Live like a president in this White House replica

  • Photo courtesy of John Daugherty, REALTORS

    It's election season, which means a nonstop river of headlines about the "fight for the White House."

    But what if you could live in the White House without going through the hassle of speeches, debates and attack ads?

    This historic Texas mansion of presidential proportions is currently for sale for about $5.5 million. It's located in the upscale community of Morgan's Point on Galveston Bay, about 30 miles from downtown Houston.

    It was built in 1927 by Ross Sterling, co-founder of the Humble Oil and Refining Company (now Exxon Mobil) and governor of Texas from 1931 to 1933.

    Realtor Lin Neese said no one knows the real reason Sterling decided to build his summer mansion as a replica of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but there's a popular rumor.

    "The story is that one day Ross Sterling pulled a bill out of his pocket and showed it to the architect and told him, 'I want you to build me a house that looks like this,'" Neese said. "The architect was only too happy to comply. It was probably the most expensive house he ever built."

    The project cost an estimated $1.2 million at the time. Adjusted for inflation, that would be more than $16.6 million today.

    The project was so large that a railroad was built leading to the property to bring in the limestone blocks for the 12-inch-thick walls and heavy bronze fixtures used in construction, Neese said.

    In the late 1940s, Sterling donated the home to Houston's Downtown Optimist Club, which used it as a home for boys named "Boys Harbor." It returned to private ownership in the 1960s when Boys Harbor (now called Boys and Girls Harbor) moved to new facilities.

    The 20,689-square-foot house has 34 rooms, including nine bedrooms, 11 full bathrooms and four half-bathrooms. It sits on between 5.7 and 6.4 acres of land (Neese said the owners and Realtors are working to determine the exact size of the property as the deed and local tax records list different numbers).

    The three-story home has an elevator that serves all floors and the rooftop, where the owners "had wonderful dances" with several hundred guests, Neese said. According to the Houston Chronicle, these gatherings included "Back to Earth" parties for astronauts returning from missions out of the nearby Johnson Space Center.

    The current owners bought the home about four years ago and have made a long list of improvements and repairs totaling more than $1.3 million. These include upgrading the plumbing and electrical, installing a new driveway and basketball court, landscaping, adding air conditioning to the basement, installing custom-made French doors and a new roof and cleaning and refurbishing the home's exterior features. They also brought in sand to create a small private beach along the bay.

    Other features include a grand salon/ballroom, separate gentlemen's and ladies' parlors, a wood-paneled library, a dining room, a breakfast room, six fireplaces and hardwood and imported marble floors.

    Current owner Judy Masson said her favorite part of the manse is a toss-up between the ornate library and the home's large lower level.

    "The lower level/basement gave us such a wonderful space with a theater room, billiard club room, gym club room," Masson said. "It accommodates a room for a live band and a dance floor, a huge play area for children and even space to set up space comfortable for over 100 people to have a formal sit-down dinner."

    The lower level space also has a second kitchen big enough for a large catering staff, she said.

    The home is designated as a historic landmark, Neese said, so the new owners will have to get approval from a local historic committee before making any large alterations to the property.

    Upgrades made by previous owners have all taken into account the home's historic value and have maintained most of its historic design and features.

    "They all treated the house with such respect," she said. "They realize we have so little in Texas that is like this."

    Click ahead for a tour of the inside of the Texas White House.

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    Ilyce R. Glink is an award-winning, nationally-syndicated columnist, best-selling book author and founder of Best Money Moves, an employee benefit program that helps reduce financial stress. She also owns ThinkGlink.com, where readers can find real estate and personal finance resources.