A Thoroughbred of a Price

By Sandra Fleishman
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, January 27, 2007

The buyers aren't movie stars after all, but the price is still stellar.

Llangollen Farm, a 1,100-acre equestrian estate in western Loudoun County, has sold for a record-breaking $22 million, according to agents representing those involved in the transaction.

The buyer of Llangollen, at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains in Upperville, is Llangollen LLC, a corporation controlled by Donald P. Brennan, a longtime Morgan Stanley executive and entrepreneur, and his wife, Patricia, according to selling agent Mary Ann McGowan of Thomas & Talbot Real Estate in nearby Middleburg. Daughter Maureen Brennan will oversee the property, which has a manor house that dates to the late 1700s and a thriving cattle operation.

Llangollen drew international media attention last year when the buyers were rumored to be Hollywood celebs Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The farm had just gone under contract when the movie stars and baby Suri swept into the Washington area to visit with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

Their arrival and the unwillingness of real estate agents to identify the bidders fed the rumor, which circulated widely in the community.

The Washington Examiner printed an article that said that it appeared that Cruise and Holmes had bought the estate after one of the agents said she could not comment directly on the sale or on the identity of the buyer. "When we asked if she could confirm the sale, she said, 'The buyer would like to keep his privacy, and it's not going to come from me,' " the paper wrote on Oct. 4. The paper said the next day that the rumor was not true.

The sellers are Roy L. Ash, a co-founder of Litton Industries and a budget director in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and his wife, Lila, who bought the property for about $7 million in 1989.

The Ashes, now in their late 80s, decided last fall to list their farm and live at their California home, said Bruce Smart, a neighbor and friend. The Ashes had put another nearby property, Huntland Farm, on the market for $17.8 million but have since withdrawn that listing, according to their agent, Anita Sisney of Armfield, Miller & Ripley in Middleburg.

Sisney said the Llangollen deal closed Jan. 11 for the full list price. The Brennans made their offer only three weeks after the property came on the market; it was only the second time in 77 years that the farm was for sale.

The price is the highest ever paid for an estate in hunt country, according to Phillip S. Thomas of Thomas & Talbot. And he should know; he was the agent representing the Ashes when they bought Llangollen. Sisney agreed, saying, "I know of no other properties in our area that have obtained a price" over $20 million.

The Ashes "spent many years executing a fabulous renovation" of the two-story, 19-room manor house, Sisney said. The 1,100 acres also include a variety of barns, guest houses, seven ponds, a training track, an orchard and formal gardens, according to marketing materials.

The Brennans were first identified as the buyers of Llangollen in an article in the Loudoun Times-Mirror last week.

Maureen Brennan is planning to move her current polo-horse breeding and training facility to the site from two smaller farms in neighboring Fauquier County.

Brennan's main operation has been at Foxmount Farm, a 187-acre parcel previously owned by Jack Kent Cooke, the former Redskins owner who died in 1997. Foxmount Farm, now up for sale for $8.5 million, features a long, low-slung contemporary home built in 1985 by Cooke, and a compound of guesthouses and residences for staff and tenants.

A 216-acre undeveloped property that backs up to Foxmount and was bought by the Brennans from the Mellon family to augment the equestrian facilities, is listed at $7.5 million.

A different Brennan family corporation paid $3.1 million in 2000 for the Cooke farm, but "they decided they really wanted more acreage" and bought the nearby Mellon land, Thomas said. "Then Llangollen came along, and there was 1,100 acres all in one piece, and that's what they really wanted."

When the Ashes bought Llangollen in 1989, it was in disrepair but had a storied past.

Llangollen, which means "land's end" in Welsh, was originally part of a 10,000-acre land grant; a two-story manor house was built in the late 1770s.

Among those who visited the mansion in its early days were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette, according to histories of the property.

John Hay "Jock" Whitney, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune and later U.S. ambassador to Britain, bought Llangollen in 1930 as a bridal gift for his fiancee, Mary Elizabeth "Liz" Altemus. The couple divorced in 1940, but Liz Whitney, a socialite and internationally renowned horse breeder, went on to marry three more times and made Llangollen party central for the hunt set, according to Smart and others. At the time of her death in 1988, she was known as Liz Tippett, after marrying Col. C.J. Tippett in 1960.

In the 2005 book "The Middleburg Mystique," local author Vicky Moon wrote: "If the walls could talk here, they'd tell of the wild hunt balls thrown by [Tippett]. . . . And of the time she brought her favorite horse into the great room or the 35 dogs that lived here full time. (The most beloved ones were kept in her deep freezer when they passed on.) And of the well-known visitors: Doris Duke, Elsa Maxwell, Eddie Arcaro, Prince Aly Khan . . . Bing Crosby, ambassadors and politicians from Washington."

After Tippett died, her husband lived in the house until it was sold, The Post reported in 1989. Several publications say the Ashes saved the property from redevelopment, a likely outcome at that time in the fast-growing county.

Llangollen is under a conservation easement and can be sold off only in 100-acre or bigger parcels, according to real estate agent Thomas. But McGowan said the Brennans do not plan to subdivide.

Maureen Brennan said, "We are very proud to be stewards of the land and to keep it in the tradition of all the previous owners."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company