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    Manse with celebrity ties hits market

    Kirstie and Lisa Marie slept here. Then an artistic entrepreneur did. You can, too, for only $2.5-million.

    By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 10, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- The cars with out-of-state tags still pull up, as drivers with cameras peer over the fence. Boaters still pull up behind the waterfront mansion with binoculars in hand to catch a glimpse.

    It has been a year and a half since actor Kirstie Alley lived there; and more than two years since the King's sole heir, Lisa Marie Presley, called it home.

    But the 8,200-square-foot mansion on N Osceola Avenue still draws gawkers.

    Now, for a cool $2.5-million, you could do more than admire this nine-bedroom house from afar. You could own it.

    The current owner, Carol A. Berc, is planning to move to an apartment near West Hollywood, Calif., that was once the home of movie star Mae West.

    On Wednesday, the listing agent, Eleanor Evans of Garrigan & Associates Realty, held a broker's open house. The champagne-and-hors d'oeuvres affair provided a voyeuristic glimpse into the celebrity lifestyle.

    Security cameras watch as you head past the black security gate, wind around the driveway lined with old oak and palm trees, pass the two guest quarters adorned with antiques that once belonged to Lisa Marie, and go through an ornate iron gate and enter the sun-filled living room that provides a panoramic view of Clearwater Harbor.

    Out back, overlooking the gulf, is an overflow pool and Jacuzzi, in which Presley was once photographed by the National Enquirer.

    Most of the 1-acre property slants toward the gulf. Large windows maximize the view. When Berc moved in, all the windows were covered with heavy brocade drapes, installed by Presley to deter prying eyes.

    "Living on the water is so soothing," Berc said. "It's a wonderful house for entertaining."

    There's a dock. All three floors have kitchens. An 80-gallon fish tank separates the dining room from the main living room.

    Although she has only lived there for about a year and a half, Berc has made a significant imprint. She recently put on a 2,500-square-foot addition. Plus, she added her whimsical and contemporary decorating touch. Bright pastel colors adorn the walls; many rooms have custom accents like the parrot painted on a third-floor entertainment center. Berc, who also owns a home in Hawaii, has incorporated some of that state's native plants into the landscape.

    The house is largely furnished with pieces designed for Berc in Bali. For example, a large bedlike lounger made out of bamboo provides a comfortable place in the media room to watch the 122-inch screen. That furniture can stay if the buyer wants, she said.

    Area residents will soon be able to buy furniture designed by Berc. She plans to open Bonton Designs, a 10,000-square-foot warehouse filled with the furniture she had made from fallen trees in Indonesia. The warehouse is at 4611 107th Circle N in Pinellas Park.

    Although Berc has several entrepreneurial ventures, her mainstay is Wholesale Produce Supply Co., a Minnesota-based business started by her late husband, Max. The company supplies produce to grocery stores and fast food chains.

    Berc, 55, bought the home from Kirstie Alley to accommodate her and her five children, ages 19 to 33. But with most of the children out of college, they visit less often and she no longer needed such a big house.

    Besides, she'd like to move to California to pursue a film career with her son, Bryan. The two co-produced the short film Hills Like White Elephants and plan another film based on the young life of jazz great Louis Armstrong.

    Whether the home ends up in the hands of yet another celebrity remains to be seen. Two Buccaneer football players, one current and one former, have come to look at the house. She declined to name them.

    Presley and Alley, both Scientologists, bought the home to be closer to the church's spiritual headquarters in nearby downtown Clearwater.

    Berc, a born-again Christian, said no prominent Scientologists have expressed an interest in the mansion so far.

    "But we're open," Berc said. "We're not fussy."

    Berc said Alley approached her this year about leasing the house for the summer. Berc declined, but she has maintained contact with Alley. Three weeks ago, Alley showed up with some friends from Italy to say hello and to see what she had done with the property.

    "She's a great gal," Berc said.

    One of the home's former owners, MaryAnn Steeves, 83, came to the open house Wednesday and laughed at how much it has grown since she and her husband lived there. Steeves, who now lives in Top of the World, lived in the house for 17 years. She laughs at its celebrity status.

    When Presley owned the home, Steeves would sometimes drive by and peer over the wall.

    "If she came out into the yard, I thought I'd call to her," she said. She never did.

    Next-door neighbor Barry R. Collins, 47, who builds stages for rock shows, said Presley and Alley often walked through the neighborhood, always accompanied by security.

    Collins said he still has to shoo away gawkers who stop to take pictures. Once, he came home to find a man standing on the roof of his shed, snapping pictures of the house.

    Berc's home, and several waterfront properties next to it, are an anomaly in the neighborhood of mostly rental homes. But a block away, plans are in the works to build a handful of waterfront homes, some with price tags of $3-million.

    That's why the asking price for Berc's home will jump to $3-million in January. She paid $1.6-million in March 2001.

    For people with a more limited budget, there's a vacant one-bedroom apartment across the street. It goes for $425 a month.

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