Living Large: The Troubled History of Arizona's Largest House (Part 3 of 3)

Jul 19, 2022

In my research into Phoenix history, I have become fascinated by the largest private home in the State. This three-part series is a deep dive into the troubled story of Arizona's Largest House, known as the McCune Mansion or Hormel Mansion.

Part one is about Walker McCune, who began building the palatial house in 1960 and owned it until his death in 1971, though he never lived in the main residence. Part two covers Gordon Hall, the flashy businessman and white-collar criminal who owned the house from 1983 until 1986. Part three is about George Albert "Geordie" Hormel, an accomplished composer and musician and heir to a family fortune who owned the home from 1991 through the end of his life in 2006.

Each of the house’s three owners was substantially wealthier than an average person, and yet each of their lives was a roller coaster of misfortune and tragedy.

The Family Business

George A. Hormel was born in Buffalo, New York on December 4, 1860. His parents were immigrants from Germany, John George Hormel (1836-1890) and Susannah “Susan” Hormel (Decker) (1836-1910). He was one of eleven children.

 

George A. Hormel, founder of Hormel Foods, in 1924 (age 64)


At age 12, George began working in a meat packing house in Chicago. He eventually relocated to the small town of Austin, Minnesota, which is located about 40 miles southwest of Rochester, MN. He married Lillian Belle Gleason and together they had a son, Jay, in 1892.

At age 31, he founded his own business: George A. Hormel & Company. The company sold meat, poultry, and other goods and became very successful. The business really started to take off in 1926 when Hormel Foods began selling “ham in a can.”


George A. Hormel & Company Provision Market in 1891.
Source: hormelfoods.com


At age 67, George Hormel retired from handling day-to-day operations but continued to serve as chief executive officer. His son Jay C. Hormel was named acting president. Hormel became a public company in 1928.

Jay’s leadership brought fresh new ideas and innovations. The company flourished under his leadership. In 1937, the company introduced SPAM, a cooked pork product that sold in signature blue cans. The company also created brands like Dinty Moore beef stew and Hormel chili during this era.

In 1922, Jay married Germaine Dubois. They went on to raise three children: George II “Geordie” (born 1928), Thomas (born 1930) and James (born 1933). Jay’s father George passed away on June 5, 1946 at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 85. Jay C. would continue to lead the company until 1947. Jay later passed away in 1954 at the age of 62.

George Albert “Geordie” Hormel II

George Albert Hormel II was born in Austin, Minnesota on July 17, 1928. He was the first of three children of Jay and Germaine Dubois.

 

Partial Family Tree for the Hormel Family
Source: North Phoenix Blog



He was a member of the Austin High School class of 1946, but transferred before graduating. Geordie and his brothers Thomas and James all attended Shadduck Saint Mary's military school in Faribault, Minnesota. He graduated as a lieutenant in the Army Reserve.

In 1947, with money he had earned by working summers in the packing house, he shipped off to Occidental College in California. He rarely attended class and dropped out not long after. He spent two years working in a meat packing plant in Nebraska.

To avoid being drafted for the Korean War, Geordie joined the Coast Guard along with his two brothers. An accident left him in the hospital with a sprained back, and so Geordie organized a Coast Guard band.

He married his first wife, movie actress Leslie Caron, on September 23, 1951. He was 23 and she was just 20 years old. The couple divorced on April 26, 1955.

Geordie and his first wife, actress Leslie Caron, in 1953.
Source: Silver Screen Mementos on eBay



After his service ended, Geordie formed a band that released one moderate hit, then fizzled out. He had a lucky break when some music he had written was used as cue music for the television show Playhouse 90.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Geordie was composing music for television shows including The Fugitive, Lassie, Naked City, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, The Ruff & Ready Show, Quick Draw McGraw, The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Yogi Bear Show, and many others.

Geordie briefly owned the family's historic home in Austin, MN but lost it during his second divorce. The home is a museum and event space today. Image: HormelHistoricHome.org



He bought the family mansion in Minnesota following his father’s death in 1954 and turned the property into a hotel. His second marriage was to Kim Wadsworth on March 23, 1957. The couple had two children, and the marriage ended in divorce in 1961. As a result of the divorce, his assets were frozen and he lost ownership of the family mansion.

Geordie bounced around for a while, spending time working at a radio station in Portland and performing music in New York City. Things would finally click for Geordie when he moved back to Los Angeles in the late 1960s.

The Village Studios

In 1968, Hormel married Nancy B. Friedman, with whom he had one child; they divorced in 1973. 

In 1968, Geordie had saved up $125,000 and purchased a 22,000 square foot Masonic Temple in West Los Angeles, California. The old building at 1616 Butler Avenue was built around 1922, and was later used as a meditation center. This would become the new home for The Village, a recording studio that Geordie was immensely proud of. It was one of the first 24-track studios in the area.

Geordie Hormel founded The Village Studios in Los Angeles in 1968.
Source: Google Maps

He created a comfortable, state-of-the-art place where musicians could do their thing, but he preferred to stay out of the spotlight. Geordie owned the studio as an absentee owner, taking care not to interfere with musicians or their sessions.

The studio was used for recording sessions by Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, George Harrison, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Sly & the Family Stone, and Steely Dan, among many others.

The Hormel Mansion

When Geordie’s mother passed in 1991, she left behind an estate worth some $40 million, according to a 1993 Arizona Republic article. Geordie’s net worth was estimated to be $20 million – some of which he made himself, and some of which he inherited from his family.

The Arizona Republic announces Geordie's purchase of the McCune Mansion on 14 March 1991.



