Auction today for Geppi mansion

Green Spring Valley estate has outstanding mortgage debt of $3.25 million

  • Cliffeholme was built in 1848 by James Howard, the son of John Eager Howard of Revolutionary War fame. The Baltimore County mansion has eight bedrooms and nine fireplaces.
Cliffeholme was built in 1848 by James Howard, the son of John… (Baltimore Sun photo )
April 08, 2010|By Lorraine Mirabella | lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

One of the Baltimore area's most historically significant residences is headed for a foreclosure auction today, more than two years after owner and prominent businessman Stephen A. Geppi put it up for sale for $7.7 million amid the slumping housing market.

The mid-19th-century mansion in Green Spring Valley known as Cliffeholme, with eight bedrooms and nine fireplaces, is scheduled for sale at the Baltimore County Courthouse with an outstanding mortgage debt of $3.25 million, court records show. The Maryland Historical Trust includes the house in its Inventory of Historic Properties, a catalog of notable properties at least 50 years old.

The foreclosure demonstrates that high-end homes have not been immune to the housing crisis. It's also the latest in a series of financial setbacks for Geppi and some of his businesses during the past couple of years.

Geppi, head of Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., publisher of Baltimore Magazine and investor in the Baltimore Orioles, could not be reached Wednesday for comment. He and his wife, Melinda, paid $4.8 million in 2004 for the 9-acre estate, built in 1848 by James Howard, son of Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard.

The Geppis moved to another house, also in Green Spring Valley, before putting the 13,000-square-foot mansion on the market in January 2008. The estate is currently listed for sale for $3.6 million with Yerman, Witman, Gaines and Conklin Realty, and has drawn interest and offers from potential buyers, said listing agent Candace Claster.

"It is a rare jewel, that house," said Karen Hubble Bisbee, an associate broker with the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Green Spring Valley office who specializes in historic and upscale homes. She called the home "as tony an address as exists in the county.

"It is without a doubt one of the most important houses in the entire metro area," she said.

Geppi has faced financial trouble in recent years. Last May, the Maryland Stadium Authority agreed to reduce the rent paid by Geppi's Entertainment Museum for its space in Camden Station at Camden Yards after the museum struggled to pay its rent. PNC Bank won a $16.4 million judgment against Geppi in January 2009, while Harbor Bank of Maryland won a $3.5 million judgment last month, Baltimore County Circuit Court records show.

The Cliffeholme foreclosure case filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court in November by attorneys for Shapiro & Burson LLP of Fairfax, Va., shows debt of $3.25 million. The attorneys were appointed as substitute trustees in October by lender Bank of America, according to state land records. A phone call about the case was referred on Wednesday to the firm's managing partner, John S. Burson, who did not return a call.

The home has had an illustrious history - and a number of owners.

The house, first built in the Italianate style, went through a major renovation and expansion in 1928 to its current early 20th-century English Revival style, said Orlando Ridout, an architectural historian in the research section for the Maryland Historical Trust.

The property was bought in 1872 by Charles Morton Stewart, a Baltimore shipping merchant who made his fortune importing Brazilian coffee to Baltimore. He bought the home as a summer house and expanded it for his large family and guests, who included the English novelist Charles Dickens, according to "The Green Spring Valley: Its History and Heritage," published by the Maryland Historical Society in 1978.

"It is an important property and has a pretty interesting history," Ridout said.

Bisbee had represented the owner prior to the Geppis, Larry J. Cohoon, who she said lived in Texas and had no previous connection to Baltimore. She said he saw the house advertised for sale in The Wall Street Journal and flew to Baltimore to buy it in 2002. Cohoon spent two years doing a complete renovation and restoration, including installing an elevator, updating the six full baths and restoring all the leaded glass, she said.

The current real estate listing for the home makes note of custom audio and lighting, a wine room, a home theater, a gourmet kitchen with granite, a 65-foot grand hall, a club room and game room in the lower level, a master bedroom suite with a gym and sprawling patios and gardens.

Upper-end homes such as Cliffeholme have been swept up in the foreclosure wave that stalled sales, sent property values plummeting and made foreclosures more common across all price ranges.

"There's not any rhyme or reason" to the price range of houses that end up in foreclosure, said Ron West of Harvey West Auctioneers, which as of Wednesday was scheduled to offer the property at 4040 Stewart St. just after 2 p.m. in a Towson courthouse foreclosure sale. Bidders need to bring a $25,000 deposit.

Bisbee, whose agency had the Cliffholme listing until November, said the house should have been listed for less to reflect price drops in the market. "Here are countless sellers, who have very special houses and had paid a great deal of money," she said. "Nobody could believe the market would drop as precipitously as it did."

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