Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan The Haunted Mansion in Duluth a four-story, nearly 11,000 square-foot home with six-bathrooms and seven-bedrooms is for sale for $799,000. Home owner Mark Hurt modeled the home after the Disneyland Haunted Mansion attraction.
DULUTH — Long before he lorded over a Duluth mansion, before he hosted legendary soirees and Halloween barnburners, before he set his sights on Hawaii, Mark Hurt recognized his knack for building things.
Hurt’s father, the Fernbank Museum’s inaugural curator, was in the business of building exhibits for renowned institutions like The Smithsonian and Chicago’s Field Museum — and he put his sons to work, too. Hurt would dart home from Stone Mountain High School to assist his father in the shop, tackling projects as noteworthy as a restoration of Atlanta’s Cyclorama.
“Back then,” quipped the easygoing 50-year-old, “child labor was a way of life.”
The most seminal project came when Hurt’s father landed work at Walt Disney World’s under-construction Epcot Center. Hurt got hooked. Fascinated by Disney’s autonomatronic characters, he would go on to study electro-engineering in college and build a successful business, Constructioneer, making components for museums, trade shows and amusement park attractions.
All this informed Hurt’s decision in 1995 to go a little wild with his first dream home.
He was standing with an architect in the newly opened Garden District in Sweet Bottom Plantation, a private Duluth community that straddles the Chattahoochee and is chock-full of historic replicas, roaming stylistically from colonial New England to The Battery of Charleston. Nothing in the architect’s repertoire of blueprints piqued Hurt’s interest, however.
Their conversation turned to Disney, how Hurt had worked as a contractor for the company and the architect on a massive Disney community in Florida. An equation fired in Hurt’s mind: New Orleans-style architecture, plus Disney, equals the famous Haunted Mansion in California’s Disneyland. Voila!
The result would be the only home in the world modeled after a Disney attraction, one expert told the Daily Post.
“It wasn’t as much a love for the Haunted Mansion as it was to create something fun and unique,” said Hurt, “and we hit it.”
Over the last 15 years, Hurt and his wife, Shawn, a professional violinist, built a reputation for the four-story, nearly 11,000 square-foot home as a reliable emporium for the more jovial sort of spirits. With a kitchen that comfortably seats 30, corporate Christmas parties and Halloween blowouts were staples. The home was a frequent feature of Halloween specials in local and national media, including a spot on CNN. Netherworld Haunted House co-owner Billy Messina was married there last year.
Messina calls the original mansion the most influential and iconic haunted house ever built.
“It seemed only fitting for us to get married (at the Duluth home),” said Messina. “The house is amazing.”
But for Hurt, this party in Duluth proper is in the process of winding down for good.
Earlier this year, Hurt listed the home for sale to uproot and build his next dream home — inspired by the Grand Californian Hotel in Disneyland — on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The project is perched on a hillside 13 acres, overlooking the Pacific but beyond the reach of tidal waves and tsunamis.
“It’s been a dream to live in a tropical paradise,” he said. “If you can choose to live anywhere, why not live where you’d want to be on vacation.”
Nonetheless, he said, leaving the Duluth property was bittersweet.
A few weeks ago, Hurt was entertaining several offers on the home, after slashing the asking price by $74,000 to $799,000. Even at the higher price the home attracted 200,000 page views on eBay — a record for the Disney memorabilia company selling it — and 50 offers, though most of them were bogus.
“I know we’ve had inquiries from Disney enthusiasts all over the world,” Hurt said, “from Japan, Germany.”
Hurt turned to Theme Park Connection, the world’s largest reseller of Disney items, to reach the global market. Owner Marc Pianko, who specializes in moving everything from Disney buttons worth 25 cents to actual vehicles from Space Mountain, called Hurt’s home “by far the best” keepsake he’s ever dealt with.
“There is just no other home in the world like this,” Pianko said. “(We’ve had) many calls about turning it into a bed and breakfast, but unfortunately it’s not zoned for that.”
The mansion is as authentic as Hurt could make it. He used actual Disney blueprints to copy exterior elevations, and the porch’s ironwork came from the same foundry Walt Disney employed. The corbels around the roof soffit, iconic white columns and the light fixtures all match, but the miniature windows in the original — designed to make it seem larger, more ominous — violated Gwinnett County code, Hurt said. He built a birdcage-style elevator shaft modeled after the one at Club 33 — a secret, private joint beneath Disneyland — but he never got around to installing the elevator.
A tour in December revealed that several rooms in the six-bath, seven-bedroom home — including a cavernous basement space intended for a theater, or history’s greatest man cave — are blank pallets. One first-floor bathroom incorporates a spooky ghost effect (hint: shut the door, hit the lights, turn on the cold water). Throughout the labyrinthine levels the style leans more on clean classicism than opulence.
Beyond the brouhaha, Hurt remembers the property as a fitting family home. The Hurts’ only child, son Tyler, grew up within its walls. He’s now a helicopter crew chief in the Marine Corps.
“We had a lot of good years there,” Hurt said. “Whether (potential buyers are) Disney enthusiasts or not, I just hope somebody can get it, and love it and make it a wonderful home, because that’s what it’s been for us.”