Biggest, oldest, most expensive, oddest, most modern and more
If people’s homes are often an expression of their personalities, the Bethesda area—from Chevy Chase to Potomac—has its share of out-sized personalities with the homes to match.
In Montgomery County, million-dollar homes are almost a dime a dozen. In fact, more than 21,000 owner-occupied homes currently have assessed values of at least $1 million.
There are communities sprinkled with 20,000-square-foot homes, not just real estate but real estates. Special features, rather than merely size and price, make other homes unique. In our search for extreme homes, here are some of those we found.
Milton/Loughborough House | 5312 Allandale Road, Bethesda
It sits hidden at a dead end in the shadow of a radio tower off Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda. Amid blocks of faux colonials, this is the real deal. Built circa 1700, it’s 3,400 square feet of antiquity on 2.3 acres.
The house—on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975—was originally a tavern and stagecoach stop built on high ground across the creek from Indian encampments, whose transient occupants left behind their arrowheads for later generations to find.
Once known as Milton, the house was home to Nathan Loughborough, an early 19th-century comptroller of the U.S. Treasury whose son Hamilton, the next owner, gave plots of land to his freed slaves after their emancipation.
Since 1983, it has been home to John Beaty and Anne Mehringer. It seems fitting that Beaty, a financial adviser with Brown Advisory, is a past president of the Montgomery County Historical Society. Mehringer, retired manager of litigation support at Jones Day, a Washington, D.C., law firm, says they have unearthed shards of ceramics and antique bottles over the years, as well as a bullet. And they have been able to do so in relative privacy.
“It’s in a quiet corner in the back end of a neighborhood,” Mehringer says, “and there is enough land around it that you’re not on top of your neighbors.”
A pebble driveway leads to the house, which has been added onto over the years. It now consists of three wings of solid gray stone—with walls 18 inches thick—and, in a concession to modern times, central air-conditioning.
The Mushroom House | 4949 Allan Road, Bethesda
Some call it the “mushroom” house. It’s also been known as the Smurf House, the Hobbit House, the Flintstones House. It’s even made it into a book, Weird Maryland (Sterling, 2006), by Matt Lake, and onto numerous websites featuring architectural oddities.
But to Edward and Frances Garfinkle, it’s home sweet home. More than that, the 1923 house, designed by futuristic architect Roy Mason, is an expression of their whimsical nature. With a polyurethane foam coating hiding the original stucco exterior, it’s a bloated fantasy of a house.
The Garfinkles bought it in 1967, and a few years later decided on a do-over. “We were kind of misled into thinking it was an inexpensive way to build. It didn’t turn out that way,” says Ed Garfinkle, 77. In fact, it almost ruined them financially. “We did this when we were young. Looking back on it, it was probably kind of dumb,” he says.
Nonetheless, it made their 2,672-square-foot dwelling a quirky landmark, an unconventional outlier amid the monotonous streets of traditional suburban homes off Western Avenue. “It’s all curves and arches and 30-foot ceilings,” Garfinkle says. “Most people looking at it from the outside think it’s a very dark house, but it’s anything but. There’s a pond inside the house and skylights. It’s very bright and cheerful.”
By the front door there’s a bathtub filled with firewood and a “One Way” sign with arrows pointing in opposite directions, along with a sign from the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park that instructs visitors not to “Annoy, Torment, Plague, Badger, Harass, Heckle…or Ruffle the Animals.”
Garfinkle says he has suffered none of those things from curiosity-seekers who gawk at the house or ask him questions when he’s in the front yard.
“One good thing is that it probably slows the traffic down on our street,” he says. “The cars don’t go flying by as much as in the rest of the neighborhood. It’s better than a speed bump.”
Their Home Is Their Castle
Casa de Amor | 9101 River Road, Potomac
Casa de Amor is something of a Potomac landmark, with its towers and turrets rising above the Spanish-tiled roof, faux palm trees in front and a fountain illuminated at night by lights of many colors.
This 8,645-square-foot stucco home, built in 2009, resembles an adobe hacienda as much as it does a castle. Casa is owned by Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Properties of Germantown, founded in 1995 by Mexican-born Carlos Horcasitas and his Hong Kong-native wife, May-May, who live there.
