The Georgetown home of Francis Biddle, President Roosevelt's wartime attorney general, was sold at auction yesterday to an unidentified woman living in Paris for $800,000.
The bidding for the 122-year-old roomy house, located at 1669 31st St. NW., started at $200,000 and lasted five minutes until Warren Montouri, who sells commercial real estate locally, made the winning bid for his client.
The auction of Georgetown property, which was held in the Georgetown Room of the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel, was ordered by the Fidelity Bank of Philadelphia, administrator of the estate of Biddle's widow, Katherine C. Biddle, who died in 1977.
Bank vice president Robert L. Ippoldo said the property, which needs major repairs, was placed on the block because the bank believed it would bring a higher price at auction.
About 75 people, mostly real estate agents who sell only upper bracket properties, attended the afternoon auction. Some of the agents were accompanied by wealthy clients who carried $100,000 checks they would need as a down payment if their bids were successful. But when it was all over, several agents said the successful bid was too high.
"It's absolutely ridiculous," said Raymond Howar, owner of several large downtown office buildings, who accompanied his brother, an interested buyer. "It needs $300,000 worth of work."
"I was surprised that it went for so much," said an agent who asked not to be named. "I thought they would only get $650,000."
The unnamed buyer was described by Susan Johnson, who said she was the successful bidder's real estate agent, as a woman in her 40s "who has a house in every other major city in the world and wanted one in Washington." Johnson, of Vicki Bagley Realty, refused to reveal the woman's nationality or the source of her wealth. She said that Montouri did the bidding because he had the experience and was a business associate of the buyer.
Under terms of the auction, the buyer must present the bank with a check for $700,000 at the settlement in 45 days.
Stephen Biddle, grandson of Francis and Katherine Biddle, watched from the rear of the room as about six bidders vied for the home where he had spent several summers as a child.
"I'm delighted because it is a good price and it is evident that the new owner will take good care of the house," said Biddle, a public interest lawyer who commutes between Washington and his home in Quakertown, Pa. He said he could not afford to buy the property, which had been willed to a family trust.
The Biddles bought the 15-room house in 1944 after renting it for several years, paying $52,500, according to city land records. Biddle, a gifted and modest man who was both kind and rich, was a Republican most of his life but became a fervent Democrat during the Depression, serving as Roosevelt's attorney general from Sept. 5, 1941 to June 30, 1945. He died in 1968.
His widow, Katherine G. Chapin Biddle, a widely published poet, continued to live in the house until 1973 when she suffered a stroke and moved to Pennsylvania.
Real estate agent Mary Arnold, who watched from a seat on the last row, was delighted with the price. She is selling the house next door, at 1671 31st. The asking price for that house, which is larger and in better condition, is $800,000, she said.