Vagneur: A monument to speculation
October 5, 2013
Headed home after lunch, one of those "Open House" signs (with attached helium balloons) caught our attention, and my real estate savvy friend said, "Let's take a look." Why not?
Maybe it was force of habit, or just reflex, that I pulled into the parking lot adjacent to the renovated (refurbished, remodeled, rejuvenated — your choice) original farm house, a two-story gem that occupied me for countless hours in my youth.
Tastefully overdone, it didn't really bring back any pressing memories, other than of the people I once knew who walked those hardwood floors. Elementary school sleepovers, matriarchal grandmothers, high school dance parties, ski area developers and later when a rock star owned it, adult pig roasts in the back yard. One of my father's best friends spent the first four decades of his life there.
Through the years, I've become acquainted with a couple of women who were born in that house, older women who still have the Western spirit and spunk one would expect from ranching pioneers. In the 1920s when a fertile 250– to 400-acre ranch might cost $20,000 or $30,000 (and be paid off with a couple of good potato crops), their parents built that house for $750. Truth be known, their mother also made some very excellent Italian brandy, but that's another story.
"You know this isn't the main attraction," said my friend Margaret. Of course, I knew that but still felt foolish for inadvertently pulling into a gravel driveway clearly meant for the help and distant relatives. A nice little horse barn caught our attention, and then it was back into the Jeep, our wheels churning up the road and onto a shiny, eye-hurting, black asphalt driveway.
In a small city, the behemoth that stood before us might be construed to be the new library or city hall, its huge, floor-to-ceiling glass walls loudly advertising faux government efficacy with a weak ode to modernist architectural design. The broad sidewalk curling up to the wide-open front door could only enforce the first impression. An expansive foyer is a nice way to welcome guests, but opulence and ostentatiousness is what greeted us, a hallway so wide and long as to resemble an elementary school gymnasium, only with marble floors. Dare I say it? The house was acutely and totally out of place in its pastoral environment.
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Let's be clear — I'm not mocking real estate agents, or to be politically correct, Realtors, with a mandated capital "R". They work hard and the commissions, although not a lottery winner's dream, are substantial. I played host to many open houses during my college days for my dad, and my aunt, Geri Vagneur, is still remembered for her dogged excellence in the Aspen real estate world. And her great wine parties.
Basically, I don't wonder too hard about the speculators who build such monstrosities — what can you say? — it's the people who buy these awkwardly angled paeans to lavishness who capture my wonderment. On a day-to-day basis, how many bathrooms can you use or bedrooms can you screw in at once? It's a matter of physics, really.
There was a brief period in my 20s when I entertained the notion of having more crayons than the other boys and showing them off, but in the end, the reality of a couple decent horses, some cows to move and the hope of finding a good woman with long, flowing hair was what captured my imagination.
On the way out, one of the broker's minions handed me his card and quietly whispered, "At $26 million, this listing won't last."
"I should hope not," was my reply. "I'll call you."
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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