The Horcasitases demolished a smaller home in 2005 to make room for their castle. “At one point, we went a little crazy,” Carlos Horcasitas says, obtaining government approvals to build a 45,000-square-foot, four-story mansion modeled after the famed Marble House in Newport, R.I. But then they reconsidered after visiting friends in a nearby 20,000-square-foot house who were living in one wing because their children had moved on.
The five grown Horcasitas children had no intention of moving back in with their parents, so the couple scaled down their plans. The home they built, looming large on the outside, has only five bedrooms and no basement, but includes 8½ bathrooms, two kitchens, high ceilings, a 53-foot-tall tower retreat reached by elevator, lots of interior balconies and a ceramic Roman-bath-style pool that is a virtual replica of an indoor pool at the home of late fashion designer Gianni Versace in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach.
The spacious interior is full of art and artifacts from countries the Horcasitases have visited in their global travels, and two jade dragons stand guard just outside the front door.
The front gate features two large Grecian urns, two sculptured birds and a stone wall with the decorative inscription: CASA DE AMOR. Carlos Horcasitas credits May-May for much of the interior design, as well as for the house’s name. “Everybody who comes here feels good, feels comfortable, feels love,” she says.
Past Meets Future in Bethesda
This Bethesda house perches on a sloping acre overlooking the Potomac and the palisades of Virginia. But before the view, which many might consider the main course, come the appetizers: a gentle walk along a flagstone path between small pools that leads to a sudden opening between two distinct wings connected by an underground tunnel. The smaller wing contains an office, designed to be both isolated and connected.
The 3,947-square-foot house is heavily insulated and tightly sealed, and there is a solar hot water heater hidden in the garage. What appears to be an ascending jet wing over the two sections is intended to represent a hill slope. The opening is like the Red Sea parting, and the hill-like roof is a metaphor for Moses climbing a mountain for his first glimpse of the Promised Land, at least that’s how architect Travis Price sees it.
“There was metaphor behind every gesture,” says Price, of Travis Price Architects, a Washington, D.C., firm. He notes that the home’s design is rooted in the religiosity of the owners, a professional couple who asked not to be identified or to have the address published because “we’re not showy people.”
Beyond the architect’s metaphors are a lot of glass and steel in the home’s construction, with a picture window—actually, a great glass wall—and a rear terrace offering a Potomac panorama, the turbulent river contrasting with the still water of the ponds. Price was even inspired to write a haiku about the house.
“I’m really strongly bent on finding the story of client, the story of site and to make the shape evoke those emotions,” says Price, who worked with architect Diego Balagna on its design and construction.
The House We’d Most Like to Visit
Dan Snyder’s Place | 11900 River Road, Potomac
Purchased for $10 million in 2001 from Queen Noor, widow of King Hussein of Jordan, this 16½-bath, 19,419-square-foot limestone manse made headlines in 2004, when Redskins owner Dan Snyder had 130 trees cut down to give him a panoramic view of the Potomac River.
An eight-month investigation concluded that a high-level National Park Service official had eased the way for the clear-cutting of mature trees, to be replaced by 600 native saplings. Snyder said he was just trying to remove non-native invasive plants from the property.
Besides angering neighbors and some members of Congress, the move resulted in hillside erosion that threatened the adjoining C&O Canal National Historical Park. So if for no other reason than that, we’d like to visit and see if the view was worth the ruckus.
In addition to the 9.7 acres for the main house, Snyder owns 3.8 adjoining acres which contain a 4,509-square-foot stucco split-level.
According to reports, after purchasing the big house, Snyder installed an 18-seat movie theater, a “fun room” with five plasma screen TVs, a 14-seat bar, a wine cellar with a marble floor, a 12-car garage and a ballroom on a new upper floor.
We’d love to survey Snyder’s fleet of vehicles in that garage and party in the third-floor ballroom. And if that’s not enough, there’s Snyder’s $70 million, 224-foot mega-yacht with five decks and enough room for 16 guests and a staff of 18. Now, that alone would be worth a visit.
7013 Natelli Woods Lane, Bethesda
It may not be to everyone’s taste, but give this Bethesda mansion its due: At 35,000 square feet, with four stories, a 700-square-foot screening room under the garage, 5,000 square feet of storage and a huge finished basement with a pool, hot tub, sauna and changing rooms, it is the largest single-family house in Montgomery County.
