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Jun 04, 2019

5 kitchens and a ‘fainting room’: Who’s building Syracuse area’s biggest mansion?

SKANEATELES, N.Y. – The biggest house in Onondaga County is nearing completion. After three years of construction on the western shore of Skaneateles Lake, builders are nearly finished with a mansion that makes many other mansions look cramped.

How big is it?

Eight median-size new homes could fit inside.

The 19,070-square-foot residence includes three separate kitchens, plus two kitchenettes.

The property tax bill will likely exceed $300,000 a year, the highest in the county for a single-family residence.

The waterfront mansion marks a new era for Lakelawn, a historic 26-acre property that has long been home to powerful CEOs. The current owner is no exception.

John Mezzalingua is CEO of JMA Wireless, a growing manufacturer of wireless communications equipment. He owns the Skaneateles property in the name of a Delaware limited liability company, Lakelawn Properties LLC, according to a search of public records by syracuse.com/The Post-Standard.

Construction on the mansion began in 2016, town officials said.

Despite the prominence of the new mansion, which is already a highlight on boat tours of Skaneateles Lake, Mezzalingua and his family guard their privacy.

The building contractor, Rochester-based LeChase Construction, has been forbidden to discuss the project, a company official said. (LeChase, a major regional construction company, typically builds bigger projects like schools or hospitals rather than single-family residences.)

Other contractors on the project, including high-profile interior designer Thom Filicia, also declined to talk. Mezzalingua did not return messages.

Before Mezzalingua bought the property, the future of Lakelawn had been in limbo. The former owners, Lawrence and Janet Ruston, in 2004 demolished what was then the main house on the property, a 12,000-square-foot mansion, the core of which dated back to 1848.

For more than a decade, the Rustons tried to subdivide their property and develop 11 to 14 homes there. Town officials and local preservationists fought the plan, which was abandoned after several years of litigation.

Finally in 2014, a decade after demolishing the mansion, the Rustons sold the property for $11 million to Lakelawn Properties, of which Mezzalingua is the managing member, real estate records show.

The property is tentatively assessed this year at $14 million. Unless Mezzalingua successfully grieves the assessment or claims a large exemption, that yields a tax bill of roughly $305,000.

According to plans filed at town hall, the mansion will contain six bedrooms plus an attic bunk room. There are 9 full bathrooms and five half-baths. Plenty of space inside the house is devoted to recreation: a golf room, a billiards room, a game room, a gym, a theater and a pool.

There are two offices, for John and his wife, Kim, plus a library, a conservatory, and a project room.

The residence even has a “fainting room,’’ according to the plans. Originally a feature of upper-crust Victorian houses, fainting rooms offered women a private place to relax, typically on a “fainting couch.” Fainting rooms also were popular in theaters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Loew’s State Theatre in Syracuse, now the Landmark.

The main house at Lakelawn is not the only living quarters. A new two-story, three-bedroom gatehouse sits near the entrance at 3384 West Lake Road. At 2,394 square feet, the structure is close to the median size of new American homes (2,320 square feet).

A lakeside boathouse, which dates to the turn of the 20th century, contains living quarters above the boat shelter.

Site plans for the estate call for a tennis court, and a tennis pavilion with two squash courts, viewing areas and a bar. There also will be an outdoor pool and pool house. There are three barns, one of which houses a basketball court. The others provide offices and equipment storage.

The estate has 864 feet of lake frontage, tax maps show.

The Mezzalingua family has quietly built prosperous companies in Syracuse for decades.

Mezzalingua’s grandfather started a machine shop to make screws during World War II. Production Products Co., or PPC, later began making components for the cable TV and telecommunications industries. The family sold PPC in 2012 for $515 million.

JMA Wireless, headquartered at 7645 Henry Clay Blvd. in Clay, makes components for the wireless communications industry. Mezzalingua, the CEO, founded it in 2012. The company has grown from about 150 employees to more than 1,000 worldwide, including about 700 in greater Syracuse as of 2017.

Despite his success, Mezzalingua, 52, typically avoids the media spotlight. One exception was his donation to his alma mater, Manlius Pebble Hill School, where his children attend. Mezzalingua paid for a $7 million arts and athletic complex at the school, Syracuse.com reported in 2017.

The Mezzalinguas are selling their current house on the eastern shore of Skaneateles Lake, across the water from Lakelawn. The property at 3 Bobbett Lane is listed for $6.895 million.

The Lakelawn property was named by Dwight Winkelman, a local building magnate, who bought it in 1945, according to Skaneateles amateur historian Kihm Winship, who wrote a history of the property. Winkelman’s heavy construction company built highways, airfields, sewer systems and other developments throughout the country.

Other previous owners of the Lakelawn property included Robert Grinnell, a Civil War-era shipping proprietor, and Clifford Beebe, who owned electric trolley lines including one that ran from Auburn to Syracuse.

The site was initially settled in 1794 by relatives of Moses DeWitt, the Syracuse-area land surveyor (and DeWitt town namesake), who bought property that had been granted to a Revolutionary War veteran, Winship said.

The Mezzalingua development of Lakelawn is a massive undertaking, in keeping with the property’s history as a landmark, Winship said.

“It’s more than a house, it’s an estate,’’ Winship said. “It’s pretty spectacular.’’

Tim Knauss is a public affairs reporter for syracuse.com/The Post-Standard. Contact him anytime: email | twitter | | 315-470-3023

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