The 2,000-plus-acre Upperville, Virginia, estate of philanthropists and art collectors Paul and Bunny Mellon will be listed for sale in the next several days at an asking price of $70 million, according to their executor, Alexander Forger. He also confirms that Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington NFL franchise, has made “an expression of interest” in the prized property, known as Oak Spring. “But a lot of folks are interested,” he says. “Who wouldn’t be? It’s gorgeous territory.”
Forger says, “Our preference would be to sell it as one parcel to a single owner.” What the buyer would get, he says, is “a landing strip, the red brick main house, 20 tenant houses, a pool house, stables and barns, maintenance buildings, greenhouses and guest houses, and virtually every other structure that comes to mind.” The exception is 100 acres that surround the Mellons’ personal residence, an elegant whitewashed farmhouse that is home to Bunny Mellon’s acclaimed Oak Spring Garden Library and the foundation she set up, named after her father, to administer the library, staff, and related educational programs.
Paul Mellon, whose family founded the National Gallery of Art, died in 1999 at age 91. Bunny Mellon died last March at age 103. Her funeral at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville was attended by dozens of family and friends. Mellon herself scripted the service in which she was eulogized by actor Frank Langella, and singer and actress Bette Midler sang “The Rose.”
Forger also says a date has been set for the auction of more than 2,000 items from the Mellon estate—treasures valued at more than $100 million—at Sotheby’s in New York. “The single owner auction will be Monday, November 10, of major art,” he says, “followed by additional sales at Sotheby’s of jewelry and decorative arts.”
The property in Upperville was the Mellons’ principal residence. Already sold were homes in Washington, DC, and New York City. Still on the market is a home at the Mill Reef Club on Antigua, listed for $11 million (plus an additional 27 island acres for $8 million) and a 95-acre oceanfront property on Nantucket that Forger hopes “will be appraised and listed soon.” All proceeds from the Sotheby’s auction and the real estate sales will go to the Gerald B. Lambert Foundation. Lambert, Bunny Mellon’s father, was the president of the Gillette razor company and a founder of Warner-Lambert, which initially marketed Listerine. The Foundation and Library have a separate entrance from Oak Spring farm. According to Forger, “it is carved out” of the overall estate.
Forger says that while certain pieces of the Mellon art collection already have been bequeathed to family and art museums, there is still some furniture at Oak Spring but it does not convey with the property sale. He says there also are still more than 100 employees working and living on the farm, as well as a fleet of farm vehicles. “If a single owner wants to run it as the Mellons did, they will need the employees and equipment.”
We asked whether he expected Oak Spring to sell quickly. “I don’t have any real basis to measure from a comparable property point of view. There’s a lot of farms around, but this one is unique.”
When we asked Dan Snyder’s spokesman, Tony Wyllie, about the team owner’s reported interest in Oak Spring, he said, “I don’t know what you are talking about,” but he also said he was not familiar with the property or Upperville. (We promised to send him the link as soon as the story posted.)
If Snyder were to purchase Oak Spring, he would be the second Washington team owner to have a connection to Mellon. Jack Kent Cooke, when he first moved to Washington, lived practically next door to the Mellons. He reportedly tried to form a friendship that never developed. He is, however, buried at Trinity Church, just across the lawn from the Mellon family plot.
Find Carol Ross Joynt on Twitter at @carojoynt.