Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the
December 12, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
yet stay close to New York.
"Those people would appreciate the solitude, the privacy, the
space," says Bianchi. She claims the celebrities’ employees could
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
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
of the way down the long side of the house. We enter and
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
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
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
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
Two staircases, one at each end of the house, lead down to the
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
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,
to living in former factories, of a gigantic loft.
Chalan’s owners, a middle-aged couple, bought the land using a
name, Saint Louis LLC. They clearly value privacy and, in fact
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
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
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
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
must have changed — some sources report health problems have
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
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
space, 20,000 square feet. It is longer and narrower than Gates’
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
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
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."
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
Though Manhattan is the official headquarters for AT&T, the Basking
Ridge property has been the de facto headquarters for senior
and Chairman Michael Armstrong has his office here.
But as AT&T faces declining revenues, it is getting rid of its
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
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
center with locker rooms, and a multi-purpose room that can seat 400
people. Outside are a helipad, recreational fields, and a seven-acre
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
history. Perhaps its new owners — Madonna? Whitney Houston?
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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