Geordie made a big splash when he bought the Walker McCune mansion in March of 1991 for $3.75 million, or $72/sq. ft. The papers ran profile pieces on him, telling about his life as the heir to a meat packing fortune and his own path as a musician and entrepreneur. Geordie said that he bought the house intending to use it as a think tank for executives to share ideas about environmental policy. But when the Town of Paradise Valley would not grant a zoning variance for that use in a residential neighborhood, Geordie moved into the home instead.

He didn’t intend to move to Arizona, but said that he loved the people. “I don’t like the desert, but the people here are just wonderful. I just love the people here. I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve met so many nice, wonderful people.”

He and his fourth wife Jaime, their two girls, and their entourage of friends and family moved into the 20-bedroom, 26-bathroom house. He actually lived in the guest house on the property. In a move that shocked the well-heeled elites of the neighborhood, Geordie had the home furnished with used furniture from a local furniture consignment chain.

The Wrigley Mansion

As it turns out, having one gigantic home wasn’t enough for Geordie. In June of 1992, at the age of 64, he purchased the Wrigley Mansion for $2.6 million. Geordie said that he bought the home “in order to preserve its history and dignity.”

At the time, the historic property was threatened with becoming a condominium development. Prior to that, the home was owned by Western Savings Bank, which used the mansion for corporate retreats and events.

Geordie purchased the historic Wrigley Mansion in Arizona in 1992.

The mansion was one of five lavish homes built by chewing gum founder and industrialist William Wrigley Jr. (1861-1932). The Arizona mansion, at 16,850 square feet, was the smallest of his residences. Nicknamed “La Colina Solana” (the sunny hill) it was constructed between 1929 and 1931 as a “winter cottage.” The house has 24 rooms, 12 bathrooms, and is notable for its extensive use of ornate ceramic tile work.

Geordie was again at odds with the city over its use. He invested millions into renovating the property, but was only allowed to open it as a private club. In 1997, he said that he had spent about $8 million on the project in total.

The Wrigley Mansion contains this extraordinarily rare Steinway player piano, custom built for Mr. Wrigley, and 1 of 2 ever built. The piano is contractually obligated to stay with the house.



One interesting side note about the house is that it contains an extraordinarily rare Steinway player piano, one of only two ever built by the company. It was built per special order of Mr. Wrigley, who sent the company a blank check for its construction. $10,000 later, the piano was delivered with 10 scrolls of music composed by George Gershwin. The purchase contract for the home stipulates that the piano is to remain with the home.

Album covers from some of Geordie's music.



Geordie enjoyed playing music for the patrons of the restaurant, and even released a CD of a live performance there.

Personal Life

Geordie told a newspaper that he and his two brothers were bullied out of the family business after their father died in 1946. He and his brothers had no role in running the company but received approximately $4 million apiece each year.

Hormel married his fourth and final wife, Jamie Renee Vincent, on June 2, 1992. The couple had two children (Geri and Gillian) and were married until Geordie’s death on February 12, 2006, at age 77. 



The thing to know about Geordie is that he was the complete opposite of Gordon Hall. Whereas Hall had a big ego, Geordie was humble and soft-spoken. Hall liked attention and flashy projects, while Geordie was more artistic and concerned with the welfare of his friends and family. Geordie was a philanthropist and gave generously to causes he supported.

He opened his home up to friends, family, and people who needed a place to stay. Despite their incredible wealth, Geordie and Jamie are both described as having an ambivalence towards money.

Geordie’s Passing

In February of 2006, Geordie was hospitalized for a week with an infection, according to the Alberta Lea Tribune. He returned home and died shortly thereafter. Geordie Hormel died peacefully at his home on Sunday, February 12, 2006 at 6:00 AM. He was 77 years old.

Geordie is remembered as a talented musician, a philanthropist, and as a caring and devoted family man. In 2006, he was survived by his wife, six children, eight grandchildren and two brothers. Since then, his brother Thomas passed in 2019 and his brother James passed in 2021.

Present Day

While Geordie passed away in 2006, both the Hormel Mansion and the Wrigley Mansion are still owned by his family as of the time of this publication in mid-2022. A caretaker lives on the premises in the guest house of the Hormel Mansion, and the Wrigley Mansion continues to operate as a private club.

The Hormel Mansion was listed for sale in 2006 for $25 million, and was later reduced to $20 million – though it did not find a buyer.

Aerial photo of the McCune / Hormel mansion in Paradise Valley from a now-removed 2016 listing.



The home was listed again in June 2010 for $15 million, but the listing was removed in May 2011 after failing to find a buyer. This was repeated again a few years later when the home was listed in July 2013 for $10 million, and was removed in August 2015. The home was re-listed in December 2015 for $10 million and was reported to be pending sale, but that fell through.

Exterior of the McCune / Hormel mansion.


The last time the home was put on the market was June 2016 for $8.6 million, but the listing was removed in June 2018 after failing to find a buyer.

The one-of-a-kind home is in a very desirable location, but it is likely that prospective buyers are put off at the idea of having to invest heavily in bringing the home up to modern standards. For the same money, it makes sense to most buyers to have a new custom home built instead.

What does the future hold for the house? Will another listing be coming in the future?

If you ask me, I find it interesting that the home was not re-listed during the insane real estate run-up of 2020-2021, when home prices jumped nationally and in the Phoenix market. It’s just a matter of time of waiting to find the right buyer, whenever that may be. No one can say for sure.

UPDATE: A June 28, 2022 article in the Phoenix Business Journal says that the Hormel family has once again listed the home for sale, with an asking price of $16 million. Are market conditions finally right for the home to find its next buyer? Only time will tell.

