Mansion plus swan are up for auction Owners paid $995,000 for Roland Park estate, fell victim to market; Shirley MacLaine slept here; Meltzers likely to take a bath after spending thousands on restrooms

With a for-sale sign planted outside like a perennial, the house on St. Georges Road in tony north Roland Park is just like countless others stuck in an unforgiving housing market.

Except that this house, with a swan gliding through a backyard pond, a tree-filled atrium and designer bricks, last sold for nearly $1 million in a high-stakes bidding war.


And except for the fact that this house has been for sale five years.

Currently, the swan, a few ducks and a caretaker live on the 1 1/4 -acre estate, overseeing the swimming pool, a lush expanse of lawn and bamboo trees shading the borders. Shirley MacLaine lived here for three months during a Baltimore movie shoot. But no one else has lived in the contemporary quarters with Japanese-style gardens since 1991.


Now, the owners, who've since moved to their summer home full-time, hope a public auction will bring the buyers they've been seeking so long.

Next Saturday, on the grounds at 1003 St. Georges Road, Alex Cooper Auctioneers Inc. will offer the home at auction.

Real estate agent Karen Hubble Bisbee suggested owners Al and Babette Meltzer try auctioning the property after getting no takers in the six months W.H.C. Wilson & Co. Realtors have listed the home -- now on the market for $595,000.

Her sellers faced a common problem among those who bought luxury homes at the height of the real estate market in the late 1980s: Values just aren't what they used to be.

By the time the sellers realized they'd have to ask considerably less than the price they'd paid, the home had sat too long on the market, Bisbee said. The for-sale signs blended into the landscape. The gardens grew scraggly. Showings by agents were fewer and farther between.

Besides that, the owners faced another, perhaps more difficult challenge. Their house, built around 1970, was quite out of character for traditional, conservative Baltimore, one of a kind on a street of stately older mansions.

"It's not your center hall Colonial," Bisbee said. "The whole concept of this house was the serenity garden."

That's exactly what enchanted the Meltzers in 1989. Babette Meltzer wanted to live in the city and Al Meltzer liked the country. The house offered a compromise. It was close to downtown but secluded, with panoramic views from nearly every room of the pond or a garden.


"I thought it was a gorgeous house, nice and quiet and almost rural," said Al Meltzer, president of Control Cable Inc. in Woodlawn, which builds cable assemblies for computers.

"We upped the amount of money we had thought we would spend," he said. "When we bought it, people were easily paying over the asking price for houses. Now, we're another of the victims of the real estate changes between the '80s and '90s, and it's painful."

The one-story brick house had been designed by prominent Baltimore architect Thomas L. Gaudreau for his own family, with 10 rooms and 3 1/2 baths in two wings connected by the atrium. Gaudreau, now living in Queenstown, was a former partner in XTC Gaudreau Inc. Since its founding on North Charles Street in 1932, the architectural firm has become known for designing many local churches, schools and government buildings, including the Loyola College chapel.

Gaudreau built a home with skylights, hardwood floors, sand-plastered walls and two fireplaces. In 1981, his sale of the home made headlines. The $401,000 contract price reportedly was the highest sale price ever for a home in the city.

When the new owners put the property up for sale in 1989, it attracted so much interest from buyers they asked for sealed bids. The Meltzers competed with two other bidders and won. But one of the couples wanted the house so badly they offered the Meltzers $100,000 for the contract.

That increased the value in the Meltzers' eyes. They not only bought the house for $995,000, but they invested another $235,000 in a gourmet kitchen, a lower-level mini-apartment and remodeled bathrooms. The couple would eat breakfast in the atrium, and later installed a hot tub there.


"It was lovely for sitting and reflecting and relaxing and reading," Al Meltzer said.

But after 2 1/2 years, the lure of the water at the couple's Annapolis summer house proved too strong. The Meltzers moved there full-time.

Over the years, the sellers tried everything, switching realty agencies, lowering the asking price from the original $1.2 million and renting the house, once to Shirley MacLaine during the filming of "Guarding Tess."

"Every time I see the house, I see how wonderful the house is and don't know why somebody isn't buying it," Al Meltzer says. "It doesn't fit the mold of the normal house in Baltimore. If I could have lifted the house up and taken it to California, I wouldn't have had problems."

In the past two weeks, the marketing surrounding the auction, scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, has sparked new interest. Auctioneer Paul Cooper said he has shown the house to more than a dozen potential buyers.

"I know I'm not going to get what the house is worth to me," Meltzer said. "I'd like to think with this interest, there's a chance I can get a fair price for the house."


Pub Date: 7/14/96