Actress Buys House In Garden District
March 4, 2012 by staff
Actress Buys House In Garden District, Actress Sandra Bullock, who has donated generously to Warren Easton Senior High School since Hurricane Katrina, has purchased a historic home in the Garden District from entrepreneur John Russell Lee Sr., whose I CAN Learn educational software was at the center of the Mose Jefferson trial.
The ornate 6,000 square-foot home, replete with gables and iron-work, is near properties owned by actors John Goodman and Nicolas Cage and the home previously owned by writer Anne Rice.
It sold in June for $2.25 million in cash to Big Easy Bebe LLC, which was incorporated a few days earlier by John Chamblee, a lawyer from Austin, Texas, who has represented Bullock in other real estate transactions. Chamblee declined to discuss anything about the corporation.
Bullock, who may be best known for the 1994 movie Speed and the 2000 movie Miss Congeniality, also starred in the Divine Secrets of Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a 2002 movie that was set but not filmed in Louisiana. This fall, she will star in a film written by New Orleans native Michael Lewis called The Blind Side, the true story of financial and racial integration about the destitute son of a crack addict who is sent to an elite private school and becomes a big-time college athlete.
Since Hurricane Katrina, Bullock has become a major patron of Warren Easton, the first public high school for boys in Louisiana. The school, which dates to 1845 and survived going co-ed and desegregating, was having trouble opening after Hurricane Katrina because the storm caused $4 million in damages at the brick Canal Street building where it has operated since 1913.
Mardi Gras publisher and Warren Easton alumnus Arthur Hardy, who serves on the charter foundation’s board, said Bullock learned of the school’s needs from a lawyer in Rex who was working with Warren Easton through the Mardi Gras krewe’s public school philanthropic efforts and who had a mutual acquaintance with the actress.
Since then, Bullock has donated several hundred thousand dollars to the school, helping to renovate the school’s auditorium, buying new Fighting Eagle band uniforms, chipping in for scholarships and helping to fund a new health clinic. “She liked what she heard. That’s how it all started,” Hardy said.
In being inducted into Warren Easton’s hall of fame in May, shortly before buying the house, Bullock said she was “embarrassed” by the federal government’s slow response after Katrina and felt compelled to help the city.
Bullock has called her donations to Warren Easton “the best investment I ever made.” She said she wanted to invest in a school, and Easton’s history and architecture caught her attention. “This school is an architectural gem. .A¥.A¥. It gives the kids a sense of pride.”
Bullock lives in several places but comes to New Orleans frequently, Hardy said. Like other celebrities, she likes the fact that people leave her alone. Now that she owns a home in the city, Hardy believes New Orleans will see even more of her efforts to shine a spotlight on worthy causes. “She loves the city. I think she has other plans for things she’d like to do,” Hardy said.
Her husband, Jesse James, who hosted the Discovery Channel reality show Monster Garage, where teams of people with fabricating experience would modify vehicles into new forms, has also gotten involved in the New Orleans philanthropic spirit.
James, a frequent celebrity guest at Steel Pony Express motorcycle gatherings in New Orleans, wants to open a metal shop in New Orleans where kids can learn art and trade skills that will earn them $20-an hour jobs. James donated an autographed, desk-sized, limited-edition tool box from his West Coast Choppers bike business to a silent auction hosted by Gulf Coast Bank & Trust Co. last month, and raised $6,850 for Warren Easton.
In a May interview about his new Spike TV show, Jesse James is a Dead Man, James talked about opening a branch of West Coast Choppers in New Orleans.
“I kind of had a notion to get a building down there and build a little shop so I can come down there and work part of the year,” he said. “I used to do a lot of riding down there. I love the vibe in Louisiana. It’s like a magnet for me. I feel very calm and relaxed there, and it makes me want to put a stake in that town and live there.”
The 1876 home that Bullock bought has a storied history of its own. It was designed by renowned New Orleans architect William Alfred Freret, who designed dozens of buildings around the country for the U.S. government after the Civil War, and built for James Biddle Eustis, who served in the U.S. Senate and as an ambassador to France.
More recently, it was owned by Owen “Pip” Brennan Jr., who operates Brennan’s restaurant with his brothers and who has presided over the Krewe of Bacchus since it first rolled in 1969. In 1998, Brennan sold the home to Lee, the owner of JRL Enterprises Inc., which makes the I CAN Learn algebra software program.
Last month, a federal jury convicted Mose Jefferson, brother of former Congressman Bill Jefferson, for bribing a former Orleans Parish School Board member to get Lee’s product into local schools. During the trial, former U.S. Rep Bob Livingston testified that he secured a Congressional earmark to help get the program in schools, then became a lobbyist for the software days after resigning from Congress.
Lee, who moved his company’s offices from the Texaco building at 400 Poydras St. to his new, more modest home on Constantinople, said that the sale of his Garden District home had nothing to do with JRL Enterprises and the trial.
Before settling on Lee’s house, luxury-home Realtor Eleanor Farnsworth said that Bullock had been interested in buying a home in New Orleans for some time. The actress looked at one of her listings back on the day in December when it snowed, and was concerned about tracking snow inside.
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