Living Large: The Troubled History of Arizona's Largest House (Part 2 of 3)

Jul 12, 2022

In my research into Phoenix history, I have become fascinated by the largest private home in the State. This three-part series is a deep dive into the troubled story of Arizona's Largest House, known as the McCune Mansion or Hormel Mansion.

Part one is about Walker McCune, who began building the palatial house in 1960 and owned it until his death in 1971, though he never lived in the main residence. Part two covers Gordon Hall, the flashy businessman who owned the house from 1983 until 1992, just five years before he was arrested by the FBI. Part three is about George Albert "Geordie" Hormel, an accomplished composer and musician and heir to a family fortune who owned the home from 1992 through the end of his life in 2006.

Each of the house’s three owners was substantially wealthier than an average person, and yet each of their lives was a roller coaster of misfortune and tragedy.

Paradise Mountain Estates

In Part one of this three-part series, we looked at the life of Walker McCune, the man who built Arizona’s largest private home. Following his death, the home eventually passed to Paradise Mountain Estates, Inc. by 1983.

According to a 1983 newspaper article, the 36-acre parcel of land surrounding the house was divided into 28 lots and offered for sale as luxury home sites. The house was listed for an asking price of $6 million.

The house is described in the article as 31,582 square feet on three stories. Amenities include Ice rink, 10-car garage, elevator, servants’ quarters, a poolroom and a children’s suite. All it needed now was a buyer.


Greed is Good

The 1980s were a decade of change in corporate America. It was the era of the “Corporate raider” – when investors such as Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens orchestrated hostile takeovers of large companies, reaping massive profits for themselves. Michael Milken made a fortune as the “Junk Bond King” before his conviction of insider trading.

During this time, Wall Street was rallying and fortunes were being made with every merger, acquisition, or takeover. This character of the 1980s high-risk, high-reward investor was portrayed by actor Michael Douglas in his role as Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie “Wall Street.” A famous scene in the film has Douglas’ character explaining that “Greed is good” which became a mantra for a certain type of person during this time.

The story of the morally corrupt, greedy 1980s corporate raider has also been told by actor Leonardo DiCaprio playing Jordan Belfort in the 2013 movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” which is based on accounts of corruption on Wall Street during the 1980s.

But these were not characters created to tell entertaining stories, they were based on real people. People like Gordon Hall.


Poster for the 1987 movie "Wall Street" which exemplifies the high-risk, high-reward persona of 1980s stockbrokers and investors.

Gordon L. Hall

Facts about Gordon Hall’s life have been culled from a March 30, 1986 article in the Arizona Republic and a December 18, 1997 article in the New York Times. Here’s what we know:

Gordon Leroy Hall was born in San Diego, California around 1953 to parents Thomas and Delores Hall. Gordon has five brothers and sisters, and graduated from Mount Carmel High School in 1971. After high school, he says he worked as a commercial fisherman before joining the U.S. Army. Hall was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado where he worked as a mail clerk. He served for three years, three months and three days.

After the Army, Hall was working as a night clerk at a liquor store. In 1975, he married a woman named Lugene and they had a daughter together, Alicia Ann Hall. The marriage didn’t last and in 1977, the couple divorced with Lugene saying her ex-husband was physically abusive and Hall denying it.

The Self-Made Millionaire

In 1976, Gordon Hall was working at a health spa in Colorado Springs and worked his way up to manager. When the club went up for sale, he bought it with his business partner Will Milenz by mortgaging his small house and taking out a $25,000 loan.

Within a year, he split ways with Milenz and had sold the club. He founded a health club chain “24 Hour Nautilus” in Los Angeles. A brochure published by the Gordon Hall Corp. says that he became a “self-made millionaire by the age of 24.”

In 1979, Hall relocated to Mesa, Arizona. He opened a chain of health clubs that had inexpensive memberships and 24 hour operations. At its peak, the chain had grown to 17 locations in California, Arizona, and Texas.

In 1980, Hall married his second wife Stacy and they went on to have three children together. It was during this time that Hall became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

In 1984, Hall sold his chain of health clubs to focus on other business ventures. Not long after, the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but that was no longer Gordon’s problem. It seemed like things were going well for Hall at this time, but things were about to switch gears in a big way.

 


Shoot for the Moon

After selling off his chain of health clubs, Gordon wanted to try his luck as a real estate developer. Friends and associates said that he had expressed his ambitions to be rich and successful. He told People Magazine in an interview that he planned to be a billionaire by age 40. Hall loved the attention he got from the press and sought to get as much of it as he could.

In the mid-1980's, Mr. Hall promoted two major projects that never got built. The first was a proposed 60-story office tower to be located at Central Avenue and Thomas Road in Phoenix, which was humbly named Gordon Hall Towers. This project stalled when his application for a loan to buy property at the site was denied by Incor Inc., a loan-brokerage firm.

The second project was a 1,200-room hotel proposed for downtown Phoenix at an estimated cost of $104 million. It too was thwarted when the $18.6 million incentive package he was seeking was rejected by city of Phoenix officials.

Hall spent a significant amount of effort trying to convince the leadership of West Jordan, Utah to relocate city hall into a proposed 2-million square foot office and shopping complex called Fox Crossing, which never materialized. He was turned down for a $27 million dollar loan for the project, and the site’s owners say he failed to make a $350,000 balloon payment on the property and filed suit against him.

Hall did manage to get three small shopping centers built, including the Paseo de Oro shopping center at Alma School and Elliot road in Chandler. However, his grand ambitions for major developments never came to fruition.

