Monday, October 15, 2012

The Four Seasons Manor

Nestled in the south Tulsa hills, a palatial French-inspired estate coined "The House of the Four Seasons" tells tales of the 17th century. It also tells the story of the family who dreamed it into existence. After eight years, the home of Ed Taylor and his late wife, Nancy, was finally finished in 1998. Currently on the market for $9 million, it's approximately 20,000 square feet and sits on nearly 4 acres of prime land near Oral Roberts University. "If this house were in Beverly Hills, no one would blink an eye," said Dennis Tate, executive manager of the Taylor estate. "All things are relative, and for a home in the Midwest, it captivates people." After the home was completed, a full-time staff of 12 worked inside. There were also executive-level butlers, a full-time gardener and a carpenter. The house has gold-plated sinks, marble floors, nine fireplaces, and it's packed to the gills with French antiques, oil paintings and fine draperies. And no one has ever lived in it. Taylor-made riches The mansion was Nancy's dream. Ed amassed a fortune in the communications industry in the '70s and '80s. "I figured I spent a lot of money buying up satellites, so she should be able to spend some of the money how she wanted," Ed Taylor said. In 1976, Taylor and his Southern Satellite Systems Inc., were called on by multimedia giant Ted Turner. Turner wanted his local TV station in Atlanta to be offered by satellite. "Most people in the country thought we had lost our minds," Taylor said. "Putting Ted Turner up on satellite? They thought we were nuts." Taylor did what no one else wanted to do. Afterward, Turner sold Taylor the rights to the new superstation's signal. Taylor paid $1. The two proved wrong the doubters and raked in millions in the process - Taylor from the nationwide sales of the signal and Turner from the advertising opportunities those sales created. Taylor, who has remained friends with Turner, went on to develop new channels - his most noted was what eventually became CNBC - and became a shareholder in many communications innovations. The advances in satellite TV have astonished even one of its pioneers. "HBO came along with a little dirty stuff, and Pat Robertson came along with a little religion," Taylor said. "No one dreamed that 20 years later it would be what it became." In 2008, Taylor eventually sold the majority share in his company - a 51 percent stake that made him $100 million richer. Already a wealthy man, the money didn't change his life much, except that he couldn't share it with Nancy. Lady of the manor Nancy Taylor was a patron of the arts, a former dancer who had a passion for architecture and antiques. She wanted her new home to rival a French chateau. And she got it. The exterior walls are stucco; the interior walls are plaster, not drywall. The beams on the 26-foot ceilings are intricately hand-painted. The wainscoting is wrapped in fabric - true to French life before electricity. Dual staircases frame a massive entryway chandelier that was rescued from a hotel in Monte Carlo. The bar in the "trophy room" is made of copper. A 3,400-square-foot master wing is home to two bathrooms, a study and 1,500 square feet of closet space. "This was (Nancy's) home. (Ed) built it for her; it was her dream," Tate said. "They traveled the world together, filling up the home with authentic furnishings. They discovered things together. It was almost as if the journey was greater than the destination." One of the couple's most prized finds was a one-of-a-kind Steinway and Sons piano that was commissioned for the 1878 World's Fair in Paris. It is golden, with hand-painted artistry flanking the sides. A family on Park Avenue in New York was selling their family heirloom, and the Taylors bought it sight-unseen. "Nancy and I happened to go to Buckingham Palace," Taylor said laughing, "and there sat an old Steinway, but it didn't have any of the paintings on it. "So my wife says about the queen's piano, 'That one isn't as nice as ours.' " Across the home's grand parlor, above the antique marble fireplace from a European castle, is an ornate frame. But there isn't a picture inside. It just sits empty because as early French culture dictates, that spot is reserved for the lady of the manor. "We commissioned an oil painting," Taylor said. "Nancy bought a very, very expensive dress to wear for the portrait. She just got too sick." 'Couldn't break her heart' Nancy first became ill in 1987. "No one knew what it was," Taylor said. "They later found out she had an autoimmune disease. But at that time, they were newly discovered and no one knew how to treat it." From 1987 to 1997, until Nancy couldn't any longer, the couple traveled the world. Despite their deep pockets, the Taylors didn't own homes in other states or exotic places. "We rented a place in Arizona when Nancy was in a (health) study there," Taylor said. "We didn't want to own a place anywhere but Tulsa." As Nancy's health worsened, Ed did everything he could to keep her spirits lifted. Before the construction on the new home was complete, Taylor said he knew his wife's dream wasn't going to be realized. "She was too ill to move," he said. "It couldn't be done, she wasn't going to be able to live there, and I wasn't going to tell her that. I couldn't break her heart. "I think if she had known when I knew - if she wouldn't have had that hope, something to look forward to - she would have given up. I wanted her with us as long as possible." She didn't live long enough to become the lady of the manor. After 20 years of suffering, Nancy Elizabeth Taylor died July 22, 2007, at 73. She and Ed had just celebrated their 53rd anniversary. Assessing his wealth You'd never know it based on his love of Tulsa, but Ed Taylor was raised back East and adopted Oklahoma in the '70s. When business took him back to New York in the '80s, he said, "We proved that you actually can't go home again. We hated it." So back they came. Ed was once the owner of a private jet, and he rubbed elbows with the likes of Turner and Rupert Murdoch, but for an interview with the Tulsa World, he pulled onto the sprawling grounds of his estate in a tan Buick sedan. He's surprisingly down-to-earth, somewhat uncomfortable in front of a camera's lens and a note-taking reporter. Ed is now remarried, and he and his second wife, Sylvia, live in the modest place the Taylor family called home for years. "Anymore, I'm just happy to find some other old folks who like to play bridge," he said. Ed still enjoys his fortune, no doubt, but he is also spending more time using it to meet community needs. He spoke with passion about his involvement with the Town and Country School, a haven for children with disabilities. His daughter, an architect who had to give up her firm because of arthritis, has also inspired him to give to juvenile arthritis programs. "There are 300,000 children right now suffering from arthritis, and they are going to get a whole lot sicker over their lifetimes," he said. The Taylor Family Foundation, run by one of Ed and Nancy's sons, helps many other charitable causes. "At this stage in my life, there are things God would rather me be doing with my money," he said. Ed Taylor has moved forward since Nancy's death, but he isn't afraid to talk about the home's history, a direct link to the first wife he loved dearly. "It was her dream," Ed Taylor said. "I only wish she had lived to experience it." So there the mansion sits, on a hilltop. Tulsa's movers and shakers come and go for parties and fundraisers. Prospective buyers pop in now and again. It has spent two years on the market and now is at a few million less than the starting price. With a wide smile and a head full of memories, Ed Taylor takes a deep breath and revisits one of the best deals he ever made. "Who wants to buy it?" he asked jokingly. "If you can pay the taxes, I'd give it to you for a dollar." By Brandi Ball

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