WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – The enormity of the house Arnold Chase is building on Avon Mountain isn’t fully apparent from the outside, where only 17,000 square feet of it lies in plain view.

It’s the two-level, 33,500-square-foot basement complex, complete with a 103-seat movie theater, ticket booth, concession stand, game room and music annex, that will make it New England’s largest occupied single-family home.

At nearly 50,900 square feet, the Chase home will be slightly larger than billionaire Bill Gates’ home in Washington, about 4,000 square feet smaller than the White House and 20 times larger than the average-size home in America.

Chase’s home, a brick and stucco colonial just below the east ridge of Avon Mountain, is easily seen from the road. But the Hartford-based businessman, who plans to vacate a comparatively tiny 8,900-square-foot home when he moves, doesn’t want too many people to know about it. He refused an interview and had a freelance photographer for The Associated Press cited for trespassing as he was seeking permission to photograph the house.

The only single-family residential structures in New England larger than Chase’s are two mansions in Newport, which are now museums and no longer occupied. The Breakers weighs in at 138,000 square feet, and The Elms follows at 60,000 square feet.

Chase’s home dwarfs many of the mansions along southwestern Connecticut’s Gold Coast. The only comparable home nearby is rapper 50 Cent’s Farmington estate, a 48,500-square foot mansion he purchased from boxer Mike Tyson. It’s now on the market for $18.5 million.

The largest private home ever built in the United States is the Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C., comprising more than 174,000 square feet. Also on the national list are the 109,000-square-foot Oheka Castle in Huntington, N.Y., and Donald Trump’s 80,000-square-foot Maison de l’Amitie in Palm Beach, Fla.

The average size of an American home is about 2,500 square feet, up from 1,995 square feet in 1988, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Nearly a quarter of homes in the country were larger than 3,000 square feet last year, twice as many as in 1988.

While bigger homes are the trend, rarely do they approach the size of Chase’s home, said Gopal Ahluwalia, the home builders association’s vice president for research.

“What you’re talking about is mega homes,” he said. “There are few homes larger than 50,000 square feet.”

Ahluwalia estimated that Chase’s home would cost at least $15 million to build.

Experts say reasons for building huge homes include the desire to live in comfort, enjoying luxuries such as home theaters and indoor pools, creating a good investment and showing off wealth. “It’s the same thing as why people buy a $150,000 car when the same function can be performed by a $25,000 car,” Ahluwalia said. “I can afford it. I can have it. I want to have the biggest house in the world. Things like that.”

Ron Van Winkle, an economist and director of West Hartford’s Community Services Department, noted the Chase family has been very generous to charitable causes. He also said the Chase family is an American success story. Chase’s father, David Chase, is a Holocaust survivor who came to this country and became wealthy from real estate and media deals.

“It’s a great thing in America that you can go from penniless immigrant to tremendous wealth,” Van Winkle said. “I think this says a lot of good things about wealth in America. They try to make a difference, try to invest and build new businesses.”

Chase’s house also says other things about society, said Susan A. Eisenhandler, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut.

“Do you actually need to have that amount of space to live a good life?” she said. “There are homeless people. There are impoverished people. There are serious social concerns, and we’re not addressing that.”

On the other hand, Eisenhandler said, it’s nothing new that wealthy people live in big houses.

According to building plans on file at Town Hall in West Hartford, the basement of Chase’s home includes the two-level theater with stadium seating, a concession stand, ticket booth, a soda fountain, sitting area, vending machines and separate restrooms for men and women.

The game room, in the “upper” basement, will take up nearly 4,900 square feet, nearly twice as big as the average-size house. That’s next to a similar-sized area designated for music.

The above-ground part of the house includes two stories, an attic and a 400-square-foot “observatory” at the top. It has five bedrooms, six full bathrooms and five half bathrooms, which are in addition to two full bathrooms in the lower basement.

The house was designed by Allan Greenberg’s architectural firm in New York, which has worked on notable projects at the White House, State Department and the Holocaust Memorial in New York. The firm declined to comment.

West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka said he was glad that Chase, who currently lives in an 8,900-square-foot home in town, believes in the community enough to make such a large investment and maintain his roots here.

“It’s good for our tax base,” Slifka said. But, he added, “I don’t think it does anything for us beyond notoriety. It’s not indicative of the average type home you’d find in West Hartford. I don’t think it will be much more than a water cooler discussion for us.”

AP-ES-09-02-07 1236EDT

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