Gordon Hall Mansion

Hall made a big splash when he purchased the Walker McCune mansion in Paradise Valley, Arizona on July 4, 1983. Hall paid slightly less than $2 million for the home, though he told reporters he paid $5 million. A fact check of public records indicated $2 million was the correct figure.

People Magazine ran a profile about Gordon Hall in January 1986, focusing on the home and its lavish amenities. It describes the home as having 16 bedrooms, 25 bathrooms, 6 dining rooms, 14 fireplaces, an outdoor swimming pool with waterfall, an ice-skating rink, a 14-car garage, 6 kitchens, a portico with 7,250 light bulbs, and a hair salon.



According to a newspaper article, Hall spent more than $2 million renovating the property. He hired Audrey Lynne Rounding, a Scottsdale architect and decorator, to remodel and expand the house from 33,000 square feet to 55,000. As one would expect, the renovations were as outlandish as Hall’s personality. He had the words “GORDON HALL MANSION” painted on the roof in 44-foot wide black letters, so that people would know who lives there.

A 14-person Jacuzzi tub was installed in the master bath. The exercise room within the home had custom doors made featuring life-size portraits of Arnold Schwarzenegger and body building champ Lisa Lyon. The price for the art was $150,000.

The "Gordon Hall Mansion" in 1985.
 

Additionally, Hall bragged of having two Bosendorfer pianos from Vienna, 133 telephones on 12 lines, and a 250-kilowatt generator on site. The home boasts 49 security cameras and infrared detectors feeding a console of 29 television monitors to sense every motion in the house. Hall also had a considerable cache of weapons, which he called "just toys." 

Shortly after, Hall taped a segment for the television program Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, which ran from 1984-85 and later in syndication. I was not able to confirm if the segment actually aired.

Real Estate Crash and Downsizing

The one thing that Gordon Hall did not see coming was the real estate crash of the late 1980s. The stock market crashed on Monday, October 19, 1987. By day’s end, the DOW had fallen 22.6% in an event now referred to as “Black Monday.”

The ripple effect that this had on the commercial real estate industry was devastating. Gordon Hall was nearly broke. Prices on real estate continued to slide for the next four years as a result.

The headline reads "Quick sale sought for palace" on this October 28, 1989 newspaper article in the Arizona Republic.


Hall put the house on the market in 1986 for $9.85 million. In December 1986, he held a private auction and received a bid of $3.4 million. The offer was rejected.

Gordon Hall sold the mansion to the Southwest Savings and Loan Association in 1989. Though he had received a foreclosure notice, the proceedings were never finalized as he sold the house to Southwest. He had lived in the home with his family for approximately four years.

Once a Crook, Always a Crook

After exiting the health club business and failing to secure funding for any of his wildly speculative development projects, Hall was in need of a new venture. Over the next three decades, he would be involved in a number of fraudulent business schemes involving used cars, stock manipulation with organized crime families, bogus silver investments, and a Ponzi scheme in South Carolina. As the old saying goes: “once a crook, always a crook.”

Used Car Stock Scheme

From 1992-1994, Hall put his remaining funds into Eagle Holdings, a publicly-traded used car company. Federal regulators accused Hall of manipulating the stock price in a pump-and-dump scheme that netted him $2 million in profit.

HealthTech Stock Scheme

Hall went back to fitness clubs in the 1990s as the CEO of HealthTech, which too was publicly traded.
In 1997, Hall was indicted on criminal racketeering charges. He was arrested by FBI agents when he arrived at work, two days before Thanksgiving. He was accused of working with the members of the Genovese and Bonanno crime families to manipulate his company's stock price. On Dec 10, 1997, Nasdaq delisted the Healthtech stock.

 

Article about Hall's indictment from Nov. 29, 1997


Dec 18, 1997 – Gordon Hall appeared in Federal District Court in Manhattan, pleaded not guilty to 25 counts of fraud and racketeering charges in a stock manipulation scheme that involved members of the Genovese and Bonnano crime families and half a dozen brokers.

A Manhattan jury convicted him in 1999 after four mobsters pleaded guilty in the case. Hall was sentenced to 87 months in prison and three years of probation.

Atlantic Bullion & Coin Scheme

Hall's probation in the securities case was scheduled to end in 2010. Less than two years later, authorities said he and his 22-year-old son, Benton Hall, became embroiled in a Ponzi scheme involving bogus silver investments.

Authorities said the Halls agreed to help a key figure in the South Carolina scheme hide $1.5 million from federal investigators, including the U.S. Secret Service.

Gordon Hall was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice and wire fraud in April 2014. He was sentenced to 180 months in prison and ordered to pay $172,000 in restitution. Benton Hall was sentenced to 24 months and was also ordered to repay $172,000.

South Carolina Ponzi Scheme

In 2015, Hall was sentenced to 96 months in prison for orchestrating a $93 million tax scam with roots in the sovereign-citizen movement. That's on top of 180 months he's already serving for his involvement in a South Carolina Ponzi scheme.

It will be a very long time before Hall is a free man again. The amount of effort he has put into the various schemes throughout his life is simply staggering.

Prologue

The Southwest Savings and Loan Association, which bought the mansion from Hall in 1989, was keen to find a new buyer for the property. They hired Las Vegas-based Eric Nelson Auctioneering, which had sold Liberace’s former residence, to auction the home. The auction date was set for December 9, 1989.

Prior to the auction, a number of open-house preview events were held on November 26, December 2-3, and Dec. 8th. Large crowds of the public flocked to see the house. A November 20, 1989 newspaper article described the house as having “unfinished construction, peeling wallpaper, and stained carpets.” The house was estimated to need $750,000 to $1 million in renovations, according to a local real estate broker.
Ahead of the auction, estimates on the house’s value were all over the place, ranging from $1 million to $18 million. Monthly upkeep on the property was reportedly $30,000 including a staff of three gardeners to tend to the estate.

