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Millionaire's Dream Castle Rises on Rancho Santa Fe Hill : Architecture: The 32,500-square-foot mansion features the world's longest pool inside a residence and a 22-car garage.

February 10, 1991|NANCY RAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dale Rorabaugh must have played King of the Hill when he was a kid and probably was shoved off the top a couple of times.

But no more. Now he owns the top of the hill and is building his home there--a 32,500-square-foot mansion that just aches to be the set of the next James Bond movie, or perhaps a Star Trek episode.

Rorabaugh, an optometrist, inventor, investor, collector and millionaire in his mid-40s, has dreamed about his castle in the sky for years and now can look up and see it rising atop Paint Mountain from the living room windows of his existing Rancho Santa Fe home below. And this summer he expects to move in.

Unfortunately for Rorabaugh, who is a very private person, thousands of other North County residents can look up and see the same thing: a massive white structure teetering atop the highest hill around.

Before long, it seems, each and every one of them is going to thread his or her way through the back roads south of San Marcos and up the private drive with its warnings against trespassers and unauthorized visitors to the unfinished aerie 1,173 feet above sea level, only to be politely shooed away by site construction manager Ron Costa.

"We've become the center of attention," Costa said. "Everybody comes up here to find out what's going on. Workmen bring their families to show it off. People arrive at every hour of the day. The other day, a couple of Aerostar vans full of county people came out, just to check it out after hearing building inspectors talk about it."

Art Harris, architect and builder of the mountaintop mansion, flies in frequently, landing his helicopter on the roof. That's just temporary, though. Eventually there will be a separate helipad in the 50-acre compound, along with a running track, tennis courts, a heart-shaped entry drive lined with majestic palms, and a modest three-bedroom, three-bath guest house near the entrance gate.

Harris said that, to his knowledge, Rorabaugh's home will be the largest family residence ever built in San Diego County, although it doesn't compare with Hearst's San Simeon near San Luis Obispo or a dozen behemoths hidden away in the Hollywood Hills or on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles.

Harris, a San Diegan who limits his practice to being "a builder for the rich and famous," admits that designing and building his friend's home is his ultimate architectural high.

Everything is state of the art. Nothing is second rate. The best materials and most expert workmen have been assembled from around the world--Brazil, Scandinavia, Jamaica, Australia, Germany, Canada, Italy--to produce the one-of-a-kind home that the inventive mind of Rorabaugh created.

For the curious who were turned away, here's a verbal view of the mansion:

As the 10-by-10 front entry door swings open electronically, a palm-studded courtyard stretches west, seemingly to infinity. It is split by a 286-foot-long swimming pool. The pool will go into the Guinness Book of World Records when it is finished as the longest ever built in a residence. The current title holder is in La Jolla.

The view, however, cannot be measured in quality or quantity. It stretches from San Clemente and Catalina Island to the Lagunas and Palomar Mountain, from downtown San Diego (and sometimes the Coronado Islands off Mexico) to the smoggy Orange County coastline. It puts real estate agents' definitions of "an ocean view" to shame.

The foyer is designed so that a 5-foot, 9-inch man (Rorabaugh's height) will see the expanse of pool sweeping to the horizon where a waterfall appears to pour downward into the ocean. This mirage is created with a catch basin that returns the overflow into the gigantic pool.

One of many entryways to the pool allows the host to swim under a glass divider and exit the water to greet his guests at the door. From there, the house unfolds to either side, its rooms open to the inner courtyard, and its windows open to the world.

There will be no curtains at any of the windows, Harris said, although 60% of the mansion's walls are glass. Privacy is achieved by blackout curtains that close electronically around the beds and sand-blasting of the glass to shoulder height in the windowed showers, Harris explained.

At each side of the mansion's entryway are stair-stepped pools where brightly colored and costly koi will swim in the currents created by a two-story waterfall.

Entry into a room triggers a beam that immediately turns on the lighting, and most panels and doors glide silently and electronically open and shut without requiring so much as a snap of the fingers or flick of a switch.

There are seven separate heating-cooling systems that control the climate through a computer and myriad space-age gadgets that provide wraparound sound and just the right lighting.

Everything appears when it is needed and silently recedes when it is not. It's almost eerie.

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