At the start of 2013, it was also the biggest empty house. Owner Rashid Chaudary, a Chicago cosmetics executive, had the house built in 1995 so his daughter could live at home while attending Islamic school in Northern Virginia and his son could go to George Washington University.
Within its spacious walls, he hosted presidents and prime ministers. Featured in Bethesda Magazine in 2007, the house includes a four-stop elevator, six kitchens, 12 bedrooms, 17 bathrooms, 49 closets, a two-story master suite, 331 recessed lights, a grand staircase in the foyer and 51 Roman columns.
“The marble in the hall came from Europe; if there was one chip, it went back,” says Bethesda-based Long & Foster real estate agent Maxine Schwartzman, whose architect son, Los Angeles-based H. Michael Schwartzman, designed the house.
But with the kids grown and his business calling him home, Chaudary and his wife decided to downsize to a 6,000-square-foot home in Burr Ridge, Ill., a Chicago suburb. Problem is, he says, in these times, nobody wants to buy such a big house.
“Sixty percent of the people who have looked say it’s too big for them,” he says. Accordingly, the list price has plunged from $9,999,999 to $5,999,999 since the house first went on the market in 2008, and he is now willing to sell a 2-acre lot separately for $1,245,000. “If only a palace will do,” the Long & Foster real estate ad says, “this is your home.”
Most Expensive House
Marwood | 11231 River View Drive, Potomac
The honor for the most expensive home ever sold in Montgomery County goes to Ted and Lynn Leonsis, according to state records and real estate database listings.
They paid $20 million in December 2010 for Marwood, a three-story beaux arts chateau in the heart of Potomac. Built in 1926, it once was owned by the Gore family, rented by Joseph Kennedy and frequented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and members of the Pulitzer clan.
The house was modeled after Chateau de Malmaison, Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte’s 18th-century palace outside Paris. It sits behind a secure gate on 13 prime acres off River Road, at the end of the ritzy Marwood subdivision—part of the original 200-acre estate.
Leonsis, owner of the Wizards, Mystics and Capitals, moved over from McLean in a house swap, selling the couple’s Virginia home to former Marwood owners Chris and Nalini Rogers.
Marwood boasts eight bedrooms, 13 full baths, a gatehouse, pool and pool house, a tennis court and a 10-car garage. Following an extensive renovation by its previous owners, the home was featured in a 10-page photo spread in the May/June 2011 issue of Veranda magazine, after the Leonsises had moved in.
Over the last year, Leonsis’ two basketball teams have been struggling and much of the Caps’ season was derailed by a labor dispute. But Leonsis could always retreat to his palatial manse just 16.4 miles from the Verizon Center.
Most Expensive Condo
Parc Somerset Penthouse | 5630 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase
This 6,737-square-foot penthouse unit on the 18th floor of the Parc Somerset in Chevy Chase sold for the list price of $7.95 million in December, a record high for a condo in the Washington, D.C., area—and within a month, it was back on the market for $8.75 million. (The previous high was $7.29 million, paid for a residence at the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown in 2002.)
The condo, half of the top floor of a 1999 building—the newest of three that comprise the 17-acre, gated Somerset complex—has five bedrooms, five bathrooms, nearly wraparound views, several balconies and a solarium.
Seller Paul Elicker, a retired chairman and CEO of SCM Corp., a Fortune 500 company, had it on the market just two days and received $1,180 per square foot in the all-cash sale.
The buyer, a local real estate developer and native Washingtonian now living with his family in Chevy Chase, “asked to remain anonymous for the moment,” says listing agent Zelda Heller of TTR Sotheby International Realty.
Heller says he already owns two units in the complex. Whoever buys the penthouse condo from him will get a couple of impressive next-door neighbors: William S. Cohen, the former U.S. senator from Maine and secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, a former television journalist and author who blogs for the Huffington Post.
Their unit is 6,732 square feet. The high-rise complex comes complete with indoor and outdoor pools, party rooms, 24-hour desk and concierge, a gym, and racquetball and tennis courts.
Eugene L. Meyer is a contributing editor for the magazine who lives in Silver Spring.