December 1989 auction: An anonymous bidder submits a bid of $3.95 million for the house, but backs out. The bidder is never identified, other than as a “woman from London.” The second highest bid was $3.05 million from Bruce Jennings of Newport Beach, CA.

Jennings and his wife AnnaLeah had plans to renovate the 53,000 square foot house. They were reported to own a medieval castle-style home in Newport Beach and a ski lodge in the mountains near Lake Tahoe with an indoor waterfall that drops into a Jacuzzi.

 

Jennings is a real estate investor and part owner of a flight school, as well as a licensed pilot who has two jets: a Citation and a Lear. However, the couple changed their minds and re-listed the property shortly after buying it.

The Jennings' ended up selling the home in March 1991 for $3.75 million, earning a tidy $700,000 profit on the home. We will learn about the buyer, George A. “Geordie” Hormel II in Part 3 of this three-part series.


Living Large: The Troubled History of Arizona's Largest House (Part 1 of 3)

Jul 5, 2022

In my research into Phoenix history, I have become fascinated by the largest private home in the State. This three-part series is a deep dive into the troubled story of Arizona's Largest House, known as the McCune Mansion or Hormel Mansion.

Part one is about Walker McCune, who began building the palatial house in 1960 and owned it until his death in 1971, though he never lived in the main residence. Part two covers Gordon Hall, the flashy businessman and white-collar criminal who owned the house from 1983 until 1986. Part three is about George Albert "Geordie" Hormel, an accomplished composer and musician and heir to a family fortune who owned the home from 1991 through the end of his life in 2006.

Each of the house’s three owners was substantially wealthier than an average person, and yet each of their lives was a roller coaster of misfortune and tragedy.

Largest House in Arizona

The largest completed house in Arizona is the 52,000 sq. ft. house located at 6112 N Paradise View Drive. Two other Arizona houses are under construction which are 60,000 and 100,000 square feet, but neither is completed at the time of this writing.



Arizona’s Largest Private Residence is located on top of Sugarloaf Mountain within the prestigious Paradise Valley suburb of Phoenix. The house has a fascinating backstory that begins with its fabulously wealthy and eccentric creator. In this article, we will explore the turbulent life of Walker McCune, the man who built the largest home in Arizona.



The Birth of a Family Fortune

The story of Walker McCune begins thousands of miles away in Scotland with the birth of Charles Lockhart on August 2, 1818. Lockhart and his family emigrated to the United States in June 1836. Arriving in Pittsburgh, the Lockhart family settled on a farmstead in Ohio, though Charles stayed in Pittsburgh.


Charles worked as a dry goods merchant for 19 years, later becoming a partner in the business with another clerk. In the 1850s, he began producing crude oil and built the first commercial scale oil refinery in the United States with his business partners.

In 1872 at the age of 54, Charles Lockhart teamed up with John D. Rockefeller to start what would eventually become Standard Oil Co. Lockhart served as President of Standard Oil from 1874 to 1892.

Charles Lockhart (1818-1905) was a co-founder of Standard Oil Company and amassed a vast fortune during his lifetime, estimated to be $30 to $50 million in 1903.


Standard Oil Co. used monopolistic business practices to crush their competition, and by 1890, the company controlled 88% of the refined oil in the United States. As a result, Rockefeller and Lockhart became fabulously wealthy – think of your typical Industrial Revolution tycoons. Standard Oil was the first company in history to reach a market capitalization of $1 billion dollars, but it was not to last.

In 1909, the U.S. Justice Department sued Standard Oil for maintaining a monopoly. In the summer of 1911, the case had advanced to the US Supreme Court, which ruled that Standard Oil was to be broken up into 34 smaller, independent companies. The company and its legacy are still studied today in business schools, numerous books, magazines and case studies.

Lockhart used his wealth to diversify into numerous other businesses including steamships, gold mining, lumber, and various other farming and manufacturing companies.

Lockhart retired in 1900 at the age of 82. An April 12, 1903 article in the San Francisco Examiner estimated his wealth at $30 to $50 million. He passed away on January 26, 1905 in Pittsburgh at age 87.


The Lockhart Mansion

Charles and his wife Jane Walker Lockhart lived in a palatial home in Pittsburgh. Located at 608 North Highland Avenue, the home boasted 16-foot ceilings and was known for its impressive art collection.

Charles Lockhart built this Gilded Age mansion in Pittsburgh with the vast fortune he made as a co-founder of Standard Oil Company. This photo shows the house in approximately 1899. His grandson Walker McCune cited the house and its high ceilings as an inspiration for the home he would later build in Arizona. Image by: The Frick Pittsburgh.



After Charles’ death in 1905, the home was passed to Lockhart’s descendants who demolished the property in 1952. The land was donated to the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, which was constructed in 1954.

Walker McCune

Walker McCune was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 19, 1902. His parents were Janet Lockhart (born 13 June 1867) and John Robison McCune III (born 10 October 1869). Walker was the middle of five children and his siblings included 3 brothers and 1 sister.

Walker visited Arizona in 1927 at the age of 25. Like many at that time, he came to Arizona for the dry desert air, which cleared up his sinus illness.

Walker McCune (shown at left) in his early 60s in this newspaper article from March 31, 1965.


He served in the air corps during the war during which he visited Africa, China and India. Upon his return, he had “an unfortunate year” at Princeton, he told the Arizona Republic in a 1958 interview. He transferred to Carnegie Tech where he studied electrical and mechanical engineering.

