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Picking over the bones: Villa Collina bargain hunters leave little behind for April wrecking ball

Demolition is set for April 18. From roof tiles to door handles to staircases to columns, most of it's been sold ahead of demolition.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Stripped of her marble, her tile, and her gold door handles, the sprawling mansion on Lyons View Pike in Knoxville doesn't look much like her grand old self anymore.

Bit by bit -- before the wrecking ball strikes -- Villa Collina is being sold off and carted away. After April, it won't be there at all.

Many buyers in recent months have found opportunity picking over the bones of the 40,000-square-foot house -- the city's biggest -- that dates to the late 1990s.

East Tennessee businessman Pete DeBusk, for example, has bought 77 columns that once graced the Italianate house.

He's come up with a great place to put them: his beloved Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate.

"I'm always trying to raise the bar at LMU. And I thought, Well, we're building a new student center. Why don't we do this? Why don't we have an elegant student center?" he told WBIR.

DeBusk said he was impressed with a lot of the building materials used in the house.

The columns especially are a great find, he said. Some probably would sell for $25,000 apiece on the regular market, he said.

"There's nothing there as valuable as those white marble columns from Italy," said DeBusk, the founder of DeRoyal Industries and the owner of a grand mansion himself in the Powell area. "I just didn't want them to get away."

DeBusk said he thinks East Tennesseans will appreciate knowing that a significant part of Villa Collina is getting a new use at LMU.

He and his wife Cindi also bought an ornate fireplace, among other items, that once sat in the upstairs, master bedroom.

Auctioneer Sam Furrow and real estate agent Sharon Bailey, who represents the buyers, said they both were impressed at how eager and how fast buyers claimed items in the house.

After a three-day public viewing in early December, an online auction sold off the furnishings, interior decorations and accessories.

The upstairs pink commode? Yep, someone wanted it. The old gate from the Hamilton Bank down in the wine cellar? Yep, someone wanted it.

Carpets, doors, light fixtures, the lighting system, mirrors, appliances, even the John Kelly ceiling mural that hung above the entranceway found a buyer, Bailey said.

Homebuilder and businessman Paul Downer bought up for resale numerous aspects of the house including the terra cotta roof tiles, the front stairway railings and the three-story library, which is linked together by a spiral stairway.

The roof alone consists of 18,000 square feet of material, he said.

Downer said earlier this month he'd sold the lowest floor of the library but still was looking for a buyer for the top two floors. The room, maybe the prettiest in all of Villa Collina, features new carpet and rich mahogany paneling.

If you're interested in what Downer still has for sale, you can email him at paulthehomebuilder@gmail.com.

He said he's had to think strategically about dismantling what's left inside.

"It's a Rubik's Cube," he said.

Villa Collina took years to build; it's coming down in a matter of weeks.

Bailey said the official demolition date is now set for Monday, April 18.

The owners -- three groups of people -- have hired a Knoxville company to tear it down. They acquired the house after a court fight for $6.5 million.

Bailey, who handles the sales of some of Knoxville's most expensive homes, said she doubted a house on the scale of Villa Collina could be built today for anything less than $20 million.

 Because so much of the skeleton of the house has already been claimed for another purpose, the original demolition time and cost likely will be less.

In place of the mansion, Bailey said architects are already working on plans for three new homes. The new owners will have spectacular views of Fort Loudoun Lake and the Smoky Mountains in the distance.

Bailey, who has worked in the local real estate market for more than 40 years, thinks the house has reached a fitting end.

"I think the best thing about it is that it's coming down," she said. "And three beautiful homes will be built there."

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