The Pittock Mansion, a 16,000-square-foot French Renaissance-style masterpiece, reigns atop a 1,000-foot bluff overlooking the city of Portland, Ore. With panoramic views of the Willamette and Columbia rivers and five Cascade mountains, the mansion is a testament to what power and wealth could achieve in 1914, what civic activism could restore in 1965 and what could be a killer setting for a house party in 2012.
Why it's a treasure: Henry Pittock, a penniless Oregon Trail pioneer who became a land baron, lumber and paper mill magnate and owner of the Oregonian, which he built into the state's largest daily newspaper, commissioned California architect Edward T. Foulkes to create a showcase legacy for his five surviving children and their families. The 44-room house (23 rooms now open to the public) included every conceivable newfangled 20th century invention, including electricity, recessed lighting, a central vacuum system and a residential elevator (still in use). The estate includes an Italianate gate lodge that was the chauffeur's residence, a greenhouse and a three-car garage.
Why you'd want to live there: The spectacular views, of course, from every (yes, every) window. The 46 acres of gardens and wooded trails, sure. But mostly to sashay down the grand, floating, curving, three-story baroque staircase that, as one admirer said, channels the elegance of Michelangelo and the melodrama of Scarlett O'Hara.
Why you wouldn't: Just imagine the utility bills — oh, let's say about $5,000 a month.
The surprise: A respected civic, business and philanthropic leader, Pittock nevertheless cut a secret deal with Portland to construct a water line, at city expense, to serve the mansion, then half a mile outside city limits. The one disgruntled City Council member who made the deal public received such bad press in the Oregonian that eventually he was booted out of office.
Info: 3229 N.W. Pittock Drive, Portland, Ore.; (503) 823-3623, http://www.pittockmansion.org. Open daily Feb. 1-June 30 and Sept. 1-Jan. 1, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (closed Nov. 18-20, Thanksgiving and Christmas) and July 1-Aug. 31, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Self-guided and docent-led tours included with admission: $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for ages 65 and older, $5.50 for ages 6-18, free for children under 6. The magical holiday display, Nov. 19-Jan.1, includes 15 indoor Christmas trees and hundreds of holiday lights. Visitors are welcome to hike or picnic on the grounds, now a city park, from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.