Monday, October 11, 2004
His vision fulfilled, it's now time to sell
Joe Kennedy is routinely named the region's best writer by readers of The Roanoker magazine.
At Gary Hock's estate in remote Alleghany County, man battles God in the creation of something majestic.
On one side of Dunlap Creek stands Hock's granite mansion, which took him five years to build. On the other side, close enough to hit with a silver dollar, roars Beaver Dam Falls, which took the Almighty millennia to make. The Higher Power wins by a hair. But it's a tough call.
Hock has produced a 6,000- to 7,000-square-foot mansion made almost entirely of granite, steel and limestone. It's reached by a stone bridge at least 60 feet long, and it faces the 40-foot falls and his private trout stream.
It has a lead-coated copper roof, a portico 30 feet high, a walkway inlaid with glass bricks that light up at night, six bedrooms, seven baths, an eight-seat theater and a great room with a 33-foot ceiling and a glass wall facing, again, the falls.
The house has an exterior surveillance system, a fingerprint-and-passcode entry system and high-definition plasma TVs throughout.
"I've built a lot of homes," says Bill Shaver, a contractor from Union, W.Va., who has been on Hock's payroll from the start. "None were anything like this here. He did it with no budget or no time frame."
At one time, Shaver supervised 26 laborers and subcontractors.
When Hock finally got close to finishing it a few months ago, he did something else unusual: He told his family and workers he was selling it.
The National Auction Group of Gadsden, Ala., will have the sale Oct. 21, says William Bone, its president.
To his dismay, interest in the properties has lagged, despite advertising online and in major publications.
"We thought we could draw people from other areas of Virginia, from Richmond and the D.C. area," he said by phone from his office. "That just hasn't happened. Most of our interest has been local."
Back to the land
You have to expect people to notice when a multimillionaire developer and contractor from Durham, N.C., moves into your rural paradise and starts buying land.
Michele Hock, Gary Hock's daughter, has heard many a tall tale, including one in which Michael Jackson was the real property owner and an array of exotic beasts would soon arrive.
What's true is that her dad, now nearing 60 and with some 2 million square feet of medical, business and lab space leased in the South, the Midwest and Northeast, decided five years ago to build a cabin in the country for family gatherings.
Familiar with Alleghany County because of his membership at the nearby Greenbrier Resort, he bought the falls and got cracking on the cabin.
It had been decades since the developer had the chance to do so much hands-on work.
On weekends he would come up to run front-end loaders, heft materials and pursue his vision as it came to him.
At one point, an artificial waterfall in the center of the house seemed like a good idea, and so did an indoor pond.
But when they were installed, he realized that bringing a creek inside meant bringing everything in the creek with it.
He ordered the pond drained, turned off the falls and put a granite floor in the great room instead, his daughter said.
It didn't matter. He was having fun - a lot more fun than in his seven-day-a-week work habits and frequent 12-hour workdays.
He called the mansion his pocket-change place.
But why, why is he selling it?
"I say it's because his job is done," Hock said. "It's because the fun is over for him."
Bone agrees: "He likes the creation. He likes the building."
Now, Hock, who's divorced, is redoing a condo on Fisher Island, a private community just south of Miami. And he's talking about retirement. For the first time, his daughter thinks he might go through with it.
Although, everybody agrees, guys like him never really retire.
A different plane
Gary Hock did not respond to my request for an interview, but his daughter and an online search revealed that the rich really aren't like you and me.
He recently completed a 380,000-square-foot building in Durham, N.C., primarily occupied by the Duke Cancer Center and other health care offices.
He once gave $10,000 to the Animal Protection Society of Durham, where his longtime girlfriend, Lyn Proctor, volunteers, to pay for a veterinarian to work there 10 hours per week. He donated $50,000 so Duke Health Community Care could provide pediatric hospice care and other palliative services.
He rarely drives the four hours to Alleghany County, but charters an airplane for the 30-minute flight.
He likes to hunt and fish, and takes monthlong big game safaris to places like Zimbabwe. A favorite spot for family vacations is Musha Cay, a 150-acre private island resort 85 miles southeast of Nassau, Bahamas.
According to a search of the Web site answers.google.com, it can accommodate 25 guests in five thatched houses ranging in size from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet. I don't know what Hock pays, but mushacay.com says the island rents for a minimum of $24,750 per day, and vladi.de, which specializes in the sale of private islands, has it priced at $56.5 million.
"We go to switch off," Proctor said in an article posted on the Google site. "And with 30 staff for just the nine of us, and more hot tubs than there are people in our group, boy, do we switch off."
She added, "We stay in a lot of five-star hotels, but Musha Cay is in a different league. ... Every time the seaplane lands at Musha Cay, I can't believe how lucky we are to be back."
Not bad for a guy who never went to college and started his empire by building garages and the like in his home state of Pennsylvania.
"He's been good to me," said Shaver, 43, as he took his lunch break in a sun-washed, streamside glade. "Demanding at times, but there are certain things you need to get done. It's been very stressful at times."
A stunning development
Neither Shaver nor Michele Hock would reveal the house's construction cost, but auctioneer Bone said there are no reserve prices on any of the holdings, so somebody may get a bargain.
He said Gary Hock told him, "Whatever it brings, it brings."
"This man is a risk-taker," Bone said. "That's the reason he's got all that money. It's a little bit of a thrill for him. ... This is a small part of his net worth. It's not going to hurt him."
The Alleghany County Commissioner of the Revenue's records show that the house is assessed at $1,344,400 for tax purposes. It and the 200 acres around it are assessed at $2,488,000.
The figures seem low.
"We had nothing to compare it to," said Valerie Bruffey, the revenue commissioner. She had to rely on a software program built around the county's last reassessment in 2001.
Last summer, she and others toured the house to do the assessment.
"It wasn't like anything I've ever seen in my life," she said.
News of the auction shocked her.
"Get out!" she exclaimed.
Talking about the auction made Bill Shaver misty-eyed for a moment.
"I didn't think he'd ever sell it," he said. "I knew he'd lost interest in it, but he's had a lot on his plate down in Durham. He broke the news to me by e-mail and said, 'Il come and talk to you.'
"I didn't think he'd ever sell it."