ELLISON BAY — Donna Carlino is trying to sell her 2,495-square-foot house a few miles north of here.
She has a flier advertising the $399,900 log home on the counter at the gift shop she manages, but ever since a sign went up on the edge of town in September, most inquiries are about an estate auction.
This one is just a few miles to the southwest on a bluff with a stunning view of the water of Green Bay. It's nestled into the woods and, like many homes in Door County, is hard to see from the road.
But that's where the comparisons end.
The 35,000-square-foot mansion is believed to be the largest single-family home in the state. In a few weeks — the 17-year-old estate that includes a three-bedroom guest house, two-bedroom studio house and 700-square-foot beach house — could get a new owner.
"Everyone comes in and wants to know where it is," said Carlino, 81, who manages the Silly Goose. "Hardly any of us know what it looks like."
The main residence, assessed at $16.4 million and called "Sur la Baie" or "Above the Bay," is getting international attention. The marketing campaign, which includes ads in the Wall Street Journal and a strong presence on the Internet, is giving people a peek behind the fence.
What they're seeing is a slice of life that is more attuned to Beverly Hills or Newport, R.I.
Door County has some nice places but Sur la Baie takes opulence, at least for Wisconsin, to a new level.
There's an art-deco style movie theater with not one, but two concession stands and a ticket booth. The library takes up two floors, the master suite has seven rooms and the indoor pool its own kitchen.
The main kitchen — with its two dishwashers, commercial-grade coolers, spacious walk-in pantry and dozens of cabinets — could likely hold the entire inventory of the Pioneer Store, Ellison Bay's quaint and only grocery store that was rebuilt after it was destroyed by an explosion in 2006.
'Traditional and homey'
"This house is very traditional and homey," said Michael Fine, CEO and principal of Hilco Real Estate Auctions in Northbrook, Ill. "It just happens to be very large."
I'm not sure I would call a home the size of a hotel and with heated towel racks and special security features as homey. As for traditional, that's probably a stretch, too.
The home has a 10-by-24-foot cedar closet, another closet stocked with over $5,000 just in candles and a monthly electric bill that topped $3,000 in August.
But I do see Fine's point. There are no aquariums stocked with sharks, cages for tigers or indoor basketball courts.
So on Nov. 14, Fine, a Milton College graduate who at one time managed the former Copper Grid across from the UW-Madison Fieldhouse, will open sealed bids. And it's likely someone could walk away with a stunning piece of property at what could be a bargain price.
"I think they will buy the property at a price that in 2006 no one would have thought of," Fine said during our three-hour tour. "We've had some serious inquiries. It's a lot of property to digest."
Built from 1993-96
The home was built by Judith E. Blazer from 1993 to 1996. Blazer, who now lives in Chicago, was an heir of Miller Group, an Appleton company that manufactured arc welding equipment. When the company was sold in 1993 for an undisclosed price to Illinois Tool Works, the firm had $250 million a year in revenues, according to published reports.
After the home was completed, Blazer, known for her philanthropic efforts in Door County, spent nearly $250,000 to purchase the Sister Bay & Liberty Grove Fire Department a specialized fire truck with 4,000 feet of hose designed to fight fires far from water sources.
"That truck is instrumental all across Door County," said Chief Chris Hecht. "She really helped and touched the community. She did some really good things."
Owners had never been there
In 2005, Blazer sold the home to Frank and Annie Spitzer, a California couple who made their money through several corporations that make electrical enclosures and junction boxes. Remarkably, the Spitzers never set foot on the property, according to Fine.
The Spitzers, who had ties to Chicago, bought the property for $18 million by only viewing it on a video. But shortly after the closing, Annie Spitzer was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died before they had a chance to move. After his wife's death, Frank Spitzer chose to stay in California where he died in 2011 at the age of 91.
Fine said the Spitzer estate is "very motivated" after getting no takers at $24 million and later at $19.5 million. The property has been divided into four parcels. Potential buyers can bid on individual parcels or on all four, one of which is 80 acres along Highway 42.
Lisa Bear, a Waukesha real estate agent who last year sold a $3.1 million home on Oconomowoc Lake, said she has a client interested in Sur la Baie.
"He wants to buy in Door County and his budget is unlimited," said Bear.
Kubet Luchterhand, a Door County resident since 1989 has operated the Wm. Caxton Ltd. used bookstore in Ellison Bay since 1991. He had a quick response when I asked him about Sur la Baie.
"You mean the Jurassic Park building?" Luchterhand said. "We're used to rather wealthy people up here having rather wealthy houses."
Barry Adams covers regional news for the State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.