Whoever buys this home is going to love it because it’s like living in a personal paradise, without having to go too far away.” And news of this listing doesn’t mean that Rice fans need to plan any type of fond farewell parties. “I love the Bay Area. This is home for me. I’ve made so many friends and I just love it here. The hospitality is great. I can’t envision myself moving somewhere else because this city is my home, no matter the address.”