In a county where rich and poor people share the difficulty of finding living space to suit them, there’s a huge house south of town that can’t find anyone to move in, a house that’s not a home.
The 11,000-square-foot house built by Wilbert Ohlmann earns the name mansion, maybe even castle, but in the five years since it was built no one has ever lived there. It’s empty. Furniture and appliances still have tags dangling.
It’s not haunted, except by a few memories.
That long-standing emptiness could change quickly for anyone who has $16.9 million, but so far that hasn’t happened. The house has been on the market more than 800 days in spite of a $2 million price cut in May. The seven-bedroom, nine-bath house, with a long list of luxurious and quirky extras, sits on 40 acres divided by Horse Creek and the parallel Horse Creek Road.
Standing in a hotel-lobby-size living room and looking out the two-floor windows toward neighboring Mill Iron Ranch and Gros Peak in the distance, real estate agent Monte Clemow acknowledged the house might be “too much even for Jackson, to tell the truth ... It’s not what everyone wants.”
But he is confident there is a buyer out there.
“I think it will sell,” Clemow said. “We haven’t had any offers, but we will. There’s nothing comparable.”
Owner Ohlmann lives in Bedford, population 200, which is 59 miles south of Jackson, 5 miles off Highway 89 where it passes through Thayne. Ohlmann and his wife had planned to live in the Horse Creek house.
“That was going to be our dream home, where we were going to live,” Ohlmann told the News&Guide. “But right after we got started, Judy was diagnosed with cancer. ... We were married 51 years, and that really hit me hard.”
“He sat on it a couple of years and then decided to sell it,” Clemow said.
The project had problems with the county. Planners argued about a lack of permits, a long retaining wall they said was illegally built and workers living in trailers on-site. Despite those problems the house was completed, but Ohlmann’s original plan was out of reach.
“Right after Judy passed away, I just thought there was no way I wanted that big a house for myself,” Ohlmann said.
The house is impressive: People driving up Horse Creek from the highway about three quarters of a mile top a rise, and the narrow canyon entrance suddenly opens to reveal a long view and the house sitting on a hill to the right. The first impression is: It’s big.
It also fits well on the site, however big it is. It’s made of brick and stone, stays mostly low to the ground and has a startling driveway that curves from the dirt road up the hillside in a shape like a comma, lined by tall brick walls and ending next to the house in a circular pull-up area near the front door. There’s a lot of grass and trees. To the east it borders Mill Iron Ranch, which runs a horseback and chuckwagon tourist business; the only other neighbor all around is the U.S. Forest Service.
Under the direction of the Ohlmanns, the house was designed by Jackson architect Michelle Linville, who does business as MLArchitect, and general contractor Deon Heiner. Heiner’s Continental Construction, of Alpine, did the work.
“It’s a well-built house,” Heiner said.
Inside a long marble-floored corridor leads to the living room, an organ in one corner, a piano in another, two scary-big crystal chandeliers looming. The kitchen is adjacent, marble and granite and appliances without a finger smudge. There is a large sitting area in a balcony overlooking the living room. There are, of course, the bedrooms with airy walk-in closets and the baths done in stone, but also a lot more:
• A huge entertainment room with a 5-foot-by-15-foot screen, a wet bar and plenty of room for a pool table.
• Two garages, each of which could accommodate three vehicles, one of which has an area set up for a shop, with steel tabletops and cabinets installed.
• An indoor shooting range.
• A panic room.
• A three-floor elevator.
• A massive indoor propane generator that “could power half of Jackson,” Clemow said.
• An old 675-square-foot cabin remodeled as a guest house or manager’s home.
• An artificial cascade and watercourse that flows past the house at the flick of a switch — “You got your own creek,” Clemow said.
Wilbert Ohlmann house
The 11,000-square-foot house built by Wilbert Ohlmann earns the name mansion, maybe even castle, but in the five years since it was built no one has ever lived there. It's empty. Furniture and appliances still have tags dangling. It's not haunted, except by a few memories.
That longstanding emptiness could change quickly for anyone who has $16.9 million, but so far that hasn't happened. The house has been on the market more than 800 days in spite of a $2 million price cut in May. The seven-bedroom, nine-bath house, with a long list of luxurious and quirky extras, sits on 40 acres divided by Horse Creek and the parallel Horse Creek Road.
Clemow is a 20-year Star Valley resident and a five-year real estate agent associated with Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, the Christie’s affiliate in the area. He’s ranch-raised, came south after his family lost their Montana place when his parents died. In his 60s, wearing a trucker’s hat and sturdy work suspenders, he looks a bit out of place in the house he’s trying to sell.
But he’s enthusiastic as he points out the advantages of the place, noting that “there’s no corner cut here.”
He’s done all of the eight showings of the house, expressing bafflement that none of Jackson’s several hundred Realtors has driven the 8 miles from town. Though there have been no official offers on the property, he said he heard one unofficial hint of a lowball that he said was still “more money than I’ll see in two lifetimes.”
“It’s fancy,” he said while standing in the cavernous living room, “but it’s usable. It’s usable fancy.”
Ohlmann and his wife came to western Wyoming after a lifetime in South Dakota. They ran a 52,000-acre wheat operation before selling out around the time of the 2008 recession and moving. Ohlmann has built at least three other houses in the Bedford area, with prices ranging from $3 million to $7 million.
Other real estate agents in the area — with varying degrees of familiarity with the property and disinclined to be quoted about a brother Realtor’s business — said their initial thought was that the Ohlmann house is just plain overpriced.
One called the $16.9 million asking price “absurd” and “double the price it needs to be.”
“That price would put it in the top 10 homes in the entire valley, none of which are at Hoback Junction,” he said.
Another called the location “gorgeous” but said it was “overbuilt for the neighborhood.”
Clemow, the man in charge of selling the place, acknowledges that maybe “we’re a little bit high” on the price.
The county assessor puts the value of the property at $10.1 million.
And most visitors would agree the house is a bit out of place: The road from the highway can’t make up its mind if it’s dirt or crumbling and frost-heaved asphalt. You see eight houses on the drive, two of them modulars, two others trailers, one of those with split log siding that makes it look like a single-wide cabin.
But Ohlmann and agent Clemow think being the only house like it in the area is no disadvantage, and like the location.
“You think you’re in the country, but you’re not in the country,” Clemow said. “In 10 minutes you can be in Jackson. ... It’s one of the last places in Jackson with the kind of solitude.”
Ohlmann said he picked the place because it wasn’t what every other big house in Jackson was.
“That’s the whole point,” he said. “We are completely separated. ... completely surrounded by national forest. That’s the appeal. ... Not everyone wants a neighbor next door.
“It’s only three-quarter miles off the pavement, but 10 miles from Jackson,” he said. “It appealed to us.
“Sooner or later someone else will feel that same appeal.”