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Tunnel Vision at an Oceanfront Estate in Florida

November 27th, 2014 admin

  • Price: $29,500,000
  • Location: Manalapan, FL

The owner of this home built a tunnel to the beach and parking for his antique car collection — Sarah Tilton

Leafy Luxury Homes

November 27th, 2014 admin

Karen and John Klopp purchased their 220-acre farm in Amenia, N.Y. in 2002 for $4 million. The keep polo ponies here and love to entertain.

A Camperdown elm is the centerpiece of the bluestone terrace and patio. During a snowstorm last year, the Klopps kept vigil to protect its limbs from the elements.

Karen Klopp, founder of a digital boutique called What2WearWhere, pictured at her home.

Although the couple’s primary address is in Manhattan, where Mr. Klopp is co-CEO of Morgan Stanley Real Estate Investing, they entertain at their upstate home.

Windows in the billiards room look out onto mature trees on the property.

At parties, 50 people can be seated under the Camperdown elm tree’s canopy, which is strung with white lights. ‘We’ve had so many fun times under that tree,’ said Ms. Klopp. ‘I always say if the tree goes, I go. It’s such a symbol of the house.’

A leaf from the Camperdown elm tree.

An oak tree on the Klopp property. Polo ponies are shown in the distance.

The Klopp property.

Mac and Leslie McQuown, pictured, bought a former sheep ranch in Sonoma, Calif., in 1995 for its ancient white oaks, bay trees and buckeyes, some of which have stood there for half a millennium or more.

The old trees inspired the landscaping for a Zen spa and observatory added to the property in 2006. The spa, which doubles as a theater, has floor-to-ceiling windows, a recessed seating area and a central fireplace.

The McQuowns in their Zen spa. Mr. McQuown, 80, is an entrepreneur and winemaker.

A window reading nook and fireplace in the home.

The McQuowns bought 43 130-year-old Sevillano olive trees that were about to be razed. After the Sevillanos were dug up by hand, pruned and wrapped in plastic, 22 tractor-trailers hauled them nearly 300 miles to the McQuown property Today, rows of the olive trees create dramatic walkways between the observatory, lap pool and spa, which has a theater for watching the stars captured by Mr. McQuown’s robotic telescope.

Olives on the McQuown’s trees.

A 500 year-old bay tree stands near the observatory at Stone Edge Farm.

‘I’ve never seen more elegant trees anywhere in the state of California,’ said Mr. McQuown.

The old trees of Maycroft, a historic Victorian-era estate in Sag Harbor, N.Y., became the focus of an epic renovation in 2007. Peter D’Angelo, co-founder of the Caxton Associates hedge fund, paid $20 million for the derelict, 43-acre estate in 2004. Then he decided to move the house 100 yards and rotate it 260 degrees for the best view of the ocean—and of a grand maple tree on the back lawn.

In Washington, D.C., a towering pine in the front yard helped sell Stephanie Johnston on a $3.12 million Georgian-style home at 1801 Foxhall in 2011. ‘We wanted a house that looked like it had been there for a long time, with lots of trees,’ said Ms. Johnston, a 51-year-old homemaker.

The home of Hunter and Stephanie Johnston. Mr. Johnston is a 54-year-old attorney.

The Johnstons were also won over by the four large trees in a developer-designated ‘tree-preservation area’ bordering their property. These set-aside groves can help add a premium of anywhere between $500,000 to $1 million to the average Foxhall lot price, according to sales manager Chris Kopsidas.

Stephanie and Hunter Johnston near their home.

The lush tangle of live oaks, palmettos and pines on a parcel of land on Kiawah Island, S.C., inspired the design of John and Judy Elias’s vacation home there, built in 2003.

The Elias residence nestles into the existing landscape ‘like a duck blind or a tree house,’ Mr. Elias said.

Today their home is valued at $3.1 million, according to the Charleston County Appraiser’s office.

Architect Jim Thomas planned the entire house around a sculptural live oak at the center of the property, building a raised ipe wood courtyard around its thick trunk and designing the upper stories around its twisting branches.

The sculptural live oak tree.

Trees screen the property from the neighbors.

The live oak’s branches come within inches of the house’s upper stories.

Tree-climbing on the property is forbidden: A live oak off the back deck shades an alligator pond.

Brian and Katherine Lucas bought an undeveloped Foxhall lot for $2 million in April and are taking elaborate measures to preserve the sycamores, white pine and spruce trees on their site. Here the couple is shown with their 8-year-old son Evan and their dog Gertie.

