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$8.5 Million And Counting

By Sandra Fleishman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2005; Page F01

The Georgetown mansion that is believed to have set a record for the highest-priced sale in that neighborhood back in 2001 is on the market again, this time for $8.5 million, $2.2 million more than before.

The 11,388-square-foot, four-story brick manse was listed this week by Sarah Dahlgren Butler of W.C. & A.N. Miller Cos./Christie's Great Estates in Spring Valley. It was built in 1911 for Herman Hollerith, the engineer behind the punch-card that evolved into the IBM computer, and was in the Hollerith family until 1996. It had been vacant for some time before that sale but was restored by two noted Washington interior decorators, and a subsequent owner has added to its luster, according to those who have seen it.

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The current owner of the property is listed in District tax records as Lindas Estate Inc., a trust. Residing there are Swiss investor Joerg Burkart, his wife, Marie-Louise, and a son. Burkart is part of an investor group that bought Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., the leading manufacturer of single-engine Turboprop aircraft, in 2001.

The trust bought the 29th Street NW house and its half-acre of land for $6.3 million in October 2001 from decorators Todd Davis and Robert Brown. It was assessed at $6.73 million in 2004.

Butler says five or six potential buyers have toured the house, which has nine bedrooms, seven full baths and three half-baths, six fireplaces, an elevator, a vaulted conservatory, a two-car garage, five other parking spaces and extensive grounds.

"It is one of the few great estates left in Georgetown," Butler said.

"A lot of things have been done to it" since the decorators restored it, using their signature beige and cream colors and stenciled floors, she said, "but it has all of the original beauty," including moldings, the original internal phone system built into the walls and a formal dining room. The current owners have used more vibrant colors as well as antiques in their makeover.

During their time there, Brown and Davis opened the house to charity events and parties that drew celebrity guests such as singer Wayne Newton and medial mogul Barry Diller.

The decorators also used the top floor as offices for Brown-Davis Interior Design. The design team, which moved in 2001 to Palm Beach and then to Miami, was known in Washington for its skilled work for social and political clients such as former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and grande dame Susan Mary Alsop. Alsop admired their work so much that she connected them with Architectural Digest magazine, which published pictures of the house in the magazine's February 1998 issue, just four years after the decorators started their firm.

"It is just an amazing, amazing house," said Davis this week from Miami, where he just finished renovating the house used on "Miami Vice" for his personal use.

Davis added: "The interesting thing about the house was that it had been owned by the same family since they built it. There were three sisters who lived there for their entire life."

Hollerith, who made his fortune from the punch-card invention, "apparently really didn't want them to marry because they would just be married for their money, or he didn't want a younger one to marry before an older one, because it just wasn't proper then," recounts Davis.

The story was sad, Davis said. And when he and Brown first came upon the house, it looked sad, too, "like Morbid Manor," because it was so dark and worn.

But "the great thing about it," recalls Davis, "was that they had kept the roof tight and the windows tight. And because there were just those three very old women who had lived there, it had very little wear and tear."

The restoration, he said, took a lot more work than he had expected.

But "when the painters and everyone started working on it, it was like brand-new millwork. It had only been painted three times. . . . And it had beautiful mahogany doors."

Davis, who has visited the house since he moved, said it does not seem to have been changed dramatically. "My understanding is that the new owners kept a lot of the original integrity."

The sale in 2001 was "a record price for Georgetown," Davis said.

That the house would now be listed for $2.2 million more is "understandable," he said.

"It was an amazing house. I wish I could buy it back."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company