The sprawling, garish home at 4923 Kessler Boulevard East Drive is to local Realtors what Moby Dick represented to Captain Ahab and his crew: an elusive beast that couldn’t be slain. At 29,500 square feet, it approaches the Taj Mahal in size and nearly in ornamentation. Long an Indy legend that some love and others don’t, the Kessler colossus was dubbed the “ugliest house in America” online as it went on and off the market over the last 14 years.
The house was a madcap, decades-long project by Jerry A. Hostetler, aka “Mr. Big,” a 500-pound pimp turned construction magnate. Hostetler converted an ordinary ranch home in a northeastside neighborhood into a compound fit for a megalomaniacal dictator. Mr. Big was into statues: dolphins, polar bears, mermaids, gargoyles—whatever he could find, he bought. He built a 12-car garage, installed countless decks and balconies (all without handrails), kitted out his dining room with a hall of mirrors, and put in 38 light switches, side by side in neat rows, in the living room.
Hostetler died alone in the house in 2006, and Chad Folkening, a Hoosier who made a fortune buying and selling internet domains, bought the place, fixed it up, and tried to sell it in 2012, listing the property for $2.2 million. Folkening knew it wasn’t for everyone, but he saw potential in the rare design. In his eyes, there’s more to the house than the internet gawks over. “Art is in the eye of the beholder,” he says, “and it is unique and still has a lot of its original materials, like white-ice granite, pink rocks, Italian tile, and a ton of windows and lights. It’s a love/hate property and one-of-a-kind, but it has a very limited buyer pool.”
The house went on and off the market five times in seven years as one Realtor after another couldn’t sell it. It was most recently listed in August 2018 for $1.2 million. The listing agent, J.J. Canull, said it needed $300,000 to $500,000 worth of work. He took on the listing after several other Realtors had failed, relishing the challenge.
“You sell that house, you don’t have to have a sales pitch for the rest of your career,” he says. “That would be the only thing you need on your résumé: I sold the ugliest house in America.”
But selling the behemoth proved more difficult than slaying a white whale. Canull says that a number of “socially awkward people with a lot of money” were interested. One man, who wanted a place to park 12 cars, claimed that he would make an offer well over the list price, but never followed through.
Melissa Trahan, a local Realtor who tried unsuccessfully to sell the home a few years ago, says that the “ugliest home” stories were essentially fake news. “It’s a very beautiful property when you go inside,” she says. Beauty or beast? You can judge for yourself—the home is listed on Airbnb for stays of up to 23 people starting at $1,250 per night. Though the house isn’t on the market, Canull still believes the right buyer is out there somewhere. “It would be perfect for a cult,” he says.