‘There have been meetings just about the trees between us and the developer and the arborist,’ said Mr. Lucas, who is 42. During construction, the trees will be fenced off to prevent trucks from compacting the soil and causing irreparable damage to their root systems. Larger trees have been pruned and fertilized ‘to help them with the stress that’s coming with the build,’ said Mr. Lucas.

Here’s how much Karen and

John Klopp

love their Camperdown elm tree: During a snowstorm last winter, the couple braved the polar vortex for a round-the-clock vigil to protect it.

“We were up there on a ladder all night, brushing snow off this tree,” said Ms. Klopp, founder of a digital boutique called What2WearWhere. “It’s our prized possession.”

Karen Klopp, who with her husband, John, purchased their 220-acre farm in Amenia, N.Y., in 2002 for $4 million.
ENLARGE

A Camperdown elm is the centerpiece of their bluestone terrace and patio.
ENLARGE

The elm is the centerpiece of the bluestone terrace and patio at the Klopps’ 220-acre farm in Amenia, N.Y., which they purchased in 2002 for $4 million. Although the couple’s primary address is in Manhattan, where Mr. Klopp is co-CEO of


Morgan Stanley

Real Estate Investing, they keep polo ponies and entertain at their upstate home. At parties, 50 people can be seated under the tree’s canopy, which is strung with white lights. “We’ve had so many fun times under that tree,” said Ms. Klopp. “I always say if the tree goes, I go. It’s such a symbol of the house.”

Like an ocean view or a Park Avenue address, majestic old-growth trees have become invaluable commodities in luxury real estate. Inspired by their sculptural beauty, architects are designing or remodeling entire homes around them. High-end developers—once known for stripping tracts of land to the dirt and planting saplings after construction—are now calling off the bulldozers.

“You can’t go out and buy a 50- or 75-year-old oak tree,” said

Jack Perkins,

vice president of Elm Street Development, a residential developer in Washington, D.C. Elm Street bought an 8½-acre estate near Georgetown to build 1801 Foxhall, a community of 27 multimillion-dollar homes. Before breaking ground on the project, the developer dispatched an arborist to catalog and evaluate every mature spruce, sycamore and poplar tree.

A towering pine in the front yard helped sell

Stephanie Johnston

on a $3.12 million Georgian-style home at Foxhall in 2011. “We wanted a house that looked like it had been there for a long time, with lots of trees,” said Ms. Johnston, a 51-year-old homemaker. She and her husband, Hunter, a 54-year-old attorney, were also won over by the four large trees in a developer-designated “tree-preservation area” bordering their property. These set-aside groves can help add a premium of anywhere between $500,000 to $1 million to the average Foxhall lot price, according to sales manager

Chris Kopsidas.

Brian and

Katherine Lucas,

who bought an undeveloped Foxhall lot for $2 million in April, are taking elaborate measures to preserve the mature trees on their site. “There have been meetings just about the trees between us and the developer and the arborist,” said Mr. Lucas, 42.

During construction, the trees will be fenced off to prevent trucks from compacting the soil and causing irreparable damage to their root systems. Larger trees have been pruned and fertilized “to help them with the stress that’s coming with the build,” Mr. Lucas said. “It’s been a lot of extra work, extra time and resources,” said Ms. Lucas, a 41-year-old homemaker with twins on the way.

That investment will pay off in market value, according to

Wes Kocher,

a spokesman for the International Society of Arboriculture, a nonprofit group that certifies arborists. “Homes with mature trees and well-landscaped yards can sell for as much as 20% over homes without those features,” he said.

A 2010 study by the U.S. Forest Service conducted in Portland, Ore., found that the presence of a single “street tree” in front of the home added over $7,000 to its sale price. The street-tree effect spilled over to neighboring houses, increasing property values as well as helping the homes sell faster.

“If you have a valuable house with a large tree, it’s going to have value in tens of thousands of dollars, which suggests it would be worth considerable expense to work around it,” said

Geoffrey Donovan,

the Forest Service research economist who conducted the study.

Homeowners with a hankering for big trees can buy and transplant them for up to $50,000, according to New York landscape designer

Edmund Hollander.

But a tree more than 12 feet around—an old oak, for example—can’t be transported on highways or over bridges, making the most spectacular trees unobtainable.

The old trees of Maycroft, a historic Victorian-era estate in Sag Harbor, N.Y., became the focus of an epic renovation in 2007 that Mr. Hollander helped design.

Peter D’Angelo,

co-founder of the Caxton Associates hedge fund, paid $20 million for the derelict, 43-acre estate in 2004. Then he decided to move the house 100 yards and rotate it 260 degrees for the best view of the ocean—and of a grand maple tree on the back lawn.

