Sweat forming beads near a snow-white hairline, auctioneer extraordinaire Al Traiman, fleet of tongue and nearly done, tried for another 50 grand:
"I have $1,150,000, going once.
"It's going to be sold.
"It's at $1,150,000, bid twice.
"Somebody's going to go home biting their nails wishing they had bought this lovely house. This house so unique, so beautiful, such a steal . . . You couldn't build a house like this today for less than $3 or $4 million.
"You sure now?
"Is there $1,200,000 anywhere?
And so it was finally over. The Potomac House, a 200,000-square-foot brick Colonial manison on Chain Bridge Road in McClean, assessed as the most expensive house in Fairfax county had finally been sold at public auction after eight years of abortive attempts.
Richmond real estate broker R. B. Richie had billed it McLean's Grande Dame, a rare six-acre gentleman's estate in one of Washington's most desirable suburbs. But an insider familiar with the property's owner, Merit Savings and Loan of Baltimore, called it the Great White Elephant in Brick.
Regardless, the new owners, interior designers Carol and Climis Lascaris, were thrilled.
Climis Lascaris, 39, paid the $150,000 deposit with a yellow check from his and his wife's personal account. His hand did not even shake as he a wrote out "One Hundred and Fifty Thousand and 00/100."
"She's a real beauty," he said of the house.
Carol Lascaris said she "felt numb," and quickly added: "There's so much to be done. The molding has to be ripped out and redone, and all that awful wallpaper."
"We thought this area one of the loveliest to live in," said Climis. It will be a fine showcase of my wife's design at a fine bargain. We'll have lots of guests and children."
"I don't know about children," said Carol, the smile dimming for a moment.
tThus, the beginning, or maybe the end. Abut 100 people showed up yesterday for the auction, mostly thrill-seekers and curious neighbors come to see a real mansion. Auction officials said 12 people had arrived with bank letters certifying they were prepared to plunk down the $150,000 deposit on demand. Everyone went home thrilled in their own way.
For Potomac House had been thought to be jinxed. Assessed last March at $479,925 -- not including its river view land that overlooks the Potomac at Little Falls -- the manse was started in 1973 by Chowning Development Corp., but never finished.
In fact, no one has ever lived in its 200,000 square feet. Many of the lookers and potential buyers -- who came in Mercedes, El Dorados and Rolls, and even more Chevys, Fords and Datsuns -- were hesitant about giving their names. To a person, however, they remarked that the workmanship appeared "shoddy" given the sticker price. Shoddy, perhaps, but still loaded with extravagant features.
Extras include a combination wine cellar and bomb shelter, with a concealed emergency escape tunnel; handfired bricks; a pool and pool house; a massive, two-story foyer; three kitchens; domestic quarters; marble fireplaces; an elevator; three bedrooms, each with a bathroom; a "great hall" ballrom on the third floor; an ice rink freezing system (no ice rink yet).
In 1977, Merritt Savings and Loan of Baltimore loaned Potomac Management Inc., a land development firm, $850,000 to clear the title and complete the house. But they had no idea at the time that Potomac was controlled by the Pomponio brothers -- Louis, Peter and Paul -- the Northern Virginia developers responsible for much of the concrete canyons of Rosslyn. The three brothers were convicted of felonies: Louis for bribery and twins Peter and Paul for tax evasion. They eventually went to jail. Merritt eventually foreclosed.
Then the house was sold to Young & Simon Inc., a District insurance agency, as a $900,000 investment. They could not sell it on the market for $2.25 million and Merritt, which had loaned the agency the money to complete the deal, had to foreclose again.
But yesterday, finally, they had found a buyer.
"Well, that's done," said Trainman, who is affiliated with Louis Trainman Auction Co. "That's a house they can enjoy for the rest of their lives . . . I hope they don't call me tomorrow and say they want to sell it."