By Donna M. Owens, Special to The Baltimore Sun
11:56 AM EDT, April 27, 2011
It shimmers and glistens by day, reflecting the sun's brilliant rays. When night falls, beams of moonlight illuminate its crystal-like walls.
The landmark 'Glass House' overlooking the Magothy River in Anne Arundel County is an architectural gem that literally sparkles.
More than two decades after its construction, the house at 435 Ginn Lane in Pasadena has not lost its luster. But it has lost its owner, Leroy Merritt, the late developer, philanthropist and founder of the Merritt chain of athletic clubs.
On May 6, a live auction is set to transfer ownership to the highest bidder.
"It's such a special place," says Leo D'Aleo, the Baltimore-based architect who designed the house as a weekend retreat for Merritt.
"Leroy was a unique individual. He used to call it 'the fun house,'" recalled D'Aleo, who described Merritt as a dear friend. "It was a place for entertaining, friends. It had state-of-the-art touches, and everything you would ever need."
Nestled on a private 3.51-acre peninsula surrounded by lush landscaping and southeastern views of the Magothy River, Broad Creek and Sillery Bay, the sweeping, three-story house is situated at the end of a gated lane.
Spanning more than 9,000 square feet, the house is designed in the International Style of modern architecture, defined by cubic shapes, flat roofs, and smooth surfaces. It boasts four bedrooms with walk-in closets, four full baths and two half-baths, travertine marble floors, two wood-burning fireplaces and a stainless-steel circular staircase.
There are high ceilings — between nine and 20 feet, a skylight dome, and a rooftop observatory with 360-degree panoramic views. Inside, there are multiple levels of open living, from the modern kitchen with a breakfast bar, to a sunken living room, dining room and recreation area.
The house is completely secluded, yet offers unrivaled river views from nearly every room, thanks to its floor-to-ceiling tinted, tempered glass.
D' Aleo says he took advantage of nature's beauty when contemplating the architectural design. "It's a minimalist house, really, meant to show off the river and nature. We didn't want anything that would detract from the views outside."
Despite all of the amenities, Merritt decided to part ways with the house even before his death. He put it up for sale in 2009 because he rarely used it anymore, according to listing agent Betsy Stettinius of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. The asking price was $7.9 million, and the home stayed on the market about nine months, she said.
Following his death last year, Merritt's family took the property off the market, said Stettinius, while deciding what to do with it. They eventually chose the auction route via Concierge Auctions, a luxury real estate auction firm based in New York City.
"It's a beauty — a one-of-a-kind property," says Robb Merritt, president of Merritt Properties LLC, the commercial real estate company that bears his father's name. "But he hadn't lived there in eight or nine years. And nobody else uses it. Someone should enjoy it."
Concierge said the auction format will be "absolute."
"That means it will sell to the highest bidder [at the auction] regardless of price," said Laura Brady, vice president of marketing for the company. "The live bidding process invites sophisticated and savvy buyers to identify true market value in a transparent forum. ... Brokers are protected, and there are no post-auction negotiations or contingencies."
The sale is being conducted in cooperation with Stettinius, who said the home "defines contemporary, luxury living at its finest."
Besides the contemporary residence, there are a caretaker's cottage and a guest home. Outdoors, an in-ground pool is the centerpiece of a patio with plenty of space to lounge under blue skies.
Perfectly manicured lawns, a private beach, a putting green, a sport court and a deep-water pier with multiple boat slips are all part of the deal.
"It's definitely a spectacular house," said Isabelle Gournay, an associate professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park, who viewed color images of the property. "It does seem to match its site."
Gournay, one of the lead researchers on a groundbreaking study of the modern movement in Maryland sponsored by the Maryland Historical Trust, said the house is notable in the context of 20th-century architecture.
"It reminds me of the famous glass house," she said, speaking of the home in New Canaan, Conn., built in the 1940s by architect Philip Johnson.
Gournay said glass houses became more popular after World War II and the use of glass as a building material has continued to evolve.
"Now you've got all kinds of glass," she said. "The ones built after World War II had a single pane of glass. Today, there are lots of improvements, including filters that reduce the glare and UV rays. It's really quite advanced."
Baltimore's Rita St. Clair created the interior design for the house all those years ago.
"Everything was done with the idea of parties and entertaining," she said. "I designed the Jacuzzi, fireplace, and the kitchen. We still have the original drawings."
In keeping with the home's contemporary feel, St. Clair kept furnishings sophisticated, and most colors neutral. There was well-placed art, too.
While most of the furnishings are no longer in the house, she remains proud of the way it turned out and its stunning overall appearance. "It was absolutely beautiful."
Robb Merritt has fond memories, as well. He hopes that whoever ends up with the house will cherish it as much as his father did.
"We'd go there for the Fourth of July and other holidays and barbeque. My father enjoyed it, and so did we. It was a very serene, relaxing place. It made him happy."
Live auction info
The auction is being conducted by Concierge Auctions on May 6. The property is available daily for preview between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and by appointment. For more information visit glasshouseauction.com or call 877-214-3785.
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun