I went to Pebble Beach today to visit a friend who is housesitting for a few months. Friends of his recently bought the house, and from the numbers he was bandying about, I wouldn't be surprised if they paid upward of $20 million. I wouldn't be surprised, either, if another few million goes into it before they are happy.
It's a beautiful Spanish-style house, built in 1920 by the Holt brothers, who founded the Caterpillar company. An interesting mix of great hall living room and big kitchen (remodeled not all that long ago—within the past twenty years—but destined to be torn out and replaced with something more modern), and little hallways labyrinthing among little rooms (gun room, wine cellar, water heater room, linen closet, potting room, pantry, maid's room, defunct elevator, etc. etc.). Many bedrooms, and eight bathrooms—soon to be nine, because eight isn't enough. The place is largely empty at the moment: the owners live in Indiana—though they have other houses in the Hamptons, Chicago, and elsewhere—and won't be able to attend to giving this house a lived-in look until they return at the beginning of the year.
It's a lovely house, but my stomach gets a little queasy when I'm confronted with such wealth. Because yeah, I think a second (or third, fourth, or fifth) house that you use only a couple of weeks out of the year is ridiculous. And that describes so many of the houses (I won't call them homes) in Pebble Beach. It's just another case of people having more money than they know what to do with.
What's the good of a full-on greenhouse if you're not around to tend your plants?
Or what about the $200,000 Bentley in the garage that never gets driven?
Or in the other garage, the newly refurbished games room? Who's got time to play if you're so busy flitting?
I don't believe I'm suffering from sour grapes. Another thing that made me feel queasy was all those rooms needing to be furnished. The mere idea fills me with a feeling of dread, and I don't even have to do it. So much shopping! One or two rooms, sure: that could be fun. But this would be a project that could take years. Even if you happened to live in the house year round.
One thing, though, that I loved: when we were touring the basement area, I noticed a funny contraption in the furnace room. "What's that?" I asked. "It's the pump for the organ," my friend replied. "You didn't notice it? You will when you see it."
He was right. When we got back upstairs, and then moved on to the second floor, sure enough, at the top of the stairs was a beautiful Estey Pump Organ, built in Brattleboro, Vermont, and moved to this house in 1920. It reminded me of The Great Gatsby and the extravagant sorts of entertaining that went on back in those days. Or perhaps one of the Holt brothers just loved to play organ. It even comes with a mechanism for playing rolls (like a player piano, only it's a player organ).
Apparently, it still works. I'd love to hear it. Wouldn't you?