“The architect and I were literally up in the house while it was moving so we could get that tree in the right spot,” said Mr. D’Angelo, 67, describing how the house was dug out and set atop large sets of wheels, “like the landing gear on a 747.” “It’s moving about a mile an hour, literally creeping. We’d say ‘Stop,’ and check the view from all the windows, and then say ‘OK, 2 more feet’ until we got to the right spot.”

The trees on a parcel of land on Kiawah Island, S.C., inspired the design of John and Judy Elias’s vacation home.
ENLARGE

On Kiawah Island, S.C., the lush tangle of live oaks, palmettos and pines on a parcel of land inspired the design of John and

Judy Elias

’s vacation home there, built in 2003.

“It’s like a duck blind or a tree house,” said Mr. Elias, a retired energy executive in his 70s who lives in Houston. Architect

Jim Thomas

planned the entire house around a sculptural live oak at the center of the property, building a raised ipe wood courtyard around its thick trunk and designing the upper stories around its twisting branches. Today the home is valued at $3.1 million, according to the Charleston County Appraiser’s office. Tree-climbing on the property, however, is forbidden: A live oak off the back deck shades an alligator pond.

Mac and

Leslie McQuown

bought a former sheep ranch in Sonoma, Calif., in 1995 for its ancient white oaks and bay trees. “I’ve never seen more elegant trees anywhere in the state of California,” said Mr. McQuown, 80, an entrepreneur and winemaker.

The old trees inspired the landscaping for a Zen spa and observatory added to the property in 2006, said

Andrea Cochran,

their landscape designer. To complement the character and antiquity of the white oaks and bays, the McQuowns bought 43 130-year-old Sevillano olive trees that were about to be razed. After the Sevillanos were dug up by hand, pruned and wrapped in plastic, 22 tractor-trailers hauled them nearly 300 miles to the McQuown property, called Stone Edge Farm.

Mr. McQuown said that he paid about $2,200 for each tree. Now, a single old olive tree in pristine condition can cost as much $5,000 to buy and transplant—or $7,000 if it’s traveling out of state, said

Troy Heathcote

of Heritage Olive Trees, which handled the McQuowns’ project.

Today, rows of the olive trees with burled trunks and silvery leaves create dramatic walkways between the observatory, lap pool and spa, which has a theater for watching the stars captured by Mr. McQuown’s robotic telescope.

“Everybody mentions the trees,” said Ms. McQuown. “When I see these new little baby things planted, it’s kind of sad. It takes a hundred years to grow into anything.”

MLB’s David Wells Lists Two in San Diego

November 27th, 2014 admin

David Wells, the former Major League Baseball southpaw, is selling two homes in San Diego, Calif. for a combined price of almost $16 million. This more than 12,400-square-foot Mediterranean-style home is shown from above.

This is Mr. Well’s primary home, where he lives with his wife Nina Wells, a real-estate agent for Keller Williams-Carmel Valley that is listing the homes.

Mr. Wells, who grew up in nearby Ocean Beach, said he bought the home while playing for the San Diego Padres.

Another view of the interior.

A dining area in the home.

The seven-bedroom home was built in the early 1990s.

The home includes a Hard Rock Café-themed “man cave” with Mr. Wells’s guitar and music memorabilia collection.

The couple put about $4.5 million into renovating the home, said Ms. Wells. The home listed in May for roughly $8 million.

The second home for sale, a Tuscan-style, 9,670-square-foot mansion overlooking the coastline, listed for $7.699 million in October.

The 3.8-acre property has six bedrooms and seven bathrooms.

A dining area is shown.

The home includes a home theater, billiard room, workshop and a detached guesthouse.

The couple said they were attracted to the site for the expansive views of the Pacific coastline.

The home was completed around 2008 at a cost of nearly $5 million, Ms. Wells said. They plan to the keep whichever home that does not sell, she said.

David Wells,

the former Major League Baseball southpaw pitcher, has a real-estate double header: two San Diego mansions asking a total of almost $16 million.

Both located in the Rancho Santa Fe area, the listings include an approximately 9,670-square-foot house on 3.8 acres overlooking the South San Diego coastline. Listed in October for $7.699 million, the Tuscan-style home has six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a home theater, billiards room, workshop and a detached guesthouse. Mr. Wells bought the property through a limited-liability company for $2.85 million in 2005, according to public records. The home was built around 2008 at a cost of nearly $5 million, said

Nina Wells,

who is Mr. Wells’s wife and the listing agent of both homes.

An agent with Keller Williams-Carmel Valley, Ms. Wells said the property was bought as an investment. It has been rented over the years for up to $25,000 a month.

