A Los Angeles woman has been buying up the condos in a gigantic Lake Geneva mansion, spending more than $13.5 million in the past year, and even at that price she doesn’t own the whole building yet.
Tina Trahan of Santa Monica, Calif., said she also has spent at least $2.5 million on renovations. “I don’t know how much it will be at the end,” she said. “There’s a lot of work that has to be done.” At the moment, she’s in the process of renovating 14 bathrooms. (See before-and-after photos at the bottom of this story.)
Trahan owns six of the seven condos in Stone Manor, a giant lakefront home built in 1901, according to Walworth County, Wis., tax records. She bought the first and largest in November 2016 for just under $6 million and one-third of the second floor for $2.25 million last month.
At $13.5 million, Trahan has spent more than anyone has paid to buy a home in the six-county Chicago area since December 2015, when Citadel chief Ken Griffin sold a Michigan Avenue penthouse for $16 million.
The owners of the sole remaining Stone Manor condo, which occupies one-third of the mansion’s third floor, “know I’d like to buy it,” Trahan said, “and I’m sure they’ll come to me when they want to sell.”
As the owner of more than two-thirds of the homeowners association, Trahan has the legal right to force a sale of the remaining unit. “I wouldn’t do that,” she said. “They’re nice people.”
The listed phone number for the owner of that unit does not lead to voicemail, and he couldn’t be reached by other means.
Trahan now owns all of the first and second floors and two-thirds of the third floor of the 40,000-square-foot colossus. Except for the first floor, a lavish space Crain’s featured when it was on the market, the condos were not actively listed when she bought them, according to two real estate agents in the Lake Geneva area. Trahan said that in each case, the homeowners approached her about buying their space.
Even at almost $16 million spent and more to go, Trahan said she is “absolutely getting a bargain. In the Hamptons, people spend $40 million to buy a mansion and tear it down.” Trahan, who is married to Chris Albrecht, CEO of the Starz cable network, formerly lived in New York and summered at the Hamptons, she said.
“I’m used to Hamptons numbers, Manhattan numbers,” she said. She and Albrecht live in a Santa Monica home that they bought for more than $7.1 million in 2016. Trahan said that home is temporary while they spend $18 million building a new home in Pacific Palisades. “That’s for 12,000 square feet,” Trahan said. “At Stone Manor, my first floor is 12,500 square feet.”
Trahan confirmed for Crain’s a New York Post report that she and Albrecht spent about $1 million in October on a children’s Halloween party where celebrity Snoop Dogg was the featured attraction.
Two top brokers in the Lake Geneva market said Trahan’s spending at Stone Manor doesn’t sound like Los Angeles excess coming to low-priced Wisconsin.
“It’s a lot of money, but it’s really not an outrageous figure here,” said David Curry, a Geneva Lakefront Realty broker who works the upper-priced segment of the Walworth County market and represented the sellers of Stone Manor’s first floor
A lakefront estate called Hillcroft, priced at $12.5 million, is under contract to a buyer, Curry said, and the Lake Geneva area’s top sale price of 2016 was $9.95 million.
Another broker who works in the region’s upper price range, Bob Webster of Keefe Real Estate, said that although he hasn’t been involved in any of the Stone Manor deals, the total Trahan has paid didn’t surprise him, either.
“Stone Manor is a unique property,” he said. “It’s hard to compare it to anything else” on Geneva Lake, the body of water on whose shore lie the towns of Lake Geneva, Williams Bay and Fontana.
Trahan, who grew up in Elmhurst and had only been to Lake Geneva twice as a child, owns an Elmhurst house but says she rarely uses it. While visiting Elmhurst relatives in summer 2016, she read that the first floor at Stone Manor was for sale, and decided to drive up and look at it. She hated the interior. Filled with frescoes, carved wood and chandeliers, “it was orange and pink and green,” she said. “It looked like Marie Antoinette threw up in there.”
She hired one of the top interior designers in the country, Michael S. Smith, who designed the White House’s private quarters for the Obamas, to redo it. Most of that space has been repainted in white and neutral tones, while utilities and windows have all been replaced. She has also upgraded systems and redecorated some of the other units, as well as repaired the roof and rooftop swimming pool and removed dead trees from the 10-acre grounds.
“I’m doing all the things that the homeowners association had been putting off,” she said. She hopes to add two new staircases to the mansion’s single stairs and replace the aged elevator. This work will go on regardless of whether she gets the last condo, she said.
If Trahan puts all the pieces of Stone Manor back together, it will be the first time the mansion has been used as one property since 1964, when it was first divided into condominiums.
The mansion, which is behind a limestone wall on Lake Shore Drive about half a mile outside downtown Lake Geneva, was originally named Younglands. It was the 50-room cottage of Chicagoans Otto and Ann Young, designed for them by Henry Lord Gay. Gay was the architect of some of the biggest mansions on the lake in the early 20th century, some of which (Jerseyhurst, Ceylon Court and Hillcroft, which was later owned by Philip K. Wrigley) have been demolished.
Otto Young was a jeweler and real estate investor in Chicago who owned a half-interest in the early department store called the Fair and the land where the Hilton Chicago, formerly the Stevens Hotel, was built. The 19-story Heyworth building at 29 E. Madison St. was designed by Daniel Burnham’s architecture firm and developed by Young and his son-in-law.
The Youngs were reported to have spent $1 million to build Younglands, the equivalent of $26 million today. Likenesses of their four daughters were carved into the exterior, which is 175 feet wide, and inside, the vast first floor was designed for entertaining guests in grand style. The finishes were markedly less ornate on the two upper floors, Curry said.
Otto Young died in the mansion in 1906, leaving a fortune that was reportedly worth $25 million, which would be $648 million today. The mansion stayed in the family until 1938, when a granddaughter donated it to a girls school. It remained a school until 1964, when a new owner put a restaurant on the first floor and condos on the second and third. In 1990, Chicago trader Tom Ricci bought the property and restored it, selling off the condos.
One later owner was Tony Rezko, the now-infamous influence peddler who was an early patron of Barack Obama. He sold it in 2007 without completing renovations he had begun before 2001, Webster said.
When Trahan bought the first floor of Stone Manor in 2016, “I thought that would be all,” she said. “It would be a nice home to visit on Lake Geneva.” It was mostly formal rooms, so she created a bunk room under the 14-foot ceilings of one room, and a 15-by-15-foot “slime room” where her young daughter can make and play with gooey, messy slime.
But soon her upstairs neighbors came calling, offering to sell their units, and a year later Trahan says she’s “in for a penny, in for a pound. If I can have all of it, it’s going to be something.”