Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Air of Decay

Rodin once said, “More beautiful than a beautiful thing is the ruin of a beautiful thing.” While I'm not sure I agree with him, I've always had, for lack of a better term, a fascination with houses that have been allowed to fall into ruin. Literature and pop culture are full of examples: Satis House, the home of Miss Haversham in Dickens "Great Expectations", lies in ruin, the clocks stopped at the moment the owner learns of her would-be husband's betrayal. Scarlet's Tara is in shambles during the time of the Civil War in "Gone With the Wind."  In Anne Rice's Mayfair witches series, some of the main characters call Fontevrault, a decaying plantation  house half submerged in the Louisiana swamp, home. More recently, we've been made aware of a real life ruin in the Hamptons--Grey Gardens, a once (and once again) grand seaside house that fell into complete ruin as the eccentric Edith and Edie Beale lived there.

There are some incredible decaying estates worth noting right now. Tied up in divorces, allowed to fall into neglect because of their owner's falls from glory, or simply too large and expensive to find new owners, each of these houses have a story to tell:

Land's End, The Hamptons, NY

It's a bit unfair to include this house, because it was recently razed. Thought to be the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan's house in The Great Gatsby, Land's End was a 25,000 square foot mansion that was most recently owned by a family that paid over $17 million for it. Daunted by the renovations needed to bring the house up to date, the last owner's heirs had the house on the market for years with  no takers. It fell into shambles, and in the spring of 2011, was torn down, it's grounds will be the location for what some are calling "McMansions."

In this photo from a 1970's real estate listing, the original grandeur is evident.

This photo of the dining room, from the same 1970's listing, shows the gracious size of Lands End's rooms, and the sort of detail it once had. Gorgeous parquet work!

But time was unkind. Here, the rear of the house has fallen into ruin. Looks like half the windows are gone.

The last owner was quoted as saying Land's End cost $4,500 A DAY to maintain. Might explain why they obviously were NOT maintaining it.

The interior was even worse.

And finally, she was gone. There's something beautiful about the ghosts of her massive chimneys.

Sunninghill Park--the former home of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson

When Britain's Prince Andrew married Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson, the couple made their home in a newly built mansion that the popular press dubbed "SouthYork"--a play on "Southfork" of the then-popular nighttime soap "Dallas", a nickname it earned by looking like any American mansion from the 1980's. It's an architecturally uninspiring home, large but with no particular style.

An aerial shot of Sunninghill Park as construction neared completion.

After Andrew and Fergie divorced, the  house remained the official residence of the Duke of York until 2004. The house was sold, for substantially more than the asking price, in 2007 to new owners with ties to the president of Kazakhstan. The transaction has been seen as money laundering, bribery, and worse. Whatever the case is, the new owners clearly did not purchase Sunningill Park to use as a home, because it has fallen into a state of decay. (For more photos, visit the Facebook page created by some architectural trespassers!)

Recent photo of the overgrown gardens and neglected mansion.

The front of the house doesn't look any better. The prescence of the dumpster makes me wonder if someone is cleaning the place up.
More "deferred maintenance" is evident on this corner of the mansion. I wonder what that strange enclosd space that looks like a better living patio room is?

Former Estate of Mike Tyson, Southington, Ohio

And now, the former estate of boxer, biter, and alleged wife-beater Mike Tyson. His personal and professional lives have played out in the national spotlight, so hardly bear repeating here. It's little wonder that there have been no takers for the enormous house he used to call home in Southington, Ohio. The house is a favorite of "urban explorers", and there are a ton more photos of this monstrosity out there. Check out this Flickr stream for more. Those with delicate decorative sensibilities may want to take a nerve pill before laying eyes on the following photos:

Subtle and elegant entrance, no?

It's like the inside of a DEB shop from 1982!

Looks like the poolboy quit.

Acres of bleached oak, and zebra carpet. This house is Klassy with a K, friends.

White wall-to-wall, curly-q railing, and off in the distance a lava rock veneered wall. I just can't fathom why this house can't find an owner.

Khalil Bin-Laden Estate near Orlando, Florida

Despite having been owned by the brother of the notorius, now-dead terrorist, this 9,700 square foot mansion, on 17 acres outside of Orlando, has a lot of potential. It has sat vacant since 2001 (when, shock of shocks,  the previous owners left the United States) and ten years of neglect have made the house a bit of a diamond in the rough:

Traditional Florida Meditteranean architecture. The house is now full of bullet holes, and the boarded up windows reveal years of vandalism.

The large grounds are evident at left. At right, could that great room not be drop-dead gorgeous? That ceiling is dee-lish. And the arched windows? Yes, please!

Another disgusting pool, but a little imagination, and a lot of bleach could turn that into a backyard oasis. Gorgeous covered lanai on the right.

Which of these neglected ruins would you most like to bring back to glory? My money is on the Bin Laden estate. I'm not sure Iron Mike's manse ever had a heyday, and Fergie's old pile is awfully boring.

I'm linking  this backward metamporphosis to the Met Monday party at Between Naps on the Porch! Click over there to see some more impressive before-and-afters.


  1. Oh my, how sad!!! That last one could really be something! And how awful that the first one got torn down.

  2. I know! It was a gorgeous estate and could have been again. I hope the Florida estate gets a new life.

  3. Oh goodness, I can't believe how terrible these places look sad.

    Visiting from Metamorphosis Monday

  4. Wow! Unbelievable houses and states of disrepair! Stopping by from BTNOTP

  5. This is proof of what my mother always told me, "Having money doesn't mean having taste." Enough said......

  6. Thank you all for stopping by! And Janette, I think sometimes money lets bad taste run wild!

  7. Seeing pics of once gorgeous homes now in ruins is a bit saddening. Great info in this post though. Thanks, visiting from the blog hop.

  8. Very sad for the first house. Classic grand old houses are disappearing fast.

  9. Great post - I like looking at disrepair houses too - dreaming of their previous grandeur.

  10. Um, that was a MOST AWESOME post.

    I'm with you, the former Bin Laden mini-estate holds the most promise.

    And thanks so much for stopping by La Lamp Shade and the follow!


    If the Lamp Shade Fits

  11. Thanks to everyone for stopping in. Wouldn't you just love to have the money to go in and restore one of these?

  12. I enjoyed reading this post. I love house stories. I like reading about their history, their style and also about the previous owners. There are so many questions that could be answered if only "walls could talk." I wonder why sometimes. Why were they left in ruin. The answers found are fascinating. I watched the Edith and Edie documentary online. It was amazing. Thanks for the post.

  13. It such wonderful house in world.. I can't take eyes from this houses for an hours...
    Houses Australia