The second home for sale, an over 12,400-square-foot Mediterranean-style house currently used as the couple’s primary home, was put on the market in May for roughly $8 million. Mr. Wells bought the home for about $4.3 million in 2004, according to public records. The couple put about $4.5 million into renovating the home, which was built in the early 1990s, said Ms. Wells. She added that the couple plans to keep whichever home that doesn’t sell first.

Mr. Wells, who grew up in nearby Ocean Beach, said he bought the second home while playing for the San Diego Padres. The seven-bedroom, 10-bath home includes a Hard Rock Café-themed “man cave” with Mr. Wells’s guitar and music memorabilia collection.

The music memorabilia isn’t for sale—“Hell, no,” Mr. Wells said—but when asked if he would sign a baseball jersey for the buyer, he assented. “Damn straight,” he replied.

Mr. Wells, 51, played for nine Major League teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, with whom he pitched a perfect game in 1998. He played his last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007.

A National Park in Your Backyard

November 27th, 2014 admin

Surrounded by New Mexico’s Valles Caldera National Preserve, this 3,065-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath home on 29 acres uses energy-efficient straw-bale construction.
ENLARGE

$1.9 Million

Jemez Springs, N.M.

Surrounded by New Mexico’s Valles Caldera National Preserve, west of Santa Fe, this 3,065-square-foot, two-bedroom, two bath home on 29 acres uses energy-efficient straw-bale construction. There’s also an extra studio and guesthouse. The price includes an additional 13 acres of nearby land containing a field of volcano-formed spires called Cathedrals Canyon.

Agent:

Chris Webster,

Sotheby’s International Realty Santa Fe

This home near Mount Hood National Forest includes a 77-foot-long glass window that stretches as high as 14 feet.
ENLARGE

$2.25 Million

Mount Hood, Ore.

This 4,893-square-foot, three-bedroom, 2½-bath home, perched near Mount Hood National Forest, includes a 77-foot-long glass window that stretches as high as 14 feet. Inside, the home has radiant heating and acid-etched stained concrete floors. It comes with 49 acres, including 17 acres of irrigated pastureland, and a six-stall barn, adjacent to government land.

Agent:

Ron Davis,

Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty

Next to Acadia National Park, this home was inspired by Asian architecture.
ENLARGE

$2.35 Million

Mount Desert, Maine

On 2.9 acres next to Acadia National Park, this 1,458-square-foot home, inspired by Asian architecture, has three bedrooms and three baths. The interior, both rustic and modern, includes cork floors, beams made of rough-hewed cedar, beadboard wainscoting and granite mined from the site. Looking out to the fiord by the Somes Sound, it includes 400 feet of deep waterfront.

Agent:

Story Litchfield,

LandVest Luxury Real Estate

New York Office Towers Pop Up Despite Sluggish Market

November 27th, 2014 admin

Brookfield is building a tower west of Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.
ENLARGE

NEW YORK—Real-estate developers are piling into the nation’s largest office market at the fastest rate in at least two decades despite sluggish demand for space, a gamble that tenants will favor gleaming new skyscrapers over the hundreds already dotting the New York skyline.

Landlords including Related Cos., World Trade Center developer


Larry Silverstein

and


Brookfield Property Partners

LP are pushing ahead with big projects, including three office buildings roughly the size of the Empire State Building and a midtown tower set to rise 264 feet taller than the 1931-built icon.

In all, more than 14.1 million square feet of office space is projected to be built in Manhattan by 2019, according to research firm


CoStar Group
Inc.,

the most over a five-year period since at least the early 1990s.

But demand is slack. Occupancy of Manhattan office space increased by 4.8 million square feet in the four years ended in September, according to CoStar, compared with the 28 million square feet gain in the four years ended in 2007, the last major expansion in the Manhattan office market. Vacancy stood at 8.1% at the end of the third quarter, compared with 5.4% in 2007.

The potential gap between supply and demand raises concerns about overbuilding, analysts said. Few believe the market will be overwhelmed by a glut of space. But if the economy sours and job growth dries up, the developers and their investors could be forced to cut asking rents or be left with mostly empty buildings.

“If we lose the demand driver, then they’ve got a problem,” said

Walter Page,

director of office research at CoStar.

A rendering of One Vanderbilt, being built across from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan by S.L. Green
ENLARGE

A rendering of 3 World Trade Center, for which developer Larry Silverstein has secured financing.
ENLARGE

A rendering of Related Cos.’ planned Hudson Yards development, which will include a 2.6 million-square-foot tower in which Time Warner is slated to be a major tenant.
ENLARGE

Construction is booming in a handful of other U.S. markets as well, particularly those tied to the energy and technology sectors. In California, the Silicon Valley and San Francisco areas have a large set of new towers and office parks under way. Growth in the energy sector has led cranes to pop up throughout Houston.