While a student, Walker went to work for Westinghouse Research. He took a job writing cookbooks for the electric stoves that Westinghouse was developing, and stayed on with the company until 1923 when his father passed away.

He served briefly at the Union National Bank of Pittsburgh, which was founded in 1851 by Walker’s grandfather, J.R. McCune. Walker admits that he never did like the banking business. In his 40s, he retired to Scottsdale, Arizona where he began giving to a number of charities as part of his McCune Foundation.

On October 11, 1957, Walker (age 55) married Carole Donne McCune (age 41). It was the second marriage for both of them. It seemed like things were going well for Walker, who was living off of the trust fund that was established by his grandfather, the co-founder of Standard Oil Co.

A Monumental House

Thanks to his grandfather, Walker was the recipient of a trust fund which paid him a handsome $167,000 per year for life, according to a 1968 article. A July 1965 financial statement reported his net worth as $16.2 million, equivalent to $142.9 million in 2021.

Now in his late 50s, Walker McCune embarked on a new project of building a custom home. This would be more than just a house – it would be his legacy project. Walker began building his trophy, his monument, his magnum opus. This new house would be a palace of truly extravagant proportions.

Walker began by purchasing 36 acres of land in the wealthy suburb of Paradise Valley for $10,000 per acre. Construction crews moved tons of dirt and built retaining walls 10 to 20 feet high to create Sugarloaf Mountain, an artificial hilltop upon which the home would sit.

For the design, McCune hired the design firm of Stone, Marracini and Patterson, based out of San Francisco. They were notable for having designed many prominent commercial buildings and hospitals across the U.S. The firm designed a fabulous house with 23,000 square feet under roof, split among three levels. The house would be approximately 2,000 square feet larger than the Wrigley Mansion, which was the city’s largest home for many years.

Construction of the massive home began August 10, 1960 and was documented in detail in the Arizona Republic newspaper, which ran multiple stories about the house and its amenities. Fred L. Musser was hired as general contractor for the project.

A December 1961 article states that the property will have a 3-bedroom guest house complete with kitchen and dining room, which is separated from the main house by an Olympic-size swimming pool. Estimates put the cost of construction at “more than $1 million.”


The main house has three floors, with the lower floor housing the servant’s quarters and machinery for air conditioning. The main floor has a kitchen measuring 18x36 feet. The original doors of the McCune Mansion in Pittsburgh are being rebuilt to be used in this home. They are of monel metal.

A photo of the house under construction from April 1961 shows the frame of the house made of reinforced concrete, with the exterior planned to be faced with native stone.

 

A May 1962 article talks about the house having an elevator as well as a grand staircase. Another article mentioned that the McCune Mansion would include an ice skating rink, commercial-sized laundry room, and a 10-car garage. At the time, the house boasted the single largest air conditioning unit in Arizona at 150 tons.

The construction of such a lavish property caused quite a stir, but that was just the beginning. Things were about to get a lot worse for Walker.

Walker’s Troubles Begin

Almost two years into construction of his prized hilltop mansion, Walker’s marriage to his wife Carole was in shambles. In May of 1962, Carole (age 36) sued Walker (age 60) for divorce, charging him with cruelty and habitual intemperance.

The suit asked for division of community property she valued at $50 million. She also asked for $15,000 monthly temporary alimony and $2,000 child support for their two adopted children. The couple had been married for 4.5 years.

Three days later, Carole was in Los Angeles where she was recovering from surgery after an intestinal obstruction. Walker told a reporter that there was nothing to the lawsuit, which he described as “the lawyer’s doing” and expected the suit to be withdrawn.

A May 25th article reports that the couple had reconciled with the assistance of Phoenix attorney Robert Kersting. He described himself as an intermediary and said that the couple is working out a complete reconciliation.

The house was still under construction according to a Feb. 11, 1963 article which offered a detailed look into the home’s amenities. The reporter describes a Roman-style bathroom in Carole’s suite made of Italian marble. A state-of-the-art security system was also mentioned as part of the home’s amenities. The cost of the home had now reached $2 million dollars.

The reporter was amused to find the home barely furnished, aside from a few antiques that were shipped from the old family home in Pittsburgh. A grandfather clock, some carved tables, an old-fashioned music box, and some valuable paintings were brought to Arizona, along with the restored wrought iron front entry doors, which weigh 1700 lbs. each.

Walker managed to stay out of the spotlight in 1964, but he was listed in the newspaper on April 10, 1965 along with 36 other drivers who were charged with driving while intoxicated, have pleaded guilty, or were found guilty.

However, trouble with his marriage and a drunk driving conviction were relatively minor compared to what would happen next to Walker and his extravagant house over the next several years.

From Bad to Worse

June 10, 1966 – Lawyers representing six contractors and building firms sue McCune for $200,000. It is revealed that the cost of the 23,000 square foot mansion is $5,453,000, or an unprecedented $245 per square foot to build.



July 1967 – New York jeweler Harry Winston Inc. wins a $351,655 judgment against Walker McCune for jewelry that he purchased in 1964. McCune paid $462,000 for a 24-carat emerald and diamond ring, a diamond bracelet, and a 28-carat marquise diamond ring valued at $250,000, all for his wife. The monthly payments for the jewelry totaled $39,750. McCune made his first four of 12 monthly payments, but then stopped paying them. The jeweler pursued legal action in 1967 and won a $351,655 judgment against Walker McCune in July 1967.

September 6, 1968 – Documents given as part of Walker McCune’s trial say that he was worth $16,249,881 as of July 1965. He owns four houses including a $566,118.24 house in Payson, Arizona. Approximately $7 million of his wealth was in a combination trust fund which is producing income of $167,000 per year for life.

