AT&T’s Property

Corrections or additions?

This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the

December 12, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights

reserved.

Trophy House, Trophy Campus

This house is 400 feet long, as long as a city block,

with walls made completely of glass. It looks as if it should be at

Big Sur on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but instead it

overlooks

the Delaware & Raritan Canal in Griggstown. The 48-acre property is

priced — with the house in unfinished condition — for the

whopping sum of $18 million.

That’s right. A former poultry and grain farm just 15 minutes or so

from downtown Princeton is now being billed as "one of the most

magnificent new homes built in the United States in the past 25

years"

and "one of the last of the large estates available near New York

City." At 34,000 square feet divided between two floors, Chalan

— as the house has been called by the owners — ranks right

up there, in square footage, with Bill Gates’ mansion, which is 45,000

feet, and it is one-third the size of the Hearst castle at San Simeon.

Yet it has no closets so far, nor even any partitions. The ground

floor is a vast expanse waiting for the next owner to decide how to

partition off the intimate spaces. The underground floor is an immense

bunker, now equipped with industrial shelving for storage. The Basking

Ridge-based real estate broker assigned to sell this property,

Christine

Bianchi of Insignia Douglas Elliman, has a daunting task.

In that respect she joins Robert J. Donnelly, executive vice president

of Cushman & Wakefield, who has just listed another hard-to-sell

trophy

property, the AT&T headquarters in Basking Ridge. Next year AT&T will

relocate the 3,200 workers that currently occupy a campus big enough

for 4,000.

Both brokers hope to attract wealthy refugees from New York City.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a company seeking

a trophy campus," says Donnelly. He says he has received

"serious

interest from numerous potential corporate parties."

One obvious difference between the trophy home and the trophy campus

is that the home’s owners want to recoup their high building costs

plus make a profit, whereas AT&T’s 25-year-old campus — though

it would cost $500 million to replace — can go for lower than

that.

How do you market a property that is so big and so unusual?

First, consider that the trophy home was built to fulfill a dream,

not for resale. "They built this house to live in for the rest

of their lives," says a homeowner living near the Canal Road

mega-mansion.

The buyer most likely would not be a developer. The acreage could

allow six more houses, but that would diminish the house’s trump card,

privacy.

Princeton’s highest price tag so far is $12 million for the Ettl Farm,

a Callaway/Sotheby’s listing with development rights for nearly 70

tract homes. The highest price tag for a single home anywhere on the

east coast was $19 million; that Bedminster house was sold by

Sotheby’s.

Chalan, in contrast, is a work in progress. "It is very hard to

sell an unfinished house," says Pete Callaway, a broker who is

Sotheby’s representative in Princeton. For any luxury home, he says,

"you need time. You need an extensive marketing program, not just

locally, but nationally. And you really need to know what the highest

and best use for the property is."

Bianchi, who is working with Millard Dixon of the Manhattan-based

brokerage Insignia Douglas Elliman, says she will advertise in New

York Living and Countryside magazines. "The kind of advertising

we do will be a little different — the newspaper and the Internet

is not enough for something like this," she says. "This house

has to be marketed completely differently."

She has sent letters, postcards, and flyers to all of the executives

in the Princeton area and to CEOs of corporations outside the area,

but she is really targeting athletes, rock stars, and Hollywood actors

— celebrities with more money than they know what to do with,

who value privacy above all, and who want to live a California

lifestyle

yet stay close to New York.

"Those people would appreciate the solitude, the privacy, the

space," says Bianchi. She claims the celebrities’ employees could

live downstairs.

Care to take the house tour? Unless someone holds a top-drawer gala

here (and it sure would be a fabulous place for a gala), this

reporter’s

limited tour — part of a brokers’ open house — might be your

only chance to peek inside.

Once you are clicked in through the electronic gate, you drive a half

mile up the curved, one-lane road and as you come around a bend you

think you are seeing a mirage. Overlooking a pond is a breathtaking

expanse of green glass. The floor-to-ceiling 14-foot glass walls seem

to invoke Mies van de Rohe’s 1929 World’s Fair Barcelona Pavilion,

a cornerstone of modern architecture. But here a heavy white cornice

keeps the glass structure distinctly earthbound. Its lateral layout

vaguely resembles Monticello. This place looks like a golf resort

or a desert spa, but surely not a home.

