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Avalon's $3.6 million teardown: 'Little Marble House' built for the ages is almost gone

Like no other home along the Jersey Shore - with its reinforced steel frame and sided opulently in Carrara marble - the dwelling modeled after a Newport, R.I., home will be replaced by a "more lavish" home "more in keeping with New Jersey's southern Shore region.

Avalon's "Little Marble House" in the state of being demolished August 2, 2017. The beachfront mini-mansion, completed in 1999 after two years of construction, was a local tourist attraction because of its unusual facade - it was sided in Carrara marble.
Avalon's "Little Marble House" in the state of being demolished August 2, 2017. The beachfront mini-mansion, completed in 1999 after two years of construction, was a local tourist attraction because of its unusual facade - it was sided in Carrara marble.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

AVALON — Like no other home along the Jersey Shore — with its reinforced steel frame and exterior covered lavishly in Carrara marble — the 4,500-square-foot "Little Marble House" seemed to be built for the ages.

But its lifespan was less than 20 years. The Little Marble House, modeled after a Newport mansion, is a $3.6 million teardown — a victim of its own opulence. More than 7,000 square feet of Carrara marble has been hauled away and the home is now a shell.

"It really belonged in Rhode Island, not here," said Lorraine Pollio, a Lower Gwynedd, Pa., resident who also owns a summer home in Avalon a couple of blocks away.  "But now that it's going … I think I'm going to miss it a little."

The unusual looking summer house along Bayberry Road was a smaller scale model of the famous Newport, R.I., "cottage" of William K. Vanderbilt. His was called Marble House and is open to tourists.

So unique was Avalon's three-story rectangular edifice, which featured four 40-foot columns framing its imposing front door, that hundreds of people a day would do a drive-by along the curving narrow street tucked between 40th and 43rd Streets when it was first built in the late 1990s.  Around town, it came to be known as the Little Marble House, despite its relatively generous size among the other large beachfront homes on the block.

But now, after work crews spent months painstakingly removing the exterior marble panels, to be sold on the architectural salvage market, all that remains of the house is its three-story tar-paper-sheathed steel and wood frame.  Soon, demolition crews will take down the remaining structure to make way for a "spec" home.

It took two years for Main Line residents Andrea and Warren Kantor to have the house built.  And it took more than 7,000 square feet of Carrara marble — a high-quality, mostly blue-gray veined white stone often used in notable buildings and monuments that is quarried in the Tuscany region of Italy — to cover the home.

The Kantors wouldn't say at the time how much the house cost to build, but in 1999 when the house was finally ready for occupancy, Carrara marble was selling for about $7 a foot.  These days, Carrara marble is fetching about $20 a foot.  The Kantors acquired so much of it for their home, that Warren Kantor ended up buying a one-third stake in the company that supplied it, according to published reports.

The couple, who live in a 40,000-square-foot estate home in Villanova called Georgian Manor, decided to downsize their Shore home and originally asked for $12.5 million when they put the Avalon house on the market eight years ago. They now occupy a 3,000-square-foot summer home in neighboring Stone Harbor.

They were unsuccessful in selling Little Marble House on their first try and took it off the market for a time.  Several years ago, when they decided to list it again, they reduced the price to $5.5 million and asked Avalon-based Realtor Jack Vizzard, of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors, to find a buyer who would "love it and appreciate it the way they did."

But ultimately, Vizzard said, the property was purchased by a buyer he also represented who does not want to be identified. The new owner paid $3.6 million for it and decided to demolish it. The buyer will build a "more lavish" home on the site with a design "more in keeping with New Jersey's southern Shore region," Vizzard said.

None of the neighboring upscale homes along Bayberry Road are covered in marble. Their exteriors are more typical of Jersey Shore beach houses: mostly cedar siding or stucco facades.

Warren Kantor, a former director of the financial services giant Advanta Corp., is president and chief executive officer of Society Hill Capital Management Corp., and when the couple decided to have their Little Marble House built, they were looking for anything but typical when it came to designing the home.

Andrea Kantor, a lawyer by trade who is the daughter of a prominent New York City catering family, said in a 1999 interview with the Inquirer that she researched the oceanfront grand manors between Maine and Florida and decided she was most impressed by the mansions of Newport.

The Kantors could not be reached for comment on their decision to sell the Avalon home.

Until the couple built their marble-sheathed manor in Avalon, Vanderbilt's Marble House was the only residential structure in the U.S. covered entirely in marble.  It's unclear how many — if any — such homes have been constructed elsewhere in the last two decades.

In the late 1990s, the Kantors commissioned Collingswood-based architect John Oliveri to draw plans for a summer home that mirrored Newport's glamorous mansion on the outside, but was designed for shore vacation living on the inside.  The result was a spacious, four-bedroom, six-bathroom home with a living room, dining room, great room, and kitchen.  While most of the floors were marble, the floors of the bedrooms were done in wood to provide a warmer feel underfoot, the owners said. An in-ground pool graces the beachfront backyard.

"I didn't want to spend $3 million on a wooden house," Andrea Kantor said at the time. "I have a stone home that I love in Villanova, and I wanted something so wonderful here that I wouldn't mind leaving my home in Villanova to come to it."

Despite the fact that the house seemed to evolve into its own tourist attraction before it was even finished being built, Andrea Kantor said she didn't consider it to be ostentatious and she decorated its interior in a "comfortable" light palette with 19th-century European art and decorative pieces.

Vizzard said on Wednesday, contrary to local speculation, the house did not have to be demolished because it was sinking under the weight of all that marble.

"When it was built, the structure was so heavily reinforced it was said that it could have held 20 tractor trailers," Vizzard said. "The marble had been attached with hurricane clips and the house survived all the floods and storms over all these years intact, including [Hurricane] Sandy, without any issues."