Sometimes, a man's castle is his home

A person who values privacy is attracting a lot of attention with a mansion fit for a king

Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Tuesday, September 27, 2005

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Through the ages, males have attracted attention. This is biological. Birds plume. Men rev Harleys.

For John Breyo, who's building a 61,403-square-foot, single-family residence off Winding Brook Drive, the attention is apparently unwanted. The Ayco Co. chairman won't return calls about his eye-popping cottage, which has two art galleries and 2,486 square feet of living-room space. Dozens of craftsmen arrive daily in pickups at the 29-acre site, toting security systems, copper roofing and heating equipment past a chain-link fence. They have been told not to talk about it. And trespassers will be prosecuted, a sign warns.

"Nobody sees the house," project superintendent Mark Olsen told a reporter outside the gate.

"I have to leave her at the gate," Olsen said of his spouse.

"My own wife hasn't even seen it," said builder Sonny Bonacio, a talkative fellow who buttoned his lip the day he took this job. "I have to leave her at the gate."

Breyo, people say, is private. Very private.

Ayco gives tax advice and financial counseling to 12,000 executives at more than 375 Fortune 1000 companies. Now a Goldman Sachs subsidiary, Ayco is based in Congress Park Centre on Broadway, and has nine U.S. offices and 1,125 employees.

Before he told Bonacio Construction to "Super Size Me," Breyo, 59, and his wife, Marilyn, 60, lived in a modest $405,000, 8,490-square-foot home on Summerfield Lane in another new Saratoga Springs housing development.

A self-made millionaire and graduate of Schenectady High School, Breyo graduated from Siena College and Albany Law School and later created Siena scholarships to "give youngsters the opportunities I didn't have."

Last year, a state audit criticized Breyo's relationship with former Saratoga Performing Arts Center president Herb Chesbrough, calling it "suspect."

While Breyo was on the SPAC board, Ayco paid Chesbrough to be a trustee, Ayco managed part of SPAC's portfolio and an Ayco worker reviewed Chesbrough's widely condemned $330,000 severance package.

In 2003, Breyo gave $500,000 to Siena College to create the Herb Chesbrough Scholarship in the Arts. Through a company official, Breyo declined to comment for this story.

The Breyos also own a $9.3 million property in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where neighbor San Lee has put her Venetian waterside villa on the market for $19.5 million.

Still under construction, the new digs are bigger than the White House. And triple the size of Saratoga's biggest house: Ronald and Michele Riggi's $4.9 million, 19,341-square-foot mansion on North Broadway. Riggi, a turbine parts millionaire, also grew up in Schenectady in what he calls "humble beginnings."

The rich like to distinguish themselves from others, Witold Rybczynski, author and expert on architecture and housing, said in a recent interview. And big homes are the ultimate luxury.

Americans are particularly driven to accumulate a bigger house, a faster car, the latest styles, says Peter Whybrow, a psychiatry professor at UCLA and author of "American Mania: When More Is Not Enough." Whybrow says our society is off balance due to materialism and celebrating the individual at the expense of community.

Such values are sometimes echoed in Saratoga Springs, which has always retained a hint of the Gilded Age. Today, the city suffers from a dearth of affordable housing. Condominiums sell for $400,000.

"It's Aspen East, it's the Hamptons, that's what it's become," said Rory O'Connor, broker-owner of Saratoga Real Property. "It's gentrified to a point that has surprised even the locals."

But residents aren't jaded enough to ignore a 61,403-square-foot single-family structure.

Nor has Breyo's Monaco-style wall of silence stopped scores of would-be gate-crashers from attempting to monitor the construction of the house, which will be 31/2 times the size of Graceland.

This summer, up to 75 cars a day were turned away by the college student Bonacio posted at the gate.

It's beyond McMansion. Past Whopper. More monster house, with a construction contract of $4 million and a potential property tax bill of $100,000 a year. The land alone: $140,000, what many entire houses in the region sell for.

Heating costs? If you have to ask...

Remember Llenroc? Insur ance magnate Al Lawrence's 35-room Cornell-spelled-backward Rexford mansion? This is bigger.

Pickfair? Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford's legendary Hollywood digs? A pipsqueak by comparison.

Breyo's hidden palace near the Saratoga National Golf Course, expected to be completed next year, is the largest residential building ever permitted in the city. Architect Robert Flansburg created a Mediterranean design with Tuscan columns, wrought iron railings and sandstone brick. Plus a spiral staircase, several fireplaces and plasma TVs, a guest wing, solarium, billiard room and theater.

Downtown, the project has people talking.

"It's obscene," one woman declared.

"This is one of the last gasps" of America's "hyper-turbo ex pansion," said James Kunstler, Saratoga Springs author whose Web site features an architectural "Eyesore of the Month."

Breyo's not "the first guy in the world who's built himself a palace. This will be little more than a suburban tract house on steroids," he said.

A hundred years from now, maybe it will be converted into a school or a hospital, Kunstler said. "It's the right size." Regardless, the fence that has stymied the curious will eventually come down. The path leading to the property is scheduled to become a municipal road. Then the citizenry can drive by. How much they'll see is uncertain. Mr. Breyo is a very private man.

Kate Gurnett can be reached at 454-5490 or by e-mail at

****FACT BOX:****

This home, sweet home, will include:

Massage room

Art galleries Dry cleaner

Ski room Guest suite (2,180 sq. ft.)

Bike room w/elevator

Theater and bar Gym with heated floor

Billiards room

Source: Saratoga Springs Building Department.