by Lauren Ritchie
November 7, 2010
Remember that fetching barbecue party dress Scarlett O’Hara wore in “Gone with the Wind”? The fresh green-sprigged hoop skirt with an 18-inch waist that drove all those soon-to-be Civil War soldiers wild for her favors?
Good. Now, toss that fragile frock in a pen with a couple hungry pigs rooting for food after two days of steady rain.
There you have her, Lake County’s grandest lady of houses.
After at least three years of sitting empty, a restoration has begun on the 32,000-square-foot fairytale house that has flip-flopped from one owner to another in a series of foreclosures and financial failures.
Let’s just say her petticoat has gotten a little tattered.
But even stinky carpets left by dogs without housetraining, bedrooms painted black and decorated with skulls and nature’s harsh hand on wood floors can’t take away the most stunning attribute this ol’ girl has: the magnificent view.
The house, the second largest in the county, sits atop hill in Groveland between lakes Lucy and Emma, and windows around its curved rotunda boast a view of 20 miles of rolling hills of south Lake.
Orlando is visible from 60 feet up a spiral staircase in its four-story rotunda, nestled among a mural of painted clouds and doves.
“This is how the other half of the world lives,” said Creston Leifried of Coastal Reconstruction Group of Longwood. “Now you’ve seen it.”
While Leifried’s company is busy replacing carpets, painting and repairing rain damage to the wood floors, the mansion is on the market for $7.5 million. That’s $2.5 million less than it was sold for the last time.
The house was built in 1997, and some of it screams of the taste from that decade. For example, most of the plumbing fixtures are gold trimmed, now consider gauche. And the plastic potted palms really have got to go.
But the basic design of the house with its grand scope can’t be ruined, even by renegade Rottweilers or the decorator-challenged. Consider the ballroom with its 18-foot-tall windows and 28-foot high limestone fireplace. Breathtaking.
To the right are the climate-controlled wine cellar and the formal dining room, along with an inviting little Scottish-style bar paneled in dark wood.
On the first floor, there’s a game room, weight room, sauna, steam room, lounge and theater with a sloped floor and a ceiling of tiny pinpoint lights. (“It’s just like the movies,” enthused Leifried, 29.)
Take the elevator to the second story — or don’t just yet because it hasn’t been thoroughly checked out — to find a breakfast room and two full kitchens with refrigerators big enough to store elephant carcasses.
The spiral staircase winds behind the breakfast room, dividing it from a family living area.
Among the house’s attractions: seven bedrooms; eight full baths, a master bedroom with its own little kitchen, fireplace and motorized drapery rods; a 700-square-foot dressing suite; a rooftop crow’s nest; an 80-foot long swimming pool whose four pumps and filters are controlled by their own electric company transformer, one of three that runs the house; a helipad; a volleyball pit and basketball, tennis and shuffleboard courts; a schoolroom; and cozy quarters for the nanny.
Not to mention a “panic room,” carefully concealed by a bookcase that swings open in the event of a home invasion.
Fancy fountain fixed
This showcase would hardly be considered a home by most folks. Cozy, it ain’t. It’s more like living in a Ritz-Carlton hotel. Maybe that’s because no one has ever lived here for long.
Its original owner, Amway distributor Terry McEwen, put it on the market almost immediately after it was built.
It became the property of Lake County developer Conrad Wagner in 2005 for $9.5 million. Wagner hoped to transform the 166-acre estate, which he called La Viance, into a colossal clubhouse for an upscale, Italian-themed development of about 350 homes. It was to have included a five-star restaurant, a day spa and concierge services, according to plans.
But the house went into foreclosure, and in the midst of fighting to keep it, Wagner was arrested on charges involving work he did on a house in Brevard County.
Afterward, the mansion passed through several hands and ended up in the possession of Indigo Land Groveland LLC, a corporation created by the German investment bank WestLB AG. Reached by phone, Christian Grane, the chief operating officer in New York City, declined to say how the bank became involved in the property. Land records show, however, that the investment bank has a number of other investment properties in Lake, too.
Meanwhile, Leifried and Johnny Parsons, the contractor for Coastal assigned to the mansion, are in the midst of a massive fixup.
Most of the damage was caused when the original builder tiled balconies and porches right outside doors leading into the house. The tile was higher than the threshold of the doors, and water poured onto wood floors and carpets, causing mold and rot. Yucky. Much of the wood had to be special-ordered to fix the damage, they said.
They’ve repaired a fancy fountain at the front entrance; patched problems with the red tile roof; sorted out wiring issues (the house has 35 miles of wiring); repaired broken and chipped exterior stucco; and painted over some really, really bad decorating choices. Few people want their bedroom walls painted black, after all.
The slimy green pool has been transformed to a sparkling turquoise, and all the stinky carpet is gone, replaced by lush, thickly padded rugs that are more fitting for a house.
A corporate retreat?
Everybody working in the mansion has his own set of theories about it, Parsons said. Workers have decided, for example, that a curved, thickly carpeted hallway on the first floor lined with windows was where tables were set up for hors drovers during parties.
They all were a little baffled, however, by a mural in a bathroom that depicts the house and in front it, what appears to be two slaves at work.
“What was that about?” Leifried said.
Who knows. It’s nothing that Sherwin-Williams can’t take care of.
The property is listed with Travis Realty Group. Agents Patti-Jo Jungreis and Mary Kelly are advertising the property as one that could be used in a number of ways, including a luxury estate, a corporate retreat, a housing development or a possible equestrian community.
They have a point. The design of the building lends itself to all sorts of uses. Leifried and Parsons said they could see it as some kind of upscale group home, possibly for wealthy elderly folks who need personal care.
Meanwhile, they’re working hard to get the mansion dressed in her Sunday best.
“Who knows what it will turn into?” Leifried wondered aloud.
Courtesy of OrlandoSentinel.com