But those regions also have stronger growth in office occupancy than New York is seeing. Houston’s occupancy has jumped by more than 5 million square feet just since the start of the year, while occupancy in the San Francisco area—a market 30% the size of Manhattan—grew by 2.4 million square feet in the same period.

Manhattan, meanwhile, is seeing relatively slow growth in occupancy this year, 2.6 million square feet through the third quarter, continuing a yearslong trend as the biggest banks continue to shrink. While the financial sector in the past has filled up new towers, developers today are counting on media, advertising and technology firms.

Office development is a high-risk, high-reward sport. History is filled with booms and busts, in part because developers and financiers often are eager to break ground when times are flush, only to see the economy turn by the time the towers are completed two or three years later.

New York experienced a big bust in the early 1990s after developers added tens of millions of square feet in the 1980s, making many lenders reluctant ever since to finance towers that don’t have tenants already signed up for much of the space.

Yet developers say that despite the worrying signs, the odds now remain stacked in their favor.

While construction has been brisk, they point out, the buildings slated for completion in the next five years represent less than 3% of the total 550 million square feet in Manhattan, far lower than comparable ratios in the 1970s and 1980s.

What’s more, they say, tenants often prefer newer office buildings to old, so even if the economy slows, there are plenty of employers to lure from the half-century old skyscrapers that fill Midtown Manhattan.

While a recession would be problematic, “if we have normal and slow growth, [builders will] be fine,” said Mr. Page of CoStar.


ENLARGE


S.L. Green Realty
Corp.

, the city’s largest office landlord and a publicly traded company, last week announced it signed a 200,000-square-foot lease with its first tenant for its planned 1.6 million-square-foot One Vanderbilt tower. The building, across the street from Grand Central Terminal, is slated to rise 1,514 feet, compared with the nearby Empire State Building’s 1,250 feet.

S.L. Green Chief Executive

Marc Holliday,

who hopes to complete the building by 2020, said he was confident the building would fill up in good times or bad, as tenants are drawn to modern office space.

“Obviously any bad market where the job growth slows or stops … is going to negatively affect the economy and it would negatively affect real estate,” he said. “But having the right product in the right location is the ultimate protection for someone like us.”

Others lining up include Mr. Silverstein, who has built two office towers downtown in the past 10 years and last month secured the $1.6 billion in financing needed to build 3 World Trade Center, a 2.5 million-square-foot tower that is about 20% leased.

Brookfield, one of the country’s largest office-space owners, is planning a 2 million-square-foot tower west of Pennsylvania Station. The company, which also is publicly listed, signed a term sheet with law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP last month for a chunk of the tower. If the deal is completed, Brookfield will likely move ahead with the building.

One block to the west, Related Cos., the city’s most active developer, is mostly finished with a 1.7 million-square-foot tower for


Coach
Inc.

and


L’Oréal

and is moving ahead with a 2.6 million-square-foot tower, where


Time Warner
Inc.

plans to occupy at least 1 million square feet. Related is planning to start a third tower, with 1.3 million square feet, early next year, although it hasn’t announced a tenant.

Longer term, developers face a troubling trend. Many employers are packing more employees in less space—a plus for the corporate bottom line, but a point of frustration for landlords looking to fill buildings.

Corporate law firm Paul Hastings LLP, for instance, plans to grow even as it shrinks. The company has about 250 lawyers in its current office, but just leased a space that is 25% smaller even though it is making room to fit 350 lawyers.

The secret, said

Barry Brooks,

the firm’s partner who oversees the New York office: smaller private offices, a law library with far fewer books and a records department 15% of its former size, thanks to more computers.

“We’re growing and we’re bullish about our future,” Mr. Brooks said, adding that the firm’s lawyers just “don’t need stuff on the bookshelf anymore.”

Write to Eliot Brown at eliot.brown@wsj.com

A Timeless New York Mansion

November 26th, 2014 admin

  • Price: $19,900,000
  • Location: Chappaqua, NY

This Westchester County mansion was built about a decade ago to look like a historical home, but has modern amenities and cozy spaces throughout.—Erin McCarthy

Going to Battle for a Piece of History

November 26th, 2014 admin

The Maurers’ 220-year-old mansion in Fredericksburg, Va. The facade of the original 1790s house, with a 1905 addition to the right. The home faced heavy Confederate fire during the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, when it served as a Union hospital.

The foyer has doorways on both ends, making for an effective breezeway in summer.

The library.

The grandest room in the house is the former ballroom, now the living room, which still bears the scar of a Civil War shell. Beneath the carpet are what are believed to be bloodstains, evidence of the room’s use by wounded troops. Photographer Francis Benjamin Johnston captured the same scene circa 1927.

