$15M ask on colorful Cow Hollow legacy of for-profit college billionaire

University of Phoenix founder John Sperling passed 6,000-square-foot home to grandchildren after his death in 2014

University of Phoenix founder John Sperling and 2880 Green Street (Coldwell Banker Homes, University of Phoenix, iStock)
University of Phoenix founder John Sperling and 2880 Green Street (Coldwell Banker Homes, University of Phoenix, iStock)

Back in 1995, University of Phoenix founder John Sperling bought a Beaux Arts mansion across from the Presidio for $1.8 million, according to public record. Now his grandchildren are hoping the home is worth almost ten times as much, listing the colorfully decorated property this week for $15 million.

Sperling died in 2014 and his two grandchildren inherited the property as minors, according to public records.

(Source: Coldwell Banker Homes)

(Source: Coldwell Banker Homes)

Judging by the fussy furnishings in the 1917 home, it looks as though the young heirs didn’t have much of a say in its current decor. Gold-framed artwork and floral fabrics are on view throughout the apparently unstaged 6,000-square-foot five-bedroom, six-bath property, which was “exquisitely restored, renovated, and seismically upgraded to perfection,” according to the listing site from Timothy Di Prizito, Joyce Rey and Joel Goodrich, all of Coldwell Banker. Di Prizito and Rey are both Beverly Hills-based luxury agents, while Goodrich is one of the top 20 agents in San Francisco.

Other stand-out design features include the primary bedroom suite, where the bathroom has mirrored walls, multiple crystal chandeliers and a writing desk between the vanity and the toilet. The primary bedroom area has a four-poster bed with curtains, two walk-outs to the private balcony, a wet bar and a seating area by the fireplace, one of five in the four-story, elevator-serviced home.

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(Courtesy of 2880 Green Street)

(Courtesy of 2880 Green Street)

There is a home gym with a sauna on the ground floor, as well as an indoor spa pool that leads out to a lush garden with a fountain. The top-level terrace also has a fountain, while the pentroom library to the rear of that floor has the best bay views.

Billionaire Sperling made his fortune in Arizona, but he began his academic career in the Bay Area, getting his Ph.D in history at UC Berkeley and a faculty position at San Jose State. He brought his idea for a mid-career-adult-centered higher education program to the university first, but they turned him down, according to his 2000 memoir, “Rebel with a Cause.” After a few false starts, he realized he would have an easier time getting accreditation for his new for-profit school in Arizona, where in the 1970s he began what would become one of the world’s biggest universities. According to Forbes, Sperling had a net worth of $1.2 billion in 2012, two years before his death at the age of 93.

His only child, Peter Sperling, was the chairman of the university’s publicly traded parent company, Apollo Education Group, until it went private in a 1.1 billion deal in 2017, according to Forbes. Sperling and his wife Stephanie listed their Montecito home for $74 million last summer, and also recently sold two other Santa Barbara-area homes for a total of $35 million.

The couple own another home in San Francisco, according to public record, a block off the “crooked” part of Lombard street that they bought for $14 million in 2003 and tried to sell for $13.8 million in 2019. It was removed from the market in 2020. In 2002, they made headlines for their $32-million purchase of a two-lot property along “Billionaire’s Row” in Pacific Heights, then one of the biggest deals ever in the city. Even after the Sperlings put a reported $20 million into the construction of a 17,500-foot-main home and 6,000-square foot guest house, according to SocketSite, it still needed millions more to be completed when it sold for $20 million in 2012 to former Yammer and Zenefits CEO David Sacks.

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Top row (from left): Greg Lynn, Alla Gershberg, Nina Hatvany and Dale Bouetiette; bottom row (from left): Frank Nolan, Aaron Bellings, and Michael Bellings (Compass, Sotheby's Realty, Team Hatvany)
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