Foreclosure sale could net over $1 million


September 26, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

They've come by the dozens to see the four-acre estate in Ruxton, touring the stately Colonial mansion or detouring off Bellona Avenue and driving close enough to catch a glimpse.

While potential buyers and curiosity seekers trekked around the property, investor John J. Neubauer Jr. and his wife, Virginia, have been moving out piece by piece, clearing the patio chairs from the bricked-in courtyard and gazebo, packing away the family photos, letting the cutting garden by the apple orchard grow wild.

On Tuesday, the sprawling five-bedroom, 4 1/2 -bath brick home goes on the auction block in what local auctioneers say could end up as one of Baltimore's biggest residential foreclosure sales ever. In February, the Eccleston Valley property of Eli S. Jacobs, then owner of the Baltimore Orioles, brought $1.4 million at auction.

News of the auction has attracted about 20 potential bidders and scores of passers-by to gawk at the mansion. Foreclosure sales for million-dollar estates are, indeed, rare.

"Only in the last three or four years have you seen them at all," said Richard Tonry, vice president of Atlantic Auctions, which handled the Jacobs' sale.

Realtors familiar with the prestigious neighborhood of luxury, large-lot estates say the Neubauers' Glencroft Estate, at the end of a long drive behind a screen of trees, could sell for as much as $1.6 million. The Neubauers, who bought the property 13 years ago for $350,000 and then remodeled it, believe $2 million is more like it.

"The home has wonderful architecture, true Georgian architecture that reminds you of Old World style," said Peggy Castle, associate broker with Coldwell Banker-Grempler, who estimated the property could bring offers of $1 million-plus. Another Bellona Avenue estate, with seven bedrooms and six bathrooms on 4.3 acres, sold in October for $955,000, after listing for $2 million two years earlier. The property next door to Glencroft sold in 1991 for $1.3 million, she said.

Washington slept here?

The estate -- a 1933 replica of George Washington's Woodlawn Plantation at Mount Vernon in Virginia with greenhouse, five-car garage, swimming pool and carriage house -- has become the latest casualty in a tangled legal battle between the Neubauers and Mercantile-Safe Deposit & Trust Co.

The Neubauers say the fight has drained much of their time over the past several years, costing them two Eastern Shore businesses and now, one of two homes. The couple, whose children are grown, will live at the Cambridge farm they bought in 1988.

"There's so much of Ginny and me in this home, and there's so much of me in the businesses," said Mr. Neubauer, a 56-year-old prominent real estate attorney who had taken over his father's downtown title company, then invested with partners in apartment buildings and shopping centers.

On a late summer morning just days before the moving vans arrived, Mr. Neubauer sipped coffee in the sun-filled breakfast room off the kitchen and, with his wife, greeted a parade of visitors: the appraiser with the camera around his neck, the auctioneer's agents leading tours, the young couple considering bidding. A woman peaked into the room and murmured, "beautiful home."

Though bitter at a loss they believe could have been avoided, the couple remains proud of the historic property they helped restore.

A grand foyer

The home opens into a grand foyer with a staircase to the second floor, and from there leads to the living room on one side, the dining room on the other and a series of rooms off each, with separate staircases leading to one bedroom in each wing. There are polished hardwood floors, hand-carved moldings along the walls and symmetrical east and west wings.

The original owner, Baltimore meteorologist and business leader Lucien Friez, planned that symmetry, modeling it after the home George Washington built on Mount Vernon for his adopted daughter.

In 1933, Mr. Friez hired Baltimore architect Edward H. Glidden Jr. to design the 6,483-square-foot home, originally known as Belforte. He brought in French woodcarvers, who worked eight months fashioning colonial style moldings, planted trees, shrubs and formal gardens and kept three full-time gardeners on staff.

A fixer-upper, sort of

The property stayed in the Friez family until 1963 and was subsequently owned by a partner in a Baltimore stockbrokerage and then a retired Equitable Trust Bank executive.

When the Neubauers bought the home in 1980, they found the porch columns rotting and the house in need of new plumbing, wiring and landscaping, which they tackled first. They added a breakfast room off the kitchen, which they enlarged and remodeled with ceramic wall tiles and oak-style cabinets, built a gazebo in the side courtyard, planted an orchard and herb, cutting and kitchen gardens and bought a rear lot where they dug a swimming pool.

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