Corona Mansion: Got Built But Nobody Came

Atop a hillside in Corona, California, past rows upon rows of tract housing, on what used to be an orange grove, sits a palace of epic proportions. Reminiscent of a Roman temple, it's bejeweled with scores of grand, twisting olive treesand blooming with luxurious details. This15,000 square-foot estate sitting on two and a half acres was built to reel in the super-rich looking for the highest level of opulence. The problem is, the super-rich are not biting.

Despite being located in one of the wealthiest enclaves of Riverside County, the house, which has an asking price of $9,995,000, down from the original $11 million, has not had one legitimate offer. Of the other seven lots on the private street designed to form a gated community, only one has a house under construction. The others sit as empty, graded plots of dirt looking up at the grandeur of the one completed mansion.

You might think of this place as the Big Mansion on the Prairie. Starkly alone.

"The interest has not been very good. It's been a lot of looky-looks, but nobody serious yet," said Manny Valencia, who developed this project from the beginning, purchasing the land in 1999 when it was still covered in citrus trees. His dream was to create a house fit for a king, along with an exclusive adjoining neighborhood that would afford owners a sanctuary from the rest of the city.

"When you drive up, there are some areas that are not that desirable, per se," Valencia said, "but once you get up here, it's a different story. Once you look around up here, it's just a pleasant, beautiful, secluded neighborhood."

Valencia personally financed the project and has overseen every minute detail in the planning and execution of building the house, a process that took more than six years, ending in 2009. Valencia said he did not consider the effect the financial crisis would have on the house, which cost him a grand total of $6.8 million. He started construction when the market was red hot only to finish when it had already cratered.

"I designed the home for the very, very rich and I've kind of never really looked into the global world economy crisis that we're in. That wasn't part of the way I looked at it, I just went ahead with the home and completed its original design."

Corona is a city that encapsulates the boom-town growth that hit much of Riverside over the last 20 years. Once agricultural land known as the "Lemon Capital of the World," it became a destination for people working in Los Angeles and Orange County who wanted cheaper housing in the 1980s. By the mid-90s it had become a full-blown suburb of Los Angeles.

Across Riverside County, sales of $1 million-plus homes fell almost 50 percent in 2009, the highest rate in Southern California, according to a report by DataQuick. Corona has fared better than some of the outlying communities in the county since the financial crisis began because of its more diversified economy and proximity to Orange County, but it too has fallen prey to plummeting property values.

"What's going to go on now for the next 24 months is very expensive homes are going to start being foreclosed on," said Bruce Norris of The Norris Group, who advises investors looking to buy property in Riverside. "We've already seen 7 and 8,000 square-foot houses get foreclosed on and sell for less than a hundred bucks a foot, so the bad news for this guy is he probably owns a $1.5 million property."

Valencia was inspired to design the home when he heard that Los Angeles Angels MVP Troy Glaus had bought a house down the street.

"It looked like a Mercedes parking lot out there. It looked beautiful," he said.

Valencia said he imagined the area, now sprinkled with large estates owned by doctors and lawyers, developing into a ritzy neighborhood populated by sports stars and jet setters, people with several houses who would appreciate the convenience of being an hour from Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and the beach. He even keeps the lot next door empty and includes it in the sale price. He says he envisions it being transformed into a practice field for athletes wanting to train during the off-season. Unfortunately, Glaus and his entourage have moved on.

Valencia remains confident that the quality of the house will demonstrate its value to potential buyers. On a recent tour of the property, he pointed out every detail, from the intricately molded ceilings to the inlaid wooden floors. Every inch was painstakingly crafted to fit his vision.

"It took eight guys 11 months just to hand paint this whole house," Valencia said, touching a wall lovingly.

Investment adviser Norris said it doesn't matter how expensive the house was to build.

"The problem is that the cost of something really no longer has any relevance to what it's worth," he said.

So the house sits empty, awaiting parties to be thrown in the ballroom, movies to be screened in the private theater and sports cars to be parked in the five-car garage. Valencia said it will stay vacant until a buyer comes along who will meet his price.

"I know that there are some amazing people out there who, I'm sure, desire the lavishness of this home, so I'm just going to wait for someone to come by."

Norris does not agree with that analysis.

"Unfortunately, he overdid it. This isn't Beverly Hills. And even if it was, that probably would still be a problem."

Far from Beverly Hills, the development sits on a street called Casper, appropriate for what is—as yet, a ghost town.

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Its a sad day when such beautiful land was demolished without ever meeting the goal of development and occupation. It's a sign of really tough times when the super rich aren't biting on property.

Big Mike
CEO of Walnut Jail