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His Fortune Made, He’s Building on It

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frank W. Pritt, who built his fortune in software, is in the middle of building what may become one of the most distinctive--and priciest--homes in the nation on the bluffs of Corona del Mar overlooking the Pacific.

When completed, the Portabello, as he calls it, will not only be huge and in a premier location, it will be a unique piece of architecture--with a wave-like roof line and elaborate pools.

It is not the county’s largest home--there are a handful of others bigger--but with 21,700 square feet of living space it will, even after seven bedrooms and 15 baths, have room to spare.

Amenities include a two-lane bowling alley connected to a ‘50s-style diner, a home theater and box office, and what city planning records describe as an antique shop. Outside, the house will have two street-level garages; in an underground area, there will be parking for 25 more cars. In total, the home and adjoining structures will be 28,000 square feet.

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Designed by Brion S. Jeannette Associates Inc. of Newport Beach, the home has organic lines meant to help it blend into the natural terrain.

The contemporary home’s most dramatic feature is a roof line that rolls like an ocean wave. From a large opening in the middle of the roof, a waterfall will cascade down several levels into one of the home’s two swimming pools. Eventually, there will be a coating of sand on the roof.

“It’s a very interesting house,” said Vern Buwalda, the home’s Laguna Beach-based contractor, who’s employing 30 people on the project, more than three times as many as on a typical home.

“The word we use a lot when talk about finishes is ‘organic'--and keep in tune with natural environment in that area. The owner’s intent here is something to complement the neighborhood and seascape, not just to be a big box that sits there.”

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The home is about half done--construction started nearly two years ago and it will take another year or so to wrap it up.

Because Pritt’s new home sits in the middle of an established neighborhood, the long-term construction noise has grated on the ears of some neighbors. It is something that many say they’ve had to simply learn to live with.

Among the neighbors who have to hear the hammering and other racket: Pritt himself.

Pritt, 59, and his family currently have a home directly behind the big house under construction. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

He earned his fortune through Attachmate Corp., a software company he founded in 1982 and of which he remains majority owner. Based in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, the company reported sales last year of $340 million, according to Dun & Bradstreet Inc. In the mid-'90s, Forbes magazine listed Pritt among the wealthiest Americans, with an estimated net worth of $500 million.

Among Pritt’s interests is collecting cars. He’s owned a 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C-2300 and a 1956 Jaguar D Type, and he has raced in road rallies around the world.

Pritt is building his Corona del Mar estate on a wide lot that embraces a cove and is worth an estimated $15 million. The house has a permit value of $2.25 million, according to city records.

But, should Pritt put the home up for sale, real estate agents estimate it would generate offers of $25 million to $30 million, making it the most expensive home ever in Orange County and among the priciest in the nation.

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“If that home came on the market, it would be the trophy property available for sale on the Orange Coast,” said Michael Dreyfus, a Prudential California broker who specializes in high-end properties.

Pritt bought several properties in Orange County before settling on the site for his retirement dream home.

In 1996, he bought two homes across the street from each other in Balboa, one facing Newport Bay and one facing the ocean. He purchased a 3,500-square-foot home in Corona del Mar. About the same time, according to property records, he bought four vacant parcels in Newport Coast, in the hills above the area where he now resides.

He planned to build his dream home on the parcels, which form an L-shaped lot with a sweeping view. But his contemporary home designs were rebuffed by the area’s developer, the Irvine Co., which has strict guidelines that, in essence, limit homeowners to designing in the Mediterranean style. So, rather than build his own home there, he decided to develop and sell those properties separately--one sold earlier this year for $3 million.

Pritt then turned to Corona del Mar, where two homes side by side facing the water were for sale, and he ended up convincing a third homeowner to sell too.

The adjacent lots form the property for his new estate.

In this neighborhood, the homeowners association has more leeway in approving designs, as long as they are one-story at street level and have a roof no higher than 14-feet.

Tearing down large, older homes for even bigger ones along the Orange County coast has occurred at a rare pace during the latest building boom, those in the industry say.

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And the trend to reshape neighborhoods along the California Coast, especially in Orange County, is dramatically altering the landscape of places like Pritt’s Cameo neighborhood.

East Coast Highway splits Cameo into two parts: the Highlands and the Shores. The housing tract, containing more than 300 homes built in the 1960s, has prestige without pretension. There are no gates, for instance, surrounding the neighborhood.

“You can pick any street,” said Larry Finn, the immediate past president of the Cameo Community Assn., who has made his home here for almost 20 years. “It’s hard to go around the block and not see people doing something. It’s more going on here than ever before.”

Take the place next door to Pritt’s.

Henry Samueli, co-founder of computer-chip giant Broadcom Corp., has purchased that home and is renovating extensively. Built on a slender, long strip of land, the home juts out toward the ocean.

But the facade facing the street appears almost modest, when compared with Pritt’s, making it seem from the street more “like a cottage,” one real estate broker said.

Michele Murphy, current president of the Cameo Community Assn., was reluctant to comment on the Pritt house, as were other board members.

“We haven’t had any complaints about it,” said Murphy, who lives three blocks away from the construction. “It’s never come up during our meetings. I’m not impacted at all.”

Others associated with designing or building the project also were reticent to speak on the record.

But the huge construction project, requiring heavy-duty equipment like cranes, has stirred up more than dust.

It has riled some neighbors, who must live with the noise for years. Pickup trucks line the street throughout the day, causing some residents to put orange cones in front of their homes to prevent workers from parking there.

Some residents were so irritated that they wrote to other Cameo Shores homeowners, trying to organize opposition to what they saw as the destruction of the neighborhood’s quiet ambience.

Although some neighbors said they were not against the development, they welcome quieter times.

“We’re happy when Sunday rolls around,” said Annette Wilson, who can hear the noise one block away in her house overlooking the construction. “There are no workers around, and it’s very quiet.”

Others seemed to regard the big house as a welcome upgrade to the neighborhood that would help property values rise. “I personally like it,” said Jeff Cole, who lives in Cameo Shores. “I think it’s great for the neighborhood. And it’s not tall enough to be an eyesore.”

Says Wilson: “The house looks like it’s a spaceship ready to take off. It’s not in line architecturally with the rest of the area, but so be it.

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E. Scott Reckard contributed to this report

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Big House

A seven-bedroom, 15-bath mansion being built in Coronoa del Mar has a bowling alley, five pools, and a 6,000 square-foot garage.

SIZE COMPARISONS

14 average homes (1,500 sq. ft. each) could fit inside the mansion.

Barnes & Noble: 23,000-25,000 sq. ft.

Price Club: 135,000-150,000 sq. ft.


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