Bidders left dangling at fishing retreat auction

Thurmont's Trout Run is pulled off the block by owner at the last minute

October 24, 2003|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

THURMONT - They came yesterday - serious bidders and serious gawkers alike - to see an auction of a mountain fishing retreat favored by presidents from Hoover to Eisenhower.

They went home disappointed.

"He's called the auction totally off," Alabama auctioneer Eddie Haynes told the assembled crowd about 1:25 p.m., 25 minutes after the bidding was to have begun.

Owner Howard Haugerud, whose wife Tomajean's family has owned the 450-acre hideaway since the 1940s, decided just before show time that he wasn't impressed with the depth of the pockets of those who put down $100,000 each for the privilege of placing a bid.

"I didn't think there was enough money there," the 79-year-old Haugerud said. "I did want to think some more. ... I really don't want to sell it anyway, but I'm getting so darn old."

Trout Run, a well-kept secret in Frederick County for years despite its storied history, is a gorgeous wooded property, with a spring-fed trout stream as the main attraction.

The refuge, about an hour from Baltimore and Washington, features five residences, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a tennis court and even a replica of the first Yugoslav Parliament House that came directly from exhibit at the Seattle World's Fair in 1962.

On the market for more than a year before it was scheduled to be auctioned off yesterday, the place once had an asking price of $20 million.

The auction was supposed to be absolute, meaning that it had to be sold regardless of the price offered. But only if the auction took place. And this one never started.

R. Carl Renna, president of the Frederick-based North American Housing Corp., arrived hopeful - and with his check in hand - and left upset that he never got his chance at owning Trout Run.

"Typically in an auction, when you get this close to the altar you usually get a marriage," he said. He had hoped to preserve much of what is already on the site and add a few estates to the property. He wouldn't say what he planned to bid but acknowledged it wasn't "remotely in the vicinity of $20 million."

People arrived at the property all morning, wandering the grounds, peeking at the furnishings and into the closets. The property had been shown for weeks. There were inquiries from corporations, movie stars and developers. There was even talk that officials from the Russian Embassy had come out for a look.

There was a lot of whispering and wondering about who would walk away owning the historic retreat, a lot of questions about what it would go for, a lot of speculating that $5 million or $6 million is all it would fetch.

The property's covered outdoor pavilion was set up for the auction with red-checkered tablecloths and a lunch spread of sandwich fixings and cookies and the very popular hot coffee on a chilly day.

In the estate's heyday, parties for 100 would be held in the pavilion with its giant stone fireplace and hardwood dance floor. Yesterday, a lounge singer played the keyboard and sang standards in one corner.

"I've lived here my whole life and never even knew [Trout Run] was here," said Toni Turner of Urbana, who had her husband bring her to see the auction on her birthday. Her biggest regret of the day was that she hadn't come to see the place earlier, when there would have been enough time to seriously consider making a bid.

"I wasn't thinking it was as nice as it was," she said. As she walked around, she was dreaming about how she could have held weddings here for her two sons.

Tomajean Haugerud spent much of the morning reminiscing about her time at Trout Run, which she and her husband purchased from her parents' estate in the 1990s.

Before her father owned it, it had been owned by Lawrence Richey, President Herbert Hoover's executive secretary, purchased mostly so his fishing-fanatic boss would have a place to while away Saturday afternoons.

She recalled her children jumping off the rocks and into the stream. She remembered one of her father's guests who would always try to fish more trout than his limit.

"I've never really been that attached to land or a house, but this my parents were attached to and my children," she said before the auction was called off. "This will be hard."

In the end, William R. Bone, president of the National Auction Group Inc. of Gadsden, Ala., lamented that just five bidders qualified.

His auctioneer told those assembled that Haugerud was busily negotiating with one bidder privately. Bone later said two parties were seriously interested and that it could be sold by the end of the day.

Less than an hour later, Haugerud, a former publisher of Stars and Stripes, sat alone in the main lodge and said he wasn't negotiating with anyone.

Haugerud said he still intends to sell the place because of his wife's failing health, but said he isn't in any hurry. They have two other homes, one in Bethesda and one in California.

"I can hold on for a few more years if I have to," he said.

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