February 1969 – The IRS places a $144,000 lien on all of McCune’s real and personal property. This amount was determined based on his 1967 tax return.

June 12, 1969 – Walker’s $5.8 million home is scheduled to be sold at a sheriff’s auction on June 26th to satisfy a $116,000 court judgment to Phoenix attorney Robert Kersting. Kersting was a friend of McCune’s who helped him reconcile his divorce with Carole back in 1962.

By 1968, the relationship between McCune and Kersting had soured to the point where Kersting sued him for fees he was owed for legal and financial advice he provided to Walker. McCune was ordered to pay the money by April 14. A $500,000 house near Payson owned by McCune’s trust is also scheduled to be sold at a sheriff’s auction in Gila County on June 23rd.

June 22, 1969 – Court Won’t Postpone McCune Property Sale – Superior Court has denied moves to postpone the scheduled sheriff’s sale of McCune’s property near Payson and his $5 million Paradise Valley House. All of McCune’s property is in a trust fund managed by Los Angeles attorney Louis Sakin.

November 20, 1969 – McCune filed a complaint in Arizona Supreme Court that he was denied a court ruling on his right to a counterclaim against Seitz Construction Co, who filed a lien foreclosure suit on the McCune house.

November 27, 1969 – Walker McCune, age 67, was arrested at the family residence in Rancho Santa Fe, California (outside of Del Mar, CA) on charges of “child molest,” a felony. He was released on a $2,500 bond and scheduled to appear in court in Oceanside on December 5th.

December 4, 1969 – The day before his court appearance, McCune files for divorce from Carole, alleging cruel treatment. He also seeks custody of their four adopted children, contending that Carole is an unfit mother. A newspaper article estimates McCune’s net worth at $10 to $16 million.

December 6, 1969 – Carole declines to sign a complaint in San Diego charging her husband with child molesting. Mrs. McCune said it would be in the “best interest of the children at this time if she declined to continue with prosecution.”

March 27, 1970 – Walker’s various legal tactics have delayed the sale of his Paradise Valley home for more than a year. However, Walker’s luck has finally run out. Arizona Supreme Court judge Irwin Cantor upholds a ruling that the house can be sold at auction in order to satisfy the judgment to Mr. Kersting.

March 28, 1970 – Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office shows that property taxes totaling $152,391.45 for 1966-69 have never been paid on the mansion. McCune also owes $116,000 to Phoenix attorney Robert Kersting for legal and financial advice he gave to McCune.

June 11, 1970 – McCune and his lawyers once again managed to dodge the Arizona mansion from hitting the auction block. McCune’s lawyers and Kersting’s lawyers agreed to a settlement of $100,000 to be payable over 30 months.

McCune’s lawyers also announced the settlement of a $120,000 suit sought by Herbert Miller, who was McCune’s business adviser in 1965. Settlement was for $70,000 to be paid over a period of 12 months.

June 18, 1970 – Arizona state attorney general’s office ordered the Maricopa County sheriff’s office to go ahead with the auction sale of the home. The state obtained a judgment of $55,117.55 against McCune for state income taxes for 1966, 1967 and 1968, plus an additional $5,000 in interest on the back taxes. It is reported that no one has ever lived in the mansion, which took five years to complete.

November 8, 1970 – the McCune Mansion will host a private cocktail party, hosted by Phoenix’s Charter Government Committee, the citizen’s group which has nominated the successful mayoral candidate in every election since 1949. Proceeds from the party will go to Charter Government Committee’s campaign expense fund.

Walker’s Demise

April 13, 1971 – Walker McCune dies unexpectedly at age 68. Though he did leave a will, his death kicks off a firestorm of legal activity over his estate.

Despite all of the settlements and judgments against him, Walker McCune was still worth approximately $7 million when he died. He left just $100.00 to his ex-wife Carole in his will. They had a complicated relationship, and it is amazing that a person of such means could hold such a grudge against his ex-wife.

Carole’s Story

Carole D. McCune (nee Donne) was born in Denmark on March 20, 1916. She had a role in the 1949 movie “Amazon Quest” as Anna Narden. She married Walker McCune in 1957 and they had a turbulent marriage that was on the rocks in 1962 before ending in divorce in 1969.

Before her marriage to Walker McCune, Carole Donne starred in the 1949 film "Amazon Quest."

Carole’s obituary describes her as a poet and artist, former movie actress, writer, minister, and private tutor in Europe. She was a member of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and Writers Digest School. Interestingly, her obituary makes no mention of the 12 years she was married to Walker McCune.

Carole never lived in the fabulous mansion in Arizona. After separating from Walker in 1969, she spent 50 years of her life in San Diego County in California, where she lived in a “substantial home on 18 acres” in Rancho Santa Fe.

Carole’s Lifestyle

A 1966 article describes Carole and her daughter Michele having taken a cruise from New York to Daytona Beach, Florida. Carole owned a number of race horses including “Phanson,” “Lady Gourmet,” and “Green Banner,” the latter of which won the “Irish Two Thousand Guinea Classic” and became a stud at the McCune ranch in California.

The article contains an amusing statement “She [Mrs. McCune] emphasizes, too, that the horses are hers – not her husband’s – who has no interest whatever in thoroughbred racing.”

Carole McCune was the target of a February 1965 conspiracy robbery by five New York mafiosos. An inmate in state prison testified that the five men were planning to rob an armored car and to steal about $500,000 worth of jewelry from Carole, who often stayed in the penthouse suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.

