A court-appointed trustee is ready to sell the valuable and magnificent Tregaron estate in Northwest Washington after years of squabbling which has left six heirs to the properly hopelessly divided on how to dispose of it.
Washington lawyer James A. Crooks, who was appointed last June by Superior Court Judge Milton D. Korman to over-see the sale, says that he expects to start accepting offers for the property in about two weeks, after he makes a land appraisal report to Korman.
The judge had to appoint Crooks to monitor the sale after years of internecine warfare among the heirs of the former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph E. Davies, who owned Tregaron until his death in 1958.
The bitterness over the sale among the six Davies heirs, who include former Maryland Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, is complicated still further by other competing peting interests with a stake in what happens to the 20 1/2 acres of heavily wooded, rough terrain at 3100 Macomb St. NW, just west of Connecticut Avenue NW.
The Washington International School, a private primary and secondary school with a curriculum designed to promote international understanding has leased the stone-columned Georgian mansion since 1972 and has tried unsuccessfully to buy the estate.
The school, which has an enrollment of about 350, still wants to buy Tregaron, and, in an effort to finance its purchase is considering offering to sell eight acres of the land to a builder for town house development.
But feisty Cleveland Park neighbors adjoining Tregaron have vowed that they will fight any development plans that they feel would besmirch the property that they have come to view as an idyllic neighborhood retreat -- an oasis in the midst of urban congestion, traffic and noise.
What hertofore had largely been a private dispute among the Davies heirs has spilled out onto the public documents filed in connection with Tyding's suit to force the heirs to sell the property to the school, which a year ago offered $3.7 million for the property.
Tydings, his mother Eleanor Davis Ditzen, who is one of Davies daughters, and his sister, Eleanor Tydings Schapiro, agreed to the sale, but three other heirs claimed that the offer was not high enough. Those three are Emlen Davies Evers of Cleveland, another Davies Evers of Cleveland another Davies' daughter, and Jennifer Fitch Moleon and Suzanne Walker Wright of Washington, two of Davies' granddaughters.
But instead of ordering the sale of the property to the school, Korman simply directed Crooks to obtain offers for the property "as the deems advisable."
Crooks said he already has had 10 to 15 inquiries about the property from real estate brokers and lawyers representing various people, but that he won't accept any formal offer until after he gives the preliminary report to the judge.
Crooks declined to say what the property has been appraised at, but other sources familiar with Tregaron said the latest appraisal is $3.5 million.
In addition to rejecting the school's purchase price, the heirs in recent months shunned a $4.5 million bid from New York developer Louis Marx, heir to a toy manufacturing fortune, and a $4 million offer from a Belgian count.
While Crooks has been gathering various bits of information about the property, the warring heirs have been flinging accusations back and forth at each other as fast as their lawyers can get to the courthouse.
One lawyer observed. "It's fair to say there's some bad feeling between the two groups."
After Tydings and his mother and sister filed suit, the other three heirs charged that "viable and energetic marketing of the property was seriously hindered by" Tydings. Moreover, they alleged that while Tydings' mother, a Washington socialite, and his sister may have signed the contract to sell the property to the school, "it is denied that [the] two . . . know and understand the contents" of the sales agreement.
Later, Evers, Moleon and Wright accused Tydings of acting "inequitably and without clean hands by unethically using his position as an attorney to attempt to intimidate and coerce" them into agreeing to the sale of the school. a
Evers, Moleon and Wright, through their attorney Nicholas A. Addams, charged that Tydings had hired his own law firm to represent the family trust that owns part of Tregaron, while at the same time sending the trust "exorbitant, excessive, padded" bills for the law firm's work.
Paul Martin Wolff one of one of Tyding's lawyers, conceded that Tydings' law firm, Danzansky and Dickey, was hired to represent the trust, but said that while the law firm has submitted bills to the trust, it has never been paid anything.
Wolff and two other attorneys representing Tydings, his mother and sister retorted in court papers that their opponent's claims "represent nothing more than a vicious attempt by one side in a family feud to embarrass and humiliate the other side.
"This unseemingly battle does not belong in a court of law," the Tydings group, which brought the suit in the first place, concluded.
Meanwhile, Robert Zimmer, the school's lawyer, said the educational instittution is now seeking a developer to buy part of the land and build 48 town houses on it. That would allow Washington International to continue to use the mansion as a school.
Zimmer said the school was considering raising its previously rejected $3.7 million offer, but declined to say to what amount. He said the school has between $2.5 and $2.6 million available as its share of the purchase price, but that developer would have to pick up the rest.
He said the school was willing to make the developer's portion of the acquisition contingent on a zoning change that would permit costruction of town houses. The property is ow zoned for single-family, detached houses on parceds consisting of about one-sixth of an acre.
Zimmer sais that if the developer was not able to get the zoning change within two years the school would buy back that portion of the property, too.
Any attempted zoning change, however, is certain to run headlong into vocal opposition from the Cleveland Park Citizens Association, which represents the tight-knit community of professionals who live in $200,00 turn-of-the-century homes and highly value the Tregaron greenery.
"This is an asset to the city," said Tilford Dudley, one Cleveland Park activist whose property abuts Tregaron. "Every afternoon I put out a sandwich for racoons."
Various real estate developers who have looked at Tregaron also have rejected the idea of developing the entire property because of the steep hills as well as the neighborhood opposition.