Living Large: 'Oversized Mansion Syndrome'

There are pockets of America that have, until now, seemed untouched by the real estate bubble's burst. Places, for example, set on 30 acres of rolling hills in posh Greenwich, Conn.

The dream of owning such a property is a reality for Stanley and Dorothea Cheslock, whose home boasts 26,000 square feet of some of the finest materials money can buy.

"That's a hammerhead beam structure, which is the same beam structure that's in Westminster Abbey," Stanley said on a recent tour of his home.

The vertical posts came from a barn that was built in 1760. And in their wine room, which can hold 3,700 bottles, the base of one table weighs 2,000 pounds. "We had a crane to bring it in and set it down," Dorothea said.


Not to mention the little extras: a movie theater with a marquee and concession stand, an indoor lap pool, a bass pond and the piece de resistance: a view to die for, courtesy of a French bird cage elevator.

So who wouldn't want to bask in all this luxury? The same family who owns it: The Cheslocks.

"You know, we're not really going to be around enough to take advantage of this place, so we should probably just sell," Stanley said.

The Cheslocks painstakingly built the Hillcrest estate from the ground up. They devoted four years and $21 million to building their dream mansion. But just over a year after moving in, it was time to call the movers again -- their dream was just too big.

"It's like a Cinderella house. To me, it's a castle," Dorothea said. "I never really needed the castle, and I think somebody else could enjoy it now. It's been fun, but I'm going to keep my prince, and I'm just going to go I think to a smaller home. But I'll take my prince with me."

Dreams (and Homes) Too Big?

Robert Frank, a Wall Street Journal columnist who writes about the ultra rich, says he has a name for the Cheslocks' change of heart. He's seen it too many times in America.

"I call it 'Oversized Mansion Syndrome,'" or OMS, Frank said.

"I've heard that recurrent theme," Stanley said. "Houses are too big, people are going to go back to smaller houses and then the next cycle in the real estate boom the houses get bigger. I just think that's part of the cycle."

So how did a couple like the Cheslocks, who came from humble beginnings, end up with Frank's so-called OMS?

Stan and Dorothea met 40 years ago at a Long Island junior high school. Their first house was modest, but as their Wall Street fortune grew, so did their extravagant lifestyle.

"I think it's a Cinderella story. I really think it is," said Dorothea.

"It's a real testament to the Unites States, I think," added Stanley.

And that American Dream led them to Hillcrest. It began as a modest project among the hedges and hedge funders of picturesque Greenwich. But it quickly grew.

"It grew," said Stanley. "As we kept planning, we kept adding to it, so it did get big."

"Stan would wake up and say, 'I have a new idea,'" Dorothea recalled, "and each new idea was either a bigger section, a higher ceiling, but it wasn't originally going to be anywhere near this size, in my mind."

The Hunt for Buyers

But as the project grew, Stanley Cheslock's fortune didn't. His merchant banking firm lost $100 million in the faltering economy and the couple became anxious. To be fair, they're still worth just under $100 million, but with the real estate market grinding to a halt they couldn't unload the house that costs $200,000 in upkeep every year.

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