At Home With Fred and Christine Pierce
Posted on August 1, 2019
Fred and Christine Pierce welcome Ranch & Coast into their striking home, a former model in Rancho Santa Fe’s Cielo development. A glass front door opens to a dramatic foyer flanked by dual curved staircases that lead to second floor suites, a game room, and office. In the living room, the focal point is a picture window with sweeping views of The Crosby Estates and the golf course across the way.
Although much of the furnishings came with the house, the Pierces, who love art, have made the space their own with a vast, eclectic art collection. Art pieces fill every wall — works by Asencio, Chagall, Degas, Erté, Le Tessier, Peter Max, Picasso, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec, to name a few. The Pierces delight in telling the stories behind each piece. For example, they treasure a work by Joseph Le Tessier, a French post-impressionist painter who never sold any of the 500 paintings he created during his lifetime. After his death, the Pierces found one of his works in a Scottsdale art gallery. They wound up buying the painting from a La Jolla art broker who just happened to be the grandson of French painter Pierre Auguste Renoir. As much as the Pierces love their collection, it is ever-changing as they acquire new pieces on travels and cruises and at local art galleries.
Christine, the former chief operating officer for the City of San Diego’s pension fund, turned an appreciation for art into an 18-month adventure aboard cruise ships. As the assistant art director for Park West Gallery, she sold artwork on shipboard galleries and traveled around the world — Alaska, the Caribbean, England, Scotland, Wales, Denmark, Norway, and the Panama Canal. Shortly after her return to San Diego, she and Fred, who had served together on civic boards, began dating. He proposed during intermission at a James Darren concert on the waterfront. Darren acknowledged the couple from the stage, and tracked them down six weeks later to deliver a CD of his songs. The couple soon wed, and now have a 14-year-old daughter, Riley, who will attend Cathedral Catholic High School this fall.
The Pierces’ ongoing passion is San Diego State University, where both were undergrads and where Fred earned an MBA. His summer internships there sparked a lifelong interest in real estate. His big break came in 1995 when San Diego State University Foundation hired him to write a business plan for redeveloping land around the university. Pierce had to quit a well-paying job to do it, but he felt it was a risk worth taking. “This is my chance, my chance of a lifetime to be the developer of a multi-billion dollar project,” he recalls. That risk proved worthwhile — the foundation hired him to implement the plan. In 1995, he founded Pierce Properties and in 2006, took Pierce Educational Properties (PEP) national. PEP, a student housing and investment operating company headquartered in Mission Valley, now owns $750 million worth of property, including 16,000 beds at 23 universities in 17 states, and employs 450 people. Pierce has won numerous awards for his work including Ernst & Young’s San Diego Region “Entrepreneur of the Year” for real estate and construction and the Distinguished Alumni “Monty Award” from SDSU’s College of Business Administration, and was a finalist for San Diego Business Journal’s “Most Admired CEO” in 2018 and 2019.
Pierce was one of the key leaders on the Executive Committee of the Friends of SDSU, the group that successfully got enough signatures to put Measure G, known as SDSU West, on the November 2018 ballot. (Other committee members were former San Diego City Manager Jack McGrory and SDSU alums Steve Doyle, a retired homebuilder, and Kim Kilkenny, a retired land developer.)
Measure G called for the City of San Diego to sell stadium land in Mission Valley, formerly occupied by the Chargers, to SDSU for expansion and development. Voters handily defeated the rival Measure E — the SoccerCity plan — to lease Mission Valley property for a new stadium, river park, housing, and retail. Pierce believes the passage of Measure G is “the most important thing to happen to San Diego State in my lifetime. It’s going to transform San Diego State to serve students into the 21st century.” The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce apparently agreed, honoring the Friends of SDSU with its “Moving San Diego Forward Award.”
Now that the university has room to grow, plans call for expanding the student body from 35,000 to 50,000 in the coming years, building a 35,000-seat multi-use stadium that is expandable to 40,000 seats for SDSU and to 55,000 if an NFL team should return to San Diego. Also in the works, two hotels including a conference hotel, 2,600 residential units, a 132-acre park site, retail space, and campus expansion for research and development.
Fred serves on numerous boards, including his role as Chairman of SDSU’s Fowler College of Business Board and on the Executive Committee of SDSU’s Corky McMillin Center for Real Estate. Christine volunteers with the Thursday Club, a Point Loma-based nonprofit that funds deserving San Diego charities, including Balboa Park museums and projects.
Genealogy is among Fred’s hobbies, and records show he has quite a lineage. He has been able to trace his ancestors back to the Mayflower, 56 European monarchs, and seven U.S. presidents including George Washington, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George Bush, and George W. Bush. Pierce says records indicate he is also the 73rd great grandson of Julius Caesar, the 29th great grandson of William the Conqueror, and the 23rd great grandson of King Edward I.
In their free time, the Pierces love to travel, having explored dozens of countries. Scotland was a recent destination where Fred got to play golf on historic courses. In San Diego, favorite restaurants include The Fish Market, Pamplemousse Grille, Mille Fleurs, and for brunch, Poseidon.
At home, they entertain in an upstairs game room with its own jukebox (initially owned by builder Bill Davidson) and in their vast backyard oasis with its swimming pool, outdoor kitchen, and plentiful lounging space. Asked about their favorite room in the house, the Pierces quickly agree: the living room where they can relax with a glass of wine (a new wine cellar will soon be stocked) while admiring the artwork that is so important to them. Andrea Naversen
Photography by Vincent Knakal