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A cave home for millionaires

It has changed hands many times since the early 1980s when it was first built


Parthenon, Arkansas

IN an Ozark crag in north Arkansas, one of the country's most high-maintenance homes - a cave tucked into a natural cavern - is gussied up and back on the market once again.

The three-year, million-dollar renovation is the latest in a series of makeovers for the Beckham Creek Cave, which has passed through numerous hands since it was built as a bomb shelter in the early 1980s. The fully furnished cave and its 104 hectares can be bought for US$2.75 million.

Today, the cave home is a carefully epoxied science-fiction bunker of rock walls, smooth concrete surfaces, black steel and stalactites.

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Still, moisture is a menace, so the newest renovation includes improved waterproofing. Two high-capacity geothermal units control the cave's dampness and keep the year-round temperature a cool 18 degrees Celsius.

"We tell people to wear your sweats," said the broker Rayne Davidson. "You're in a cave."

It comes with four bedrooms and four baths, 5,500 sq ft of living space, a spring-fed pond, rainy-season waterfall, a view of bluffs, helicopter pad, and a grand room anchored by a rock waterfall called the Spanish Piano.

The back door accesses a "live cave" that extends more than 1.6km into the earth. This winding, undeveloped portion of the chasm is home to reptiles and rare bats.

The bat cave home is a millionaire's retreat without all the supervillain stress. Still, it has seen plenty of drama.

John Hay, co-founder of Celestial Seasonings who lives in Colorado, built the home for about US$1 million out of anxiety during the Cold War. Friends from Arkansas brought him to the cave.

"We built it out figuring if something was going to happen, we'd have a place to go," he said in a recent phone interview.

He replaced the outer cave wall with two-foot thick cinder block, and installed a drinking water aqueduct and hydroelectric plant. By the time the cave was finished, glasnost made it seem obsolete.

"I didn't know what to do, so I thought I would make it into a Hollywood home, and see if I could sell it for a decent price," he said.

Upgrades included a "Fred Astaire dance floor" in the great room. He succeeded in selling it in 1988 to a Missouri millionaire who reportedly threw lavish parties.

Locals called the place "the mullet", according to current housekeeper Sherill Ricketts, who attended several of the blowouts over the decades. "It looked all business in front but it was a party at the back."

Since then, the cave home changed hands and shape several times.

For a while, Beckham Creek Cave operated as a resort, with rooms for up to US$1,000 per night. The latest owner defaulted on his loan, transferring the cave to Houston investors.

They brought in Zach Lee, a young interior designer from Harrison, Arkansas. "It was the nastiest place I'd ever been," Mr Lee said.

Someone had installed carpet and drywall, which were rank from the moisture. Mould remediation alone cost US$20,000. Dated tile floors, brass fixtures and bidets needed removal.

Complicating everything was the fact that a cave has no straight lines, no right angles. "It was almost impossible to measure anything," Mr Lee said.

Every point was a different measurement. They reduced the loft over the kitchen to open up the grand room to more natural light. Stained concrete floors work with the natural texture of the cave while resisting moisture.

Mr Lee softened the look with cedar doors and headboards of repurposed barn wood, locally sourced. He also installed a honeylocust wet bar with a live edge, cut from the property.

In the bedrooms, crews installed rubberised membranes behind wooden slats on the ceilings and walls to prevent drips. New French drains usher water away. Still, the cave lives. Inside, the sound of rushing water is omnipresent. NYTIMES