Most of the visitors have parked by the front door, which is

three-quarters

of the way down the long side of the house. We enter and

self-consciously

wipe our feet on the Oriental rug in the entryway. Space, seemingly

endless space, is what we see. Floor to ceiling glass comprise the

walls, offering a 360-degree view to the outside. The view within

is broken up by injuttings and outjuttings of octagonal glass

pavilions,

but we can stand in the center of the house and see it from end to

end, all 17,000 square feet of it.

How much space is 17,000 square feet? For comparison, a four-bedroom

tract house might have as much as 4,000 square feet. The place is

so big that the woman of the house reportedly uses a scooter to get

from one end to the other.

Family portraits decorate a handsome buffet at the entrance. To the

right are areas for an office, kitchen, and dining. To the left is

the bedroom, bath, and spa.

THE bedroom? Just one bedroom and bath for all this space?

Well, actually, another bedroom and bath are downstairs in the

windowless

bunker that comprises the below-ground floor, carved out from solid

rock. But the small number of bedrooms and baths is one reason why

Franklin Township’s tax assessor values the house and six acres at

just $1,215,000. "Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, and

rec room," reads the description. Agricultural zoning for the

remaining 42 acres is appraised at $18,600, and the taxes for the

entire parcel are just under $29,000. The property was purchased for

under $500,000 in 1998 from the Trumm family, which had been farming

the land since before World War I.

At one end the master bedroom — since there are

no walls — consists of a bed, an in-floor lap pool, an in-floor

whirlpool spa, and a bathroom with an above-ground tub. A view of

this room is on the website (www.newjersey.elliman.com).

Storage is now being handled on the below-ground level, lined with

labeled boxes on the metal shelving, but there will be plenty of space

for dressing rooms and closets when the walls go up.

The views, breathtaking indeed, are of woodland, meadows, and streams,

many dedicated to nature conservancy districts. The realtors cite

the walking trails of the Delaware & Raritan Canal and the nearby

location of Rockingham, the historic site where George Washington

lived. They suggest that there is room for the next owner to add a

helipad, a private golf course, tennis courts, and riding trails,

"projects that were the owner’s intentions," according to

the press release.

As we move from one end of the house to the other, from the

glass-walled

bedroom to the glass-walled garage, we encounter clusters of furniture

set up to approximate rooms — here an office, there a seating

area, over there a kitchen — yet the distances seem vast. A movie

star could live here, the realtors suggest, and conduct business in

the total privacy that the house affords. And have fabulous, fabulous

parties.

Two staircases, one at each end of the house, lead down to the

underground

floor, 17,000 square feet, the same size as the main floor. Here,

underground, is the million dollar state-of-the-art Honeywell HVAC

system with more than 40 zones, plus the superstructure for a radiant

floor heating system. Also here is the underground conduit for a new

Verizon fiberoptic connection, an RCN digital cable TV/high speed

Internet system, a 25-line underground telephone system, a

4,000-gallon

underground gas storage system, and 1,200-amp electrical service.

Areas have been set aside for an elevator, wine storage, and parking

spaces for 10 cars. What you see now, though, is one small bedroom

and yards and yards of shelving.

Such an eccentric house this is. Its layout reminds New Yorkers,

accustomed

to living in former factories, of a gigantic loft.

Chalan’s owners, a middle-aged couple, bought the land using a

corporate

name, Saint Louis LLC. They clearly value privacy and, in fact

adamantly

refuse to consent for their names to be used in this or any other

publication. Other sources say that the man of the house had a

successful

stereo components business in Beverly Hills, California, some 30 years

ago. The woman’s family ties include a Princeton fuel oil business

in the 1950s and some connection to the Hires root beer fortune. They

own prize-winning Airedale terriers and, if they had stayed on the

property, they would have also built facilities for horses. Chalan

was the name of a favorite horse.

The owners wrote secrecy into their contract with the Franklin

Township-based

architect, James Kissane. The architect himself apparently did not

dream up this unusual floor plan on his own; rather he executed the

concept plan of the owner. Kissane usually does not do residential

work; he designed the ProSkate arena in South Brunswick and has

pharmaceutical

clients.

One person who knew the couple says that he never imagined the design

of this house was "anything more than entertainment." Another

source says that expensive houses often don’t have a construction

budget but that their owners manage to keep resale in mind. This one

does not seem to have been built for resale. But circumstances

obviously

must have changed — some sources report health problems have

prompted

the couple’s decision to move from the property.

