As George Basiliko talks about his decision to sell his property, he sits in the row house near the corner of 11th and I streets NW that has served for years as his office. It's filled with trinkets and other things left behind in the basements and attics of the houses he and his family have rented and sold over the years.
Buddha figurines, dolls, ceramic clowns, a tarnished trumpet, a lady's fox wrap, tea kettles, antique cash registers and wooden Indian statues are scattered around the room. The glass door is covered with postcards from Florida beaches with girls in bikinis, and posters with sarcastic sayings hang from the walls.
From that office Basiliko, 87, has watched as land prices fluctuated wildly, plummeting after the 1968 riots, rising in the 1980s and then falling again in the early 1990s. In the past few years, he saw MCI Center, convention center and new condominium and office developments come to the region, and he realized his corner of land could become very valuable.
Basiliko is one of 11 children of Greek immigrants who ran a delicatessen on 9th and E Streets NW. He dropped out of school in the sixth grade, and as a teenager bought and sold scrap metal from cars. He later worked as a plumber's helper, fixing leaks in some of the row houses his brother bought and rented.
In the early 1960s, Basiliko began buying and selling row houses and land on his own. In the 1970s, Basiliko pleaded guilty to more than 8,000 violations of D.C. housing regulations. In the 1990s, he pleaded guilty to foreclosure auction fraud. He said he has paid his fines and cleaned up all his operations.
Basiliko bought the two sites near the corner of 11th and I Streets NW for $23,350 in the 1960s. The property contained a row house, tattoo shop and a key-making store. "I used to come down and try to talk those girls out of getting their tattoos," he said, laughing.
For years, developers ignored the area, which was cluttered with pawn shops, abandoned buildings and parking lots. In the last few years, Basiliko began buying small parcels surrounding his property, using money he made from renting apartment buildings and buying rundown houses, fixing them up and selling them. Eventually he accumulated 28,500 square feet of property -- about half the size of a football field.
As development began moving closer to his property, developers came calling. But Basiliko said he wasn't ready to sell: "When they came to my door, I'd tell them, 'It's not for sale.' "
Two years ago, Tom Rossi of CB Richard Ellis stopped by. Rossi was hired by Louis Dreyfus Property Group to buy the land for its building. At first, Basiliko was reluctant, as he had been with previous suitors. But after several conversations, he grew to trust Rossi's straightforward style.
"They did everything they said they were going to do," said Basiliko's nephew, John M. Swagart. "It was one gentleman dealing with another," he said of the negotiations between his uncle and Rossi.
Rossi and Basiliko struck a deal this summer for an undisclosed amount. He's now packing up his office. He has until Sept. 15 to move all his stuff out.
"There comes a time when you have to move on and because of my age . . . " Basiliko said.
Then he smiled, and referring to his negotiations with Rossi, he said: "He made me an offer I couldn't refuse."
-- Dana Hedgpeth