Gates' house has all the bells and whistles


SEATTLE -- Not since newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst Sr. built his grandiose 165-room castle on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean at San Simeon, Calif., has America been so fascinated by a private residence of the rich and famous.

Welcome to San Simeon North, the high-tech Xanadu of William Henry Gates III, richest guy on the planet.

Seven years after construction began on a project expected to take about half that long, the Microsoft mogul's futuristic dream home on the shores of Lake Washington across from Seattle is nearing completion.

Gates, his wife Melinda and their daughter, Jennifer, 1 1/2 , are expected to move in soon, even before the last of the

construction trailers leave and the only evidence of their interminable stay is planted over by a forest of Northwest alders.

No comparisons

"I am in no way comparing my house with San Simeon, one of the West Coast's monuments to excess," Gates wrote in his best seller "The Road Ahead."

It is difficult to compare the nearly five-acre Gates estate, which has so far cost the software king upward of $50 million, with anything else because there is nothing else quite like it.

The county assessor's office, in trying to determine the market value of the home, could not find anything comparable, and it looked at expensive waterfront mansions as far away as Florida, including the Miami home of Sylvester Stallone.

Despite its nearly 40,000 square feet of living space, it is not size alone that makes it unique. The house has a vaulted 30-car underground garage that was tunneled into the hillside; a reception hall that can accommodate more than 120 guests; a 60-foot-long indoor pool with underwater music system; a boulder-rimmed hot tub; two elevators and a three-story spiral staircase; a rotunda-topped library for Gates' rare-book collection; a movie theater with a state-of-the-art sound system; a 1 1/2 -story trampoline room; an 18-hole miniature golf course; a trout stream, and a man-made estuary.

But it is the home's technology that will make it one of a kind and provide the Gates family and their guests with a rich multimedia experience that will be both educational and just plain fun.

One would expect nothing else from the world's No. 1 computer geek and Harvard dropout who co-founded Microsoft long before he was legally old enough to drink and is now worth about $40 billion.

Technological stuff

"The technological innovations I have in mind for my house are not that really different in spirit from those Hearst wanted in his," Gates wrote in his book. "He wanted news and entertainment, all at a touch. So do I."

Eight years ago, Gates formed a private company separate from Microsoft to acquire the electronic rights to photographs and art works.

That company, now known as Corbis, owns the electronic reproduction rights to paintings that hang in museums around the world, and to the photographs of Ansel Adams and the famed Bettmann Archive, which contains millions of images of the 20th century.

This huge data base of digitalized masterpieces will be available for display on high-definition TV screens built into the walls of nearly all the public rooms of the Gates home.

As far back as 1984, Gates told a reporter his dream home would be controlled by a computer similar to the fictional Hal, which ran the systems of a spaceship in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."

The computer system for this house will monitor electronic pins worn by people in the house.

The computer will keep track of the music they may be listening to, or the TV show they may be watching or the art work they may be admiring, and shift the electronic images from room to room as they pass through the house. The computer will even keep track of personal preferences for the next visit.

Geoffrey Whitten, Gates' personal representative at the construction site, declined to say if the much-anticipated move-in day is soon.

"All that I can tell you is that we are finishing up the house," he said.

Microsoft spokesman John Pinette would only say is that construction will be completed before the end of the year.

But rumors are flying the move will be made sometime this month.

If Gates had remained a bachelor, his home might have been finished a couple of years ago. But Melinda Gates wanted interior and exterior changes in the imposing techno-structure, and that furthered delays that plagued the project.

Not long after their marriage, several internationally known interior decorators were flown to Seattle to make presentations.

The Gateses picked French-born designer Thierry Despont, whose previous clients included actor Michael Douglas, designer Calvin Klein and Gap president Millard Drexler.

Keeping mum

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