The chief security officer of the hotel, Louis Sorgi, was an inside man who befriended Mrs. McCune and helped plan the heists, according to the prosecutor for the case. The robberies never materialized, and the parties involved were convicted in Buffalo Federal Court in November 1967.

Carole owned race horses, a racing yacht, and according to a 1966 article, at one time had a stable of racing dogs. It is no stretch to say that she enjoyed the finer things in life.

A 1973 newspaper article about Cold War-era bomb shelters describes one such shelter at Carole’s home. It describes a three-bedroom shelter underneath her house that cost $15,000 and was more luxurious than many homes.

Carole’s Legal Troubles

In 1966, Carole and Walker had hired Los Angeles attorney Louis A. Sackin to help them manage their estate. He created a trust into which the couple was supposed to place all of their real and personal holdings. However, both Carole and Walker declined to follow through on this. Carole owned two Corporations in California and 65 acres of land in Apache Junction, Arizona which she planned to develop into a mobile home park. Walker owned a ranch near Payson, Arizona that he did not place into the trust.

After the couple separated in 1969, Sackin took the title to all of their properties that were in the trust. Carole filed suit against Walker and Sackin, alleging a violation of the trust agreement. Before everything could be settled, Walker died in April 1971 at the age of 68. He specifically bequested that Carole was to receive $100.00 in his will, with $1.5 million going to charitable donations to a hospital.

In May 1971, Carole hired Los Angeles law firm Irwin, Gluecksman and Lasker to represent her in the suit against Sackin and her former husband. During the fall and winter months, Gluecksmann and another attorney, Paul Bonn, contested the validity of Walker’s will in an Arizona court.

After intense negotiation, the hospital charities agreed in late 1971 to withdraw as proponents to McCune’s estate. Carole received approximately $411,000 and the children collectively received double that amount. Before the matter could be finalized, Carole made herself incommunicado in December 1971 and January 1972. One of the attorneys, Beardsley, visited Carole in Rancho Santa Fe and found the house to be in “deplorable conditions and Carole claiming to be without funds.”

Beardsley consulted with the other lawyers including Gluecksman and they petitioned the court to have her put into a conservatorship of both her person and her estate. This was the beginning of six years of hell for Carole that would nearly ruin her.

Carole’s Conservatorship

On February 18, 1972, Carole (age 55) was placed into a Conservatorship on the premise that it was “necessary for the preservation and protection of the estates of Carole McCune and her minor children.” This was in fact a scheme devised by various attorneys to deprive Carole of control over her assets and to have her assets be transferred to the attorneys as fees.

Attorney Joseph Gluecksman’s friend Emmett Morava was appointed temporary conservator, and later permanent conservator, of Mrs. McCune’s estate. Gluecksman himself was special council to the conservator.

During the 6 years that Carole’s estate was controlled by attorneys from 1972 to 1978, the value of her estate diminished from approximately $4 million dollars in 1973 to $1 million dollars by 1980. $2 million of this went to the attorneys for legal fees, costs, and administration fees for their activities.

As it turns out, California Judge Hugo Fisher was meeting ex parte with attorney Gluecksman, outside of the courtroom, discussing the case at restaurants attended by both men and their wives, or at Gluecksman’s home in Los Angeles.

Judge Fisher made several illegal actions that included: not ordering an inventory of the estate, filing petitions without proper notice and without findings required by law, without a showing of lawful cause.

Furthermore, the Judge ordered Carole to vacate her residence. He settled other pending lawsuits she had without her consent, including with another attorney, Louis Sacklin, who was allegedly a malpracticing attorney. He continued to order payments of legal fees, including “additional compensation” to Gluecksmann of $190,000

Carole fought like hell, making continuous and repeated objections to the judge over the course of six years. She hired lawyers, and then more lawyers, to try and untangle the massive legal mess that had consumed all facets of her life.

She succeeded in terminating the conservatorship on November 9, 1978, and won control of Walker’s Pennsylvania trusts on January 14, 1979. Carole received $2.4 million dollars, of which two-thirds was distributed to the children and one-third to her.

Carole passed away October 6, 1996 in Encinitas at the age of 80. Her obituary states that “She had no survivors.” I find it curious that the obituary made no mention of her four adopted children.

Judge Fisher Censured

Judge Hugo M. Fisher, a Superior Court judge in California, was charged in September 1980 with 30 instances of misconduct over his involvement with the Conservatorship of the Estate of Carole McCune. The judge denied any wrongdoing in the management of Carole McCune’s estate in a line-by-line objection that totaled 16 pages.

After an evidentiary hearing and oral argument, the Commission on Judicial Performance dismissed all except one of the charges, which it presented to the Supreme Court.

Photo of Judge Hugo Fisher in 1982. Photo by: Vince Campagnone for the Los Angeles Times


The Supreme Court publicly censured Judge Fisher in 1982, stating that he had engaged in a pattern of ex parte contacts with lawyers for only one side in the complex conservatorship case which was pending before him for several years. They found that he had recurrently failed to include the opposing side in his contacts, orally and in writing. This was in violation of the California Code of Judicial Conduct.

This ruling was the end of Judge Fisher’s career, and he retired from the bench not long afterwards in 1983 at age 62. In retirement, Fisher struggled with alcohol addiction and was twice convicted of drunk driving. Judge Fisher died in San Diego on July 8, 2015 at age 94.

The Empty House

With Walker deceased in 1971 and his ex-wife out in California, work on the unfinished house had come to a stop. The home was sold at auction by the court in 1970. I will discuss the next chapter of the home’s troubled history in part two.

 

©2008-2019 North Phoenix Blog. All Rights Reserved.