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Grandeur by the sea

Oceanfront estates boast amenities recalling Gilded Age

The Wyck Estate in Manchester-by-the-Sea was modeled after a French chateau when it was built in 1912. (Jonathan Wiggs / Globe Staff Photo) The Wyck Estate in Manchester-by-the-Sea was modeled after a French chateau when it was built in 1912.
By Jaci Conry
Globe Correspondent / December 21, 2008
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In this market of foreclosures and slow sales, there are bargains, and then there are bargains of epic proportions. This one place on the North Shore, for example, is almost 50 percent off list.

It's now down to just $12.25 million.

Such is the state of the extreme estates, those rarefied properties so grand, so unique that it's almost ridiculous for most of us to calculate how much they're really worth. When the Wyck Estate on Smith's Point in Manchester-by-the-Sea was first put on the market - four years ago - the sellers were asking $23.5 million.

"In this discounted market you can negotiate a tremendous deal," said its broker, Lanse Robb, principal and North Shore regional director of luxury real estate firm LandVest.

A portrait of Gilded Age grandeur, the mansion was modeled after a French chateau and built in 1912 for George Robert White, the wealthy marketer of Cuticura products and noted Boston philanthropist, by the architect firm Bigelow and Wadsworth. Frederick Law Olmsted, the visionary behind Boston's Emerald Necklace, created the landscape design to take full advantage of the property's sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Boston skyline. The 8-acre parcel with its rolling green lawns stretches down to a private beach and includes a swimming pool and tennis court.

At the time of construction, the estate with its barrel-vaulted loggia, stone balustrades, and turrets rivaled the era's grand seasonal "cottages" in Newport, R.I. Built using the finest materials available, the exterior consists of tapestry brick, imported barrel by barrel from France and carved Indiana limestone. Twenty-eight stone carvers were brought to the site to ensure the elaborate carving was done with absolute authenticity, and they worked 24 hours a day.

The carvers worked meticulously inside as well, exquisitely detailing ceilings, columns, and fireplace surrounds. The dining room is paneled in rare Circassian walnut from Russia. A second oval-shaped dining room features an inlaid floor of green Connemara marble from Ireland and a skylight is made of translucent stone.

The 12,000-square-foot house is remarkably as it was when first constructed. The original elegant details - ornate moldings, elaborate carvings, leaded glass panes, and gilded hardware - have been preserved.

After White died in the 1920s, a second owner inhabited the home until 1944 when the current owners, the Reeves, purchased it for their year-round residence. "It's a very livable place," said Stanley Reeve, who grew up in the house with his seven siblings. "My father was an architect, yet he didn't alter any of the house's aesthetics. He just made sure it was maintained."

"It was a great place to grow up," he said while standing in his childhood bedroom where the walls are sheathed with rich mahogany paneling imported by White from a chapel in London. Reeve's parents passed away several years ago, and the house requires more upkeep than he and his siblings want to handle.

Before putting the home on the market, the family updated the central fire and security systems, installed a top-of-the-line heating system which features two computerized Viessman furnaces. Yet some of today's buyers might be put off by parts of the house that lack modern conveniences. The bathrooms are equipped with charming antique claw-foot tubs, but the fixtures, while in good condition, are significantly outdated. The kitchen, located on the basement level of the house (as was often customary in early 20th century mansions) is one floor down from the home's living areas and the appliances and cabinetry date back several decades.

"We had offers that were higher than the current asking price that were turned down before, but that was a different economy," said Robb, who encouraged the Reeves to reduce the listing price by $1 million in mid-November. "Now, we're doing what we have to do to make this a competitively priced house."

He said there's been renewed interest in the property since the recent price drop. Some of the activity is coming from investors who are intrigued by the fact that the parcel is subdividable. An additional oceanfront lot can be made from the home's main 8-acre parcel, and a five-bedroom carriage house with 2 acres on the property is also available for $2.5 million.

The North Shore is home to some of the state's priciest real estate. In October, Manchester's oceanfront Crow Island estate was sold for $11.5 million, the highest residential sale in Massachusetts to date. It was on the market for less than a year, first listing for $14.6 million. Another grand historic manse, Seagate, located near the Wyck property in the exclusive Smith's Point enclave is on the market for $11.5 million. While the South Shore has fewer luxe mansions on the market than the North Shore, Cohasset's Cary Point estate is listed for $14.75 million. On the market since late 2007, the white stucco structure with a red tile roof was originally listed for $19.5 million. The mansion juts majestically into the Atlantic, providing a panorama of two private beaches and two deep-water mornings.

Built in the early 1900s, the house was once the summer haven of Henry Bigelow, a founder of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. When the current owner, Tom Sullivan, the young founder and chairman of Lumber Liquidators, purchased it sight unseen for nearly $5 million in 2004, "The house was rustic. It was very much a purist summer cottage, like an Adirondack fishing camp," said listing broker Tom Hamilton, of Dean and Hamilton Realtors.

As soon as he took ownership, Sullivan began a massive gut-renovation of the house. While retaining its original Mediterranean-style exterior, he infused the house with custom contemporary elements. In a sharp contrast to the frozen-in-time Wyck estate, Cary Point exudes modernity. "It feels very South Beach," said Hamilton. "The interior is eclectic and hip."

At the front entrance, a massive cylindrical water sculpture beckons visitors from a reflecting pool. The counters in the gleaming new kitchen are embedded with semiprecious gemstones. All of the windows in the house are framed with mahogany and adorned with metal accents intended to recall the image of ocean waves. In addition to a three-car detached garage, another garage with direct access to the kitchen has a turntable floor that allows a car to be turned around so there's no need to back out.

An ocean-facing octagonal solarium, wine cellar, and ground-floor apartment were added along with state-of-the-art audio, video, and lighting systems. New coffered ceilings and Brazilian hardwood floors run throughout the 4,700-square-foot-house. Some of the home's original elements remain, including the living room's original cypress paneling and an antique copper tub once part of the master suite that was refitted for another bathroom.

A gazebo, equipped with a full bar, a bocce court, and a Jacuzzi are perched on the edge of the property overlooking Sandy Cove. "It's arguably one of the best ocean views in New England," said Hamilton, who is well aware of the current challenges of selling a home with Cary Point's hefty price tag. "There are very few people in this area who can afford a property like this. Even people with the money are being very discerning."

"The price was an issue for a while, and we significantly reduced it," said Hamilton. "I think the lower price shows our flexibility. We realize the changed real estate market, and we will continue to reflect that by dropping the price accordingly."

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