Former RadioShack CEO Len Roberts and his wife, Laurie, are selling their dream home. It’s attracting plenty of attention, but then it always did.
It was built to attract attention, said Roberts, best known as RadioShack’s leader from 1993 to 2005, but who also had stints in corporate America leading brands such as Shoney’s and Arby’s. During his time with RadioShack and even after he retired, he was on the board of TXU, JCPenney and Rent-A-Center. He was also national chairman of the United Way.
The home at 4400 Overton Crest St. – on a hilltop on the city’s southwest side with expansive views of downtown and TCU’s football stadium – was a way to showcase Fort Worth. The three-story, 12,000-square-foot home has five bedrooms, six full and four half baths on about two acres. It includes a sauna and a pool with a decorative fountain, pool house, and cabana.
The Tarrant Appraisal District appraises the property at $3.5 million, with a market value of $4.1 million. The dream home goes up for auction April 24.
“We hosted lots of community events and leaders, and we just needed a home to entertain,” he said in an interview promoting the sale. “We wanted to host these events and these people in our home, so we built a home that we would be comfortable with, but that could also hold galas.”
Roberts estimates they had dinners with over 250 people. And no matter where people sat, they could hear the speaker or presentation. Roberts saw to that.
The leader of then-technology innovator RadioShack had a speaker system built for the home because of those meetings.
“I just wanted a home where no matter where people were, whether in the big great room, or in the kitchen, or outside on the patio, or pool, the cabana, or one of the balconies, wherever they were, they could hear the featured speaker,” he said. “They could continue having dinner or drinking or whatever. They can clearly hear the speaker, and I love that. I haven’t been in a home where I had that same experience.”
Roberts said the technology in the home was state-of-the-art when it opened in 2004.
“We put in about a million dollars at the time. I call it the technology infrastructure, and we updated it,” he said.
Today, from his phone – from anywhere in the world – he can work the lights, close the drapes and light the fireplace.
Theater takes a step back in time
Another standout feature of the home is a 12-seat theater, modeled on Chicago’s Marbro Theatre, where Roberts and his wife went on their early dates.
“We loved going to the theaters in Chicago because they were so ornate and classical and traditional, not like today,” he said. “We grew up on the west side, not really a great place, and so those theaters were an escape for a couple of hours.”
To bring back memories of that experience, Roberts said his wife and the architects searched for months to find the original plans for the Marbro Theater, a Spanish Baroque style venue, which opened in 1927 and was demolished in 1964.
“It reminds us of that theater, except for one thing,” said Roberts. “The original didn’t have those high-end, velvety red, electric seats. But the walls, the ceiling and carpet, that’s all the same.”
Roberts said his wife was in charge of construction of the home because he was busy running RadioShack at the time.
It was not an easy construction process, said Roberts, as the home was under construction from 1999 to 2004. Architect Don Wheaton and builder Rick Williams worked with interior designer Sandra Sampson on the project.
‘That’s what it took five years’
The home is built primarily of limestone, and Roberts said there was a reason for that.
Growing up on Chicago’s west side, Roberts was able to find some escape at some of that city’s fine museums. His family once took a family vacation to Washington, D.C., and he saw the museums there. Most of those museums used limestone and Roberts wanted it in the home.
“I dreamed one day that if I ever had the money, I would build a home with limestone,” he said. “And we did. There was plenty of it around here to use.”
What Roberts didn’t know was that each piece had to be hand cut on site so that they all fit together.
“That added time to the build, so that’s why it took five years,” he said.
But Roberts didn’t sweat the details. He left that to his wife.
“Other than paying the bill, I wasn’t involved,” he said. “I was running a company, very successfully at the time.”
Tandy Corp., newly named RadioShack Corp. after its most successful brand, posted $4.13 billion in sales in 1999 and reported net income of $279.9 million.
But in 2005, the year after the home opened, RadioShack, which built its success on being a retail outlet for new and hobbyist technologies such as the personal computer and cell phones, had begun to see sales decline.
Like much of retail, but particularly in electronics, online shopping and faster, nimbler competitors, such as Austin’s Dell Computers and Fry’s Electronics had siphoned away RadioShack’s core customers. Roberts retired in 2005.
Downsizing to home in Mira Vista
While it’s appraised at $3.5 million, Roberts said, AIG insurance company puts the replacement value of the home at $21 million. Roberts estimated the couple spent $12 million on the home.
“Architect Wheaton, he’s a friend, and when we officially opened the house, I said, ‘That Don had an unlimited budget, but he somehow found a way to exceed it,’ ” Roberts said.
Roberts said the first event held at the home was the most memorable, as he invited all the neighbors to a party.
“They had to put up with five years of horrific disruption,” he said. “This was a big construction project in a densely populated area. And unfortunately, we cut the electricity five times in the neighborhood. We cut a sewage line. Some people couldn’t even get to their homes because of the detours. I just wanted to say ‘thank you,’ to them.”
Roberts and his wife, both 74, are moving to a smaller home in the Mira Vista neighborhood after nearly two decades in their dream home.
Roberts said he estimates they raised millions of dollars for charities at the home.
“It’s time for someone else to have it,” he said. “I hope they raise money for more charities.”
He doesn’t expect to make back the money the couple invested in the house from the sale.
“I hope whoever buys it will love it as much as we did,” he said.
People can expect to hear more from Roberts in the near future. His autobiography is expected to be released in November.
Interested in the auction?
The property is being offered in cooperation with Martha Williams of Martha Williams Group. Bidding will take place online exclusively at www.interluxe.com when the auction begins Monday, April 24. Previews are Friday and Saturday, April 21-22, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Sunday, April 23, from 1 – 4 p.m.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com.