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October 7, 2014

1,471-acre North Wales sells to financier for $21 million

The original part of the 38,500-square-foot stone mansion dates to 1776. Starting in the 1940s, automotive magnate Walter P. Chrysler Jr. made major improvements to the fabled estate.
David B. Ford and his wife Pamela Fielder at a library fundraiser in Newport, R.I.
North Wales includes an elegant stable compound.
The previous owners, Michael V. and Patricia Prentiss placed the property in a very restrictive conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
On our fathers’ sides, for both Pamela and myself, our ancestors were early settlers in Northern Virginia. So in a sense, we are coming home. Additionally, we love animals, especially dogs and horses; so this is a perfect place. North Wales is beautiful and we look forward to being part of the Warrenton community.
— David B. Ford
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A financial magnate with a track record of historic preservation has purchased the fabled North Wales estate west of Warrenton.

David B. Ford of Greenwich, Conn., last week paid $21 million for the 1,471-acre property, according to court documents.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, North Wales includes a 38,500-square-foot stone manor house. The circa-1776 mansion has 22 bedrooms and 13 baths.

The property includes elegant stables, other homes, shops, miles of internal roads, formal gardens, ponds and miles of stone and board fencing.

Mr. Ford retired as managing director and co-head of global asset management of Goldman Sachs, the investment banking giant. When Goldman Sachs went public in 1999, Mr. Ford’s ownership share of 0.75 percent had an estimated value of $123 million, according to The New York Times.

He remains a senior advisor to Gatemore Capital Management, a firm with almost $1 billion under management, which David Ford Jr. leads in New York.

The senior Mr. Ford serves as chairman of the The National Audubon Society and on a range of boards for educational and charitable organizations.

In 2006, Mr. Ford purchased “Miramar” — one of the famous “Gilded Age” mansions of Newport, R.I. — for $17 million. He reportedly invested another $20 million to renovate the Newport “cottage.”

North Wales will require no such expenditure, according to those familiar with the property.

Real estate investment trust founder Michael V. Prentiss and his wife Patricia bought North Wales in 1997. They took great care of the estate and placed it under a very restrictive conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. That easement precludes future development.

"On our fathers’ sides, for both (wife) Pamela (Fielder) and myself, our ancestors were early settlers in Northern Virginia. So in a sense, we are coming home,” Mr. Ford wrote in an email Thursday afternoon. “Additionally we love animals, especially dogs and horses; so this is a perfect place.

“North Wales is beautiful and we look forward to being part of the Warrenton community.”

The property played a pivotal role in Fauquier’s half-century battle over development versus preservation.

In the late 1960s, Arkansas-based Cooper Communities sought to develop North Wales, which then totaled 4,200 acres, as a planned community of as many as 31,000 people.

Warrenton resident Hope Wallach Porter, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, birddogged the proposal through county government and rallied opposition.

Many regard Mrs. Porter as the matriarch of the local conservation movement, which has grown quite powerful and which includes organizations such as Citizens for Fauquier County and the Piedmont Environmental Council.

After the Cooper Communities proposal faded, parts of North Wales got sold, often in 50- and 100-acre parcels. New homes sprang up on those parcels along Springs Road west of Warrenton and off Route 29 to the south.

Starting in 1914, a succession of owners developed North Wales into a grand estate.

Forbes Magazine in 1930 reported that Edward W. Weld of Boston “stretched the house to 37 rooms, built a racing stable of 40 stalls and a six-furlong race track, stocked the cellar with $50,000 worth of liquors, and went broke,” Eugene Scheel wrote in a 2007 Washington Post story about Mrs. Porter and the property.

Automotive magnate Walter P. Chrysler Jr. in 1941 bought North Wales for $175,000. Mr. Chrysler spent $7.5 million to improve the property, including construction of more than 35 miles of internal, paved roads. He added a round conservatory to the mansion, a swimming pool, an arcade to the equestrian center and the brick isolation barn.

Under Mr. Chrysler’s ownership, North Wales essentially functioned as its own town, including a commercial poultry operation.

Future owners tried without success to sell building lots.

Arkansas investor John A. Cooper bought North Wales at a bankruptcy auction in October 1967. The battle over the property’s future continued, through a couple of countywide downzonings, for three decades, until Mr. and Mrs. Prentiss bough the remaining 1,471 acres.

After buying a farm near Charlottesville, they listed the property several years ago for $22.9 million.

Word of the property’s sale spread through the community a year ago. But, Mr. Ford’s contract apparently stipulated the sale would close this fall. The parties completed the transaction Sept. 30. The deed got recorded Monday in the Fauquier County Circuit Court clerk’s office.

He partially financed the purchase with a $15-million loan, according to a deed of trust on file in the local courthouse.

The Fauquier court clerk’s office collected almost $125,000 in deed recordation fees, based on the size of the transaction, which included six parcels.

Mr. and Mrs. Prentiss had allowed the Warrenton Hunt to continue riding across North Wales.

Whether that historic pursuit continues under Mr. Ford’s ownership looms as a significant question for neighbors.

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nova_gjones · October 12, 2014 at 11:27 am
I am happy North Wales is still the beautiful landmark we enjoy and Welcome to the new owner Mr. Ford and his wife.
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