'Row mansion' in Little Italy proving to be a very tough sell

IT COULD HAVE BEEN A GREAT FIT — It could have been a great fit - Baltimore's priciest, most over-the-top rowhouse and a Dundalk postal worker suddenly worth $76 million courtesy of Mega Millions.

Could have been.


Bernadette Gietka, who won the multistate lottery in June, decided not to buy the Little Italy palazzo of John and Angelina Guerriero, one of the most unusual places in town. Seems she didn't want to live in the heart of the city, after all.

Other prospects, including restaurateur Tony Gambino, also passed on it. And so the long search has apparently stalled even as the Guerrieros continue looking for someone to buy their posh home in the middle of the 200 block of S. Exeter St.


In a counterintuitive move, they have raised the asking price from a low of $3.2 million to $4.2 million. It was already by far the city's most expensive residence for sale.

If upping the price seems a surefire way to keep a house they love, they argue otherwise. John Guerriero, who built Continental Foods into a $100 million company before selling it, says the right person will not mind paying more for a unique property.

The house, built by the Guerrieros in 1991, has 6,440 square feet, a 40-foot indoor pool, a large gym, a six-car garage, a deck, a terrace, a slew of skylights and a patch of grass on the roof so a small dog need not be walked all the time. And the couple wants to sell it furnished.

Finding a buyer

The uniqueness, not to mention the price, has made it a challenge to sell. It has been on the market since September 2002.

"It's a tough job for a Realtor when you're dealing with such an exclusive property as this," said Rita Cook, the Guerrieros' Annapolis-based agent. "Usually it is on the market longer due to that reason alone."

Cook has sought to interest Ravens and Orioles players. She even signed on as an extra in the John Travolta film Ladder 49 to pass her business card to cast and crew.

Yet the most promising lead came from Gietka, not long after the Mega Millions jackpot vaulted her into the upper echelons of Baltimore's wealthy. Gietka, 55, toured the house during the summer after an article was published in The Sun. Then, the price was $3.5 million, an amount she could have paid in cash.


"We looked at it and decided against it," said her brother, Jerry Gietka. "It was very impressive; it was a fantastic place. It was just not what we were looking for."

For one thing, he said last week, it came too soon after his sister's good fortune. For another, she decided that city life did not suit her right now.

Gambino, the owner of nearby Ciao Bella restaurant at 236 S. High St., briefly considered trying to buy the house with other investors.

"It was a fantasy idea," he said. "My God, having a castle in Little Italy right around the corner from my restaurant! When I came out of my fantasy, the reality of it was it wouldn't make sense."

Gambino sees an upside to the house's not selling. The Guerrieros are involved in Little Italy, and he wants them to stay put. "They're fantastic people," he said. "I'm glad they're not leaving."

The couple never planned to go far. The house had begun to feel too big for two, so they cast an eye on the Spinnaker Bay luxury condominiums being built by the Bozzuto Group a few blocks away.


Then they calculated that the larger of two penthouses - quite spacious at 3,900 square feet, if not as big as their home - would cost $3 million to buy and outfit, but with fewer amenities than they have now. So they put the price tag for their house back at its original level of $4.2 million.

Happy to wait

"I've got something very unique here," said John Guerriero, who at 72 makes daily trips to the second-floor gym. "It's so unique here, you couldn't replace this with more money than I'm asking."

Not that he wouldn't take the $4.2 million. He would. And he would still like to end up at Spinnaker Bay someday.

"I think there is somebody out there," he said. "If not, we'll sit tight."