This story has been updated to include the new reserve and the extended auction.
Now this is the big league way to market a luxury home: hop aboard a King Air 350 at Love Field’s Business Jet Center, soar up over Dallas, land in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, 18 minutes later and hop into an SUV waiting right inside the hangar.
That is exactly how we traveled to tour the magnificent 18,327-square-foot estate of the late Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim and his wife, Patty, who passed late last year. The Pilgrims’ three children knew that selling such a highly specialized estate built on Bo’s chicken fortune — 43-plus acres more than 120 miles east of Dallas — would be a challenge. So they opted to do what more and more owners of luxury homes are doing these days: put it up for auction.
In fact, the online auction of Cluckingham Palace (more on the name later!) began Tuesday night and goes on until October 25. There is now a reserve of $2,999,999. So you have plenty of time to bid!
The Pilgrim estate at 800 South Greer Boulevard is on the main road to Pittsburg. The mansion has six bedrooms, 10 and a half baths, exercise room, formals, quarters, media room, and chickens etched in every corner. There’s also a huge indoor swimming pool and spa that was patterned after the famous Greenbrier Spa in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
“Mrs. Pilgrim visited the Greenbrier and phoned Richard Drummond Davis from the spa that she wanted their indoor pool to look just like the Greenbrier’s,” says listing agent Kyle Crews with Allie Beth Allman & Associates. Drummond Davis designed the home, built by Steve Thornton for an estimated $15 million, in 1992-1993. The mansion and grounds are now valued at more than $8 million.
The heavily wooded grounds include trails, statues, smooth green fields beckoning a soccer game or a horse hunt, and a pond brimming with fish.
And so we travelled the way Mrs. Pilgrim did whenever she came into Dallas to shop at Neimans or Northpark: by private jet.
We met at the Business Jet Center off Lemmon Avenue at 10 a.m on October 3, wheels up scheduled for 10:30 a.m. SHARP — so said Kyle Crews, who orchestrated the trip with the Pilgrim family. They sent their 2015 King Air 350 to fetch us, which may be available for sale. The Pilgrim’s family pilot, Heath Harrell, chauffeured. No TSA, no waiting, zero hassell: Susan Baldwin got the co-pilot seat since it was her birthday. Prior to the trip, Juli Harrison and I had suggested we pack bathing suits and gently hijack the plane to the Caribbean. No sooner had I figured out that the King Air had both heated and reclining seats than we were over Winnsboro, then Lake Bob Sandlin — “there’s our Caribbean!” yelled Juli! — then touching down at a very private little airstrip in Mt. Pleasant. We were the only ones landing!
We drove down South Greer Boulevard en route to the estate, about 10 minutes. Allie Beth Allman took note of the many building supply stores along the way, a lot for a small town — a granite store, lumber — all a good sign of growth.
Harrison noted the town had not one but two donut shops. Practically a metropolis!
Cluckingham Palace, so named by the locals, was literally right off this main drag, but elegantly gated and set back from the road with those vast acres behind it. I learned later the Pilgrims lived in a relatively modest 1965-era home on three acres about three houses down from Cluckingham prior to building it — that was where they raised their three children. Grandson Clayton Pilgrim, a land specialist who sells farm and ranch properties all over the U.S., was on hand to greet us as we toured the estate with local agents.
You’ve likely already read about the property: what the articles do not convey is the incredible detail of the home, the cleanliness — every corner was spotless, as if it were brand new, fresh from the contractor — and the vastness. Example: Chiseled chickens in the elaborate ceiling molding trim, chickens and roosters everywhere, from the kitchen tiles to the laundry room wet hanging rod. They were in the carpets, the filigrees. The home is huge, but rooms still felt warm and cozy, with the exception of the indoor pool which really did remind me of The Greenbrier.
Clayton Pilgrim said his earliest Cluckingham memories include touring when he was about six to see the progress, never realizing the monstrous size of the home. This was headquarters central for the entire family, most of whom are still nearby or in Dallas.
“Everyone in the family has their own memory take on the house — every holiday there was a big deal, several weddings — including my own. But I never realized the significant architectural detail in that house until recently,” he says. “That house was the one time in my grandparents’ life they got to do a very big, very fancy thing.”
And talk about well built — the place is indestructible, says Clayton. Bo tended to overbuild. If it called for a two-by-four, he’d use a two-by-six or -eight. Building a similar new home today would be astronomical in cost, considering labor and materials. Patty Pilgrim’s master bath alone is a sea of rare pink granite.
His grandfather designed the home to be centralized to any one of the Pilgrim’s Pride complexes in the south via private plane in a couple of hours, said Clayton, which we figured out immediately from the ease of our transportation.
We toured, and as usually happens with a group of high-powered, prolific agents, we got lost in the house chatting over details or darting in the hall to take a call. The guest bedrooms looked just like those in your grandmother’s house — floral, but with full marble en suite baths. The home was loaded with oil paintings, some by Bo Pilgrim himself, many portraits, and many ceramics. Turns out Mrs. Pilgrim was quite a ceramic artist.
“Patty Gram was an avid artist,” Clayton told us, “from porcelain to oil painting, small jewelry boxes to ornamental plates.”
Often she painted for six hours a day in the large studio created for her above the carport.
We re-grouped for lunch and a birthday tribute to Susan at the “Greenbriar” pool, where the Pilgrims have a large, round bar (more like a kitchenette) at one end to serve food: sandwiches, salad, cookies, and drinks. The only chicken, surprisingly, was in the chicken salad.