Damage from artillery fire in the ballroom.

The dining room, noted for its Adamesque detail—referring to the Scottish brothers Robert and James Adam, influential architects of the 18th century.

The Maurers removed a stairway to make room for this elevator in the 1905 addition to the house.

The new kitchen features soapstone counters, cork floors and a library ladder that slides on an overhead rail.

The sunroom, just off the kitchen, is a modern addition.

Charles Patrick, left, and John Edward, practicing music in the ballroom.

The Maurers installed an infinity pool just below the house. The deck is scabos travertine.

The old smoke house that serves as a changing room had to be moved by crane for the pool’s construction, then replaced the same way.

An octagonal gazebo is an early feature of the estate. The Maurers refer to it as the guesthouse.

The Maurers in their kitchen. From left, Charles Patrick, 14, John Edward, 12, Bridgette, 16, and parents, Charles and Stephanie.

This wartime photo of the Fredericksburg battlefield—one of the better-known Civil War images—was taken from what today is the Maurers’ driveway.

For Charles and Stephanie Maurer, the Civil War isn’t just a part of America’s history. It’s also part of their living room: There is a wartime shell hole in an interior wall and what are believed to be bloodstains on the floorboards.

The Maurers are the owners of a 220-year-old mansion in Fredericksburg, Va. Union troops occupied the house, known as Federal Hill, during the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, using it as a hospital, among other things. Sitting squarely in the field of Confederate fire, it was riddled with bullets and cannon balls, many not removed until a 20th-century renovation.

The dining room of the 220-year-old Maurer mansion, called Federal Hill, in Fredericksburg, Va.
ENLARGE

Charles Patrick, 14, John Edward, 12, Bridgette, 16, and parents Charles and Stephanie Maurer, left to right, in the new kitchen addition of their home.
ENLARGE

The Maurers never intended to buy such a big part of history. The family moved to Fredericksburg from New York state in 2000 so that Charles, an oncologist, could join a local practice. With their three children, they lived initially in a nearby subdivision while searching for a permanent home. “We were looking for an older place with a bit of land to it,” says Ms. Maurer.

What they ended up buying was a home that Virginia landmark officials called “an uncommonly grand and remarkably well-preserved specimen of a late-18th-century Tidewater Virginia country house” when they nominated it for the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

The couple came across Federal Hill in a newspaper ad. It had changed hands more than a dozen times before it was purchased in 1946 by the Lanier family, pillars of the community whose midcentury renovations saved the deteriorating house. Matriarch Elizabeth Lanier died in 1996, asking in her will for “the perpetuity of Federal Hill.”

By the turn of this century, Federal Hill was under the control of executors struggling to fulfill her wishes. In 2004, the Maurers bid $1 million for the home, with a hint of misgiving.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” Dr. Maurer says he asked his wife at the time.

Her answer: “They could accept.”

For legal and logistical reasons it took a year to close and another two years to move in. As a historic property (listed on the National and the Virginia Landmarks registers), it is covered by easements that govern renovations, particularly on the original part of the house—a mix of Georgian and Federal styles. The Maurers were freer to change a 1905 wing, which gives way to the kitchen and sunroom additions they made—all telescoping from south end of the original house.

One of the Maurers’ first steps was to strip the paint off the main structure’s beaded weatherboards, happily finding that the 210-year-old tulip poplar underneath was in pristine condition. Inside, the original structure features details such as the handcrafted, punch-and-dentil molding in the dining room and the flute-and-rosette cornice in the parlor.

The ballroom of the Maurers’ home still has evidence of shelling and bloodshed from the Civil War.
ENLARGE

While meticulously preserving the historical integrity of the main house, the Maurers made substantial changes to the newer additions, replacing a back stairway with an elevator and otherwise making the spaces fully wheelchair-accessible (for their later years).

A hallway off the dining room leads from the era of James Madison to the world of Sub-Zero: an enormous modern kitchen with soapstone counters, cork floors and a library ladder (Ms. Maurer’s idea) that slides along an overhead rail to give access to ceiling-level storage. The kitchen opens into a sunroom with full-length windows on three sides.

“It’s a great place to be when it’s snowing,” says Ms. Maurer.

The renovations to the house were extensive, although the reputed bloodstains are still visible. Tidewater Preservation, known for restoring a number of historic buildings in the eastern U.S., conducted the project. Today, the home is about 7,000 square feet, with six bedrooms and 4¼ baths.

Tidewater also landscaped Federal Hill’s 2.2-acre grounds, restoring an early gazebo, building a formal English garden with walkways of handmade brick and reviving an original “propagation shed” (where seedlings pass the winter before planting).