The $18 million price tag, says Bianchi, the real estate broker, is

based on building costs plus some profit. But building costs were

sky high. To take just a couple of examples, realize that this is

near the Trap Rock quarry and you will get an idea of how expensive

the excavation would be. Also, two previous sets of permanent stairs

were deemed not satisfactory and were ripped out. The current

staircase,

a temporary solution, has been constructed in a wooden version.

How do these 34,000 feet compare with Bill Gates’ 45,000-foot house

in the state of Washington? It has about the same amount of real

living

space, 20,000 square feet. It is longer and narrower than Gates’

house,

which measures 384 feet. The initial price tag for Gates, $10 million,

rose significantly when he added such extras as a banquet hall with

24 video screens, a private theater with HDTV, and a 60-foot pool.

Few gadgets have been installed at Chalan, though the superstructure

could accommodate them.

Gates used natural materials, including perfectly finished wood

timbers.

Chalan, in contrast, is constructed completely of manmade materials,

in deliberate contrast to the natural beauty that one sees outside:

Nature stays outside.

Until three years ago, this property was a working farm, says

Frederick

Trumm, whose grandfather bought 64 acres overlooking the Delaware

& Raritan Canal in 1913. "My father had worked for Singer and

was called back to work during World War II," he says. "I

was born here in 1929." His sister lived on one side of the double

house on Canal Road and his father on the other. "I farmed all

the land from 1950 on, poultry and grain," says Trumm. "I

have three acres now. We would like to have had it remain as a farm

and get it into the Greenacres program, but they didn’t want it."

Linda Mead, executive director of the D&R Greenway, has talked with

the current owners of Chalan about how a total of 130 acres in the

neighborhood did manage to get preserved as open space — 85 acres

owned by the Greenway and 45 acres of Little Valley Farm. "I hope

the next buyer is somebody who loves the outdoors, who will be a good

spokesperson for the D&R Greenway," says Mead. "It would be

a magnificent house for a creative individual, to watch the sunset

over those hills."

Top Of Page
AT&T’s Property

AT&T’s headquarters, seven inter-connected buildings

completed in 1976, is also a premier setting. Located just off I-287

in Basking Ridge, the 1.35 million square feet of office space has

15 acres of underground garages; it is spread out over 140 acres and

encircled by 2.7 miles of roadway.

The bucolic AT&T property can be compared with Merrill Lynch’s more

compact Hopewell campus; Merrill Lynch has one-third the acreage but

almost as much office space.

"This is arguably the premier corporate setting for a Fortune

100 CEO and senior management team," says Cushman & Wakefield’s

Bob Donnelly. No price has been put on the AT&T property, but it is

expected to be so high that a special brokers’ compensation package

— different from the usual commission structure — had to be

hammered out.

Though Manhattan is the official headquarters for AT&T, the Basking

Ridge property has been the de facto headquarters for senior

management,

and Chairman Michael Armstrong has his office here.

But as AT&T faces declining revenues, it is getting rid of its

expensive

real estate and dispersing its shrinking work force. Two buildings

in Bridgewater will house the business services division, and the

consumer business will move to Morristown. The senior executives will

move to Bedminster.

On the eastern border of the campus is the Basking Ridge Country Club.

On the western of the campus is the AT&T Learning Center, a 171-bed

hotel and conference facility on 35 acres. The Learning Center is

not included in this sale but its disposition can be negotiated.

As for the buildings themselves, they were designed by the Kling

Partnership

of Philadelphia so that none is more than 48 feet above grade. One

impressive feature is the indoor waterfall in the lobby and reception

area. The exteriors are made from pre-cast concrete panels and have

bronze-tinted windows and California-style red clay roof tiles. Inside

are a two-story, full-service cafeteria, 51 conference rooms, a

fitness

center with locker rooms, and a multi-purpose room that can seat 400

people. Outside are a helipad, recreational fields, and a seven-acre

pond.

AT&T’s trophy campus has served it well for more than a quarter of

a century. The trophy house on Canal Road, in contrast, has yet to

prove its efficacy. But — at least in its design and in its asking

price — Chalan is about to make its mark on Princeton’s real

estate

history. Perhaps its new owners — Madonna? Whitney Houston?

Baseball

free agent Jason Giambi? — will also make their mark on Princeton.

In any case, experts predict both properties will be on the market

for a good long time.

— Barbara Fox


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