Nearly 12 years have passed since Hollywood Video founder Mark Wattles broke ground on his 50,000-square-foot "farmhouse" along the Willamette River in West Linn, and about nine years since neighbors say major construction stalled.
But after years of rumored activity, it finally appears Wattles is aiming to finish what he started: The house is now draped in plastic tarps, trucks are visible through the chain-link fence and barbed wire, and the ringing of power tools can be heard from the road.
If he does finish, his home will be as large as Bill Gates' 50,000-square-foot mansion on the shores of Lake Washington, just outside Seattle.
Decade-old photos from the front of the Wattles' house show the roof and exterior were mostly finished. Neighbors believe there wasn't much done on the inside when construction stopped in 1999. They link the stoppage to Wattles moving his wife and four children to the tony Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. Calls to Wattles' builder, Highland Homes, weren't returned. And Wattles, who sold his shares in Hollywood Video for an estimated $86 million in 2005, couldn't be reached for comment.
The Wattles site (click buttons or drag photo to zoom & move):
Wattles, 47, has a long history of incensing neighbors in West Linn—along with river users and state and county agencies.
Wattles' plans for the 32 acres of prime West Linn farmland he bought for $1.25 million in 1994 included a three-story, nine-bedroom, eight-bathroom home with an indoor basketball court, indoor pool, elevator, 1,200-square-foot master-bedroom closet, and 6,000-square-foot car showroom. Neighbors opposed the mega-mansion, and Wattles' desire to keep boaters and swimmers off a few hundred feet of popular sandy beach in front of it.
"I learned to swim on that beach," says Lois Todd, 81. Until 2006, she and her husband Ted, 84, lived next door on property owned by Todd's family since 1914.
Wattles further angered river users—and ignored environmental laws—when he used 200 tons of boulders to build a rock wall along the beach to stop erosion, then backfilled it with dirt—all without permits. He paid a $10,000 fine and removed the boulders, but not the backfill. Neighbors report the beach has never been the same.
A current neighbor, who wanted to remain anonymous, says she's heard Wattles hopes to have the house done in a couple of years and move back. Her assessment: He has been "a pretty hideous neighbor."
Clackamas County assessed the property's value, with Wattles' improvements, at $7.6 million in 2007. And records show he pays $62,200 a year in property taxes.