When I saw the rolled-up roast beef, I wondered if Bo and patty Pilgrim were somehow frowning on us from above. I ate the chicken.
After lunch, we gathered in the garage to divide up into grounds-touring groups. Then the downpour happened.
A first, the rain was so beautiful, moistening the verdant grounds and trees — it was warm and humid, but everything was so perfectly manicured it was like rain in Alice in Wonderland. A little lightning, a little thunder, we were fine in the rock-solid garage.
Then it hit us:
Would we be able to fly out? Would we be sequestered at Cluckingham Palace?
Ye gads, out came the phones to cancel or change appointments.
Ralph Randall said we could always take one of the Jeeps back to Dallas, a step below the King Air of course, but wheels nonetheless.
Wheels down, not up.
Juli Harris said she would not mind at all being stranded in Pittsburg, and the others agreed. We had Susan Baldwin’s birthday cake after all. It was a very pleasant town — and we all had felt our collective blood pressures drop significantly. And no, it was NOT the wine, Ralph added, saying the estate was one of a kind, the epitome of a by-gone era of elegance.
‘I miss these houses,” he said.
We were running behind schedule a bit: Kyle had PROMISED us a 1:30 pm departure. That would be impossible given the rain, conversation, and great company. Plus Allie Beth wanted to take a quick look at the town, which might add another whole five to ten minutes to our trip.
We regrouped in the vast garage, and I ran in to grab my purse which, in an 18,327-square-foot estate, takes a bit of time to fetch. I thanked the house manager and made my way back to the garage without a GPS, delighted to see that I had almost completed an exercise circle on my Apple watch. Big houses really ARE good for your health!
No one was there. The agents had left me behind!
Was this retribution for writing something they didn’t quite fancy about a listing? Was this a plot to sequester CandysDirt.com at Cluckingham Palace — without a laptop, mind you — to eat chicken forever? I could think of far worse things. I was already falling in love with Pittsburgh.
Carol Bell-Walton, a Dallas resident with Pittsburgh roots — her grandfather was the town mailman — has a cabin in Pittsburgh. She tells me what a fantastic town it is. There is a winery, Los Pinos Ranch vineyards, there is a Kangaroo farm in nearby Mt. Vernon (not public, a vet raises them), and there are lakes everywhere most notably Lake Bob Sandlin. Two state parks are within 20 miles of Pittsburgh, named for William Morris Pitts. But Pittsburgh’s biggest claim to fame is its hotlinks, Witness Park, and the Prayer Tower, which the Pilgrims gifted to the town: four carved bells imported from France which chime hourly.
Bo Pilgrim is credited with the first vertical integration of the poultry industry, she tells me. The family diversified into banking and more years ago, and Pilgrim Bank is a also prominent structure in town.
“Cluckingham Palace is the biggest house in town,” says Carol, whose mom went to school with Bo Pilgrim. “He was always super gracious to open his home to the town for various events. He provided a lot of jobs to people in that town.”
The Pilgrims were also among the original owners at The Mansion Residences in Dallas. Kyle Crews and Sanders Avrea sold their luxury Classical French condominium the same week they listed it, Erin Mathews brought the buyer: it never made MLS. When they opened their home for a charity home tour, Kyle says the two remained at their front door graciously greeting guests throughout the event.
Thank God for Joe Kobell: he reminded the group they had left me behind, as I was eyeing the Pilgrim’s Jeep and googling “how to hotwire a car.” After all, Carol told me Pittsburgh is only two hours to Dallas, door-to-door.
Back they came: we took our ten-minute tour of the Prayer Tower, whizzed by the two donut shops and the medical center bearing the Pilgrim’s name, and got to Mt. Pleasant lickety split. Out of the Jeep, onto the plane, and this time I got to play co-pilot.
Because of the storms, Heath told me we were in for a bumpier, and slightly longer, ride. I felt a few dips, wasn’t bad at all. Juli and Susan were concerned that I was distracting the pilot from “driving”, which Heath explained is all pretty much set the fancy GPS and go. I kept wanting him to keep his eyes on the road ’til I realized, there is no road, and very little traffic. Wasn’t until I saw a Southwest jet that I felt small and insignificant. Turns out Heath is also a flight instructor and could see I was quickly getting the pilot bug: a King Air with an experienced pilot really IS the best way to travel.
Funny: Susan was texting me to stop chatting with the pilot! Yes, we used our phones during the entire flight!
When we saw White Rock Lake, I was in disbelief. Then we turned south over the intersection of I-35 and LBJ and landed at Love Field without a bump. I took the loudspeaker and played flight attendant: “Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts and close your tray tables as we prepare for our landing at Love Field. Oh wait, there are no tray tables. Someone will not be coming around to gather your items, and don’t bother to straighten your seat backs, just maybe turn off the seat heaters. We will be landing soon.”
And then we were on the ground. Afterwards, Joe Kobell gave Juli Harrison the gift of an apron and oven mitts, since she had played airline hostess on past real estate excursions via private jet that we have all enjoyed together. Doris Jacobs was with us when we ran into Marcia Cross at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, this the vortex of Desperate Housewives, and I naively approached Marcia aka Bree Van de Kamp, and said, “don’t I know you?”
A new axiom for all Dallas brokers to learn: agents who fly together by private jet, STAY together!