The foyer of the restored 7,000-square-foot Maurer home.
ENLARGE

The idea, says Dr. Maurer, is to “fuse the house and property in such a way that hopefully enhances the home’s entire beauty and functionality.”

In a departure from the wainscoted elegance of the house, the Maurers have installed an infinity pool, surrounding it with a deck of scabos travertine Ms. Maurer chose after walking barefoot on every sample her provider had in stock.

The changing room is a converted 18th-century smoke house, which retains its original hand-wrought hardware. The four-ton structure had to be crane-lifted from its original site until the pool was completed, then returned. When all is finished, the Maurers estimate they will have spent $4.7 million, purchase included.

In a whimsical nod to posterity, the Maurers placed a selection of 21st-century artifacts inside recently opened walls and floors for a future renovator to discover: a DVD player in one spot, Chuck E. Cheese’s tokens in another.

Says Dr. Maurer: “At the end of the day you’re really just passing through, overseeing the house until the next owners take over.”

Investor Group Gets Behind Big San Francisco Development

November 26th, 2014 admin

The Parkmerced in San Francisco, once owned by Leona Helmsley, was built to house returning servicemen.
ENLARGE

A group of New York investors has bought the majority interest in San Francisco’s Parkmerced from private-equity firms


Fortress Investment Group

and Rockpoint Group LLC in a deal that values the sprawling housing development at more than $1.35 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

The purchase, made by a group led by New York developer Mark Karasick, comes as the 152-acre rental complex on San Francisco’s west side has cleared the final legal hurdles on a plan for a multidecade expansion and upgrade. The work will increase the number of units to 8,900 from 3,221.

The deal underscores the sharp rise in values of residential property in the Bay area. It also marks the latest chapter in the history of the well-known Parkmerced complex, which has been coveted by numerous investors over the decades, including

Harry Helmsley

and a predecessor to


J.P. Morgan Chase

& Co.

“The Parkmerced is a rare bird,” said

Douglas Harmon,

who led a group at Eastdil Secured that brokered the deal. “It’s hard to get your arms around a piece of real estate like this in any city, much less San Francisco.”

In the latest transaction, Mr. Karasick’s group invested close to $200 million for more than a 70% stake in Parkmerced Investors, the entity that owns the complex, one person said. Mr. Karasick is a principal of the 601W Cos., the New York-based owner of such properties as the Prudential Plaza in Chicago, the U.S. Steel Building in Pittsburgh and Town Center in Southfield, Mich.

Also as part of the deal, a new $450 million first mortgage originated by Ladder Capital was put on the property, and the Children’s Investment Fund provided about $775 million of mezzanine debt, people familiar with the matter said.

P.J. Johnston,

a spokesman for Parkmerced Investors, confirmed the company had been recapitalized but declined to provide details about the new owners or how the deal was structured. He said the deal was led by

Robert Rosania,

who has been an investor in the property since 2005 and will continue as an owner and its managing partner.

The complex, a mix of garden-style and midrise apartment buildings, was built by


Metropolitan Life

in the 1940s on a former military base as middle-class housing for returning servicemen. Harry Helmsley purchased it from Met Life for $40 million in 1970.

Mr. Helmsley

’s widow, Leona Helmsley, sold the property in 1999 to a venture of J.P. Morgan Strategic Property Fund and Carmel Cos. for about $300 million.

That venture sold Parkmerced in 2005 to Rockpoint and Mr. Rosania’s company at the time, Stellar Management, in a deal that valued the property at $700 million. But Parkmerced faced problems during the downturn, with a $600 million debt burden.

In a 2010 recapitalization, Fortress purchased its 75% stake for roughly $175 million. Rockpoint and Mr. Rosania’s new company, Maximus Real Estate, held on to the other 25% in the deal, which valued Parkmerced at about $750 million, including debt, according to people familiar with the matter.

Since then, home prices in the San Francisco area have steadily climbed. In September, home prices in the city were 65% above the post-crash low they hit in March 2009, but still 11% below the record high hit in May 2006, according to S&P/Case-Shiller.

According to people familiar with the recent recapitalization, Fortress walked away from the latest deal with about $375 million—a $200 million profit on its $175 million investment after four years.

Rockpoint also made money. Its initial equity investment was about $130 million and, through a series of recapitalizations, Rockpoint roughly doubled its money over the nine years it was involved with the Parkmerced, people said.

The city of San Francisco approved an expansion plan for the Parkmerced in 2011 that included new streets, public amenities and replacing about 1,500 of the existing units with higher-density housing and upgrading the others. Earlier this month, California’s Supreme Court gave the final green light to the project by declining to review a lower court’s ruling.

Ground on the first phase is expected to be broken in early 2016.

“The west side of San Francisco has seen virtually no growth since World War II,” said Mr. Johnston, the spokesman. “This part of the city is long overdue for some added density.”

Write to Peter Grant at peter.grant@wsj.com

In Kansas City, It’s the Rise of the Underground

November 26th, 2014 admin

SubTropolis, in Kansas City, Mo., is the largest underground industrial space in the U.S. at more than 21.8 million square feet.
ENLARGE

It is easy to underestimate the size of the Kansas City, Mo., industrial real-estate market. That’s because a big chunk of it is hidden from sight—underground.

Occupying more than 21.8 million square feet, Kansas City’s industrial underground space—80 to 150 feet deep, in former limestone mines—is the largest in the U.S., comprising more than 7% of the metropolitan area’s total industrial area.

And demand for the space is growing, buoyed by resurgent manufacturing and expanding distribution centers seeking low-cost real estate requiring less energy to operate.

Next week, FoodServiceWarehouse.com, a restaurant-equipment supply company, will be moving into 475,000 square feet of space that sits more than 100 feet below the surface in a facility called SubTropolis, the largest underground industrial space in the U.S. Signed in May, FoodServiceWarehouse’s lease was the largest by square feet—above or below ground—in all of Kansas City last quarter and the second-largest this year, according to real-estate data firm


CoStar Group
Inc.

“It’s kind of what we call an underground city,” says

Ora Reynolds,

president of SubTropolis owner Hunt Midwest Real Estate Development. SubTropolis has 8.2 miles of paved roads, 2.1 miles of railroad tracks, more than 500 truck docks, 1,600 parking spaces and 50 million square feet of space below ground. Its 6 million square feet of leasable space is fully occupied by 55 companies and their 1,600 employees.

Kansas City’s conversion of old mines in the 1960s into usable industrial space represents the commercial-real-estate version of turning lemons into lemonade. Mining companies in the earlier part of the 20th century dug under layers of soil and shale for its abundant, 270-million-year-old deposits of limestone, leaving behind about 80 million square feet of space.

While the area experiences as much as 100-degree fluctuations between summer and winter, the underground offers a near-constant 65 degrees all year, according to broker Cassidy Turley’s

Whitney Kerr.

The government was among the first and largest tenants, with those cool, dry conditions helping keep food from rotting and paper records from being damaged.

Constant temperatures means little need for heating and air conditioning. Those factors and lower tax rates have meant lower operating costs and lower rents. That has offered Kansas City’s considerable industrial base, which includes large agricultural companies and two automobile factories—operated by


General Motors
Co.

and


Ford Motor
Co.

—an alternative, low-cost storage space, according to Mr. Kerr.

While the cost of leasing underground space has long been lower than aboveground space, the gap is narrowing. According to CoStar, the cost of aboveground industrial space in metropolitan Kansas City fell 1.7%, to an average of $3.99 a square foot in the 12-month period that ended in September. Underground space, meanwhile, rose 5% to $3.43. CoStar notes that underground vacancy rates have fallen three times faster than aboveground during the same time period.

“You’d think it was a kind of primitive operation down underground, but it’s proven quite resilient and adaptable to changing times,” says Mr. Kerr of Cassidy Turley. According to Ms. Kerr, owners of underground space have begun upgrading their properties with more lights, modern ventilation and, increasingly, amenities geared toward luring technology-focused companies in need of computer storage and distribution space.

Longtime tenants such as government agencies and agricultural and pharmaceutical firms have found the cool, constant temperatures help provide useful places to store files, surplus crops and vaccines. But underground tenants increasingly include light manufacturers and e-commerce companies.

Demand has been so strong that both SubTropolis and competitor Meritex Enterprises Inc. are building additional space. After adding 1 million square feet of new space in the past year, SubTropolis plans to build another 750,000 square feet in the coming year. Meritex plans to add 80,000 square feet of speculative space by early next year. The company already has 2.4 million square feet of underground space.

Among Meritex’s underground tenants is Priority Envelope, which employs 35 workers who print and manufacture envelopes. The company, which moved there in 2006, has no plans to move above the surface anytime soon. “We’ll expand next year,” says that company’s president,

Ryan Wenning.

“It’s just a matter of pouring concrete and building a wall. They paint the exposed rock white. It’s a very fast process.”

Write to us at DWEEK@WSJ.com

Historic Estate in Southern Virginia

November 25th, 2014 admin

  • Price: $5,490,000
  • Location: Brookneal, VA

This former plantation home on the Staunton River, owned by one family for more than a century, combines southern flair and European culture. — Cecilie Rohwedder