The house got out of control.
“I wanted to buy a house,” Shelly Cuisset said. “I spoke to some people who said it would be better to build one. I didn’t expect it to be this big, but it was.”
The 10,000-square-foot European-style mansion at 6 Quarry Ridge had been vacant for four years and had been poorly maintained in the previous few years, according to Cuisset.
Now an extremely humiliating fate awaits them. At noon on November 9th, Joe Pyle Auctions will sell the once magnificent mansion with substantial grounds, swimming pool, tennis court and circular driveway to the highest bidder.
The 14 hectare property is surrounded by forests. Trees encase a structure that looks stunning in some photos and ready for the wrecking ball in others.
“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own one of Charleston’s finest homes,” Pyle’s website says of the home. “This spacious home and grounds are ready for restoration to their former glory.”
The home sits directly above the State Capitol on the south side of the Kanawha River. It’s a dream house turned into half a nightmare. According to Pyle, that hasn’t dampened interest in the property.
“It is certainly the most unique property we have brought to market in the Kanawha Valley,” Pyle said in a phone interview. “It is so surprising when you come to this site. you don’t expect it You could think you were in London or Paris.
“We got activities from everywhere. The property is gathering excitement from the internet marketing side. We receive inquiries from all parts of the USA. It needs to be restored. It wasn’t taken very good care of.”
Pyle said he believes a buyer would pay “10 cents on the dollar,” considering its magnificence, albeit tattered, and the money invested in the structure.
“They clearly spared no expense in doing this,” said Debbie Flanigan, a Pyle agent. “You couldn’t duplicate this house for $12 million right now… It would just be wonderful for entertaining.”
Pyle said the Gazette-Mail was not allowed on the property at the owners’ request.
A tortuous path
The fact that the house was abandoned and is now up for auction is the news peg for this story, but its genesis is a story in its own right, gleaned from an abridged interview with Cuisset and other research. Subsequent attempts to speak to Cuisset were unsuccessful.
Shelly and Gerard Cuisset received part of a trust fund set up by Shelly Cuisset’s uncle Lyell Clay, who died in 2007. The money came from the sale of Clay Communications, which Clay managed until its sale in 1987. Terms were not disclosed. Clay Communications included the Charleston Daily Mail and Register-Herald in Beckley and television stations in three states.
Clay founded the Clay Foundation, which by then had given $100 million in support to 98 organizations, according to a 2010 Associated Press article. That amount included $59 million for the Clay Center, the arts and science center that bears his name.
Shelly and Gerard Cuisset were living in France when the sale of Clay Communications took place. She had lived there since she was 6 when Cuisset’s divorced mother picked her up and moved across the water.
Not long before that, in 1953, Charleston had been rocked by the murder of Cuisset’s grandmother, Charleston Daily Mail owner Juliet Stanton Clark. Her murder is the subject of Charlie Ryan and Mitch Evans’ “Murder on Staunton Road,” a much-discussed tome in its second edition.
Arch Jay Alexander III, Cuisset’s brother and Juliet Clark’s grandson, was the only other person in the house that night. He overslept it. The child had spent the night to allow Clark’s daughter Juliet Alexander to rest from giving birth to twins eight days earlier.
Only one of the three children, Shelly Alexander Cuisset, would survive to adulthood. First Shelly’s twin died three days after birth, then Shelly’s brother, the little boy who overslept the crime, doused turpentine on himself while playing in a basement. A hot water heater flame set it on fire. He died a few days later from his injuries. This all happened in three months.
Cuisset said her mother initially wanted to see “old France,” but then put down roots.
Life in France suits her well, said Cuisset.
“It was fun,” she said. “I lived in an area where a lot of kids were having fun. I was a tomboy and did a lot of stupid things like boys do. My petticoats and dresses would be black because I would do the same things as the boys.”
She met Gerard, a French military pilot, and the two had three children. All descendants live in Charleston. Gerard died in 2018 after living alone at the Quarry Creek mansion for about five years. The couple divorced after 40 years of marriage.
“We’ve had ups and downs like any other couple, ups and downs in life,” she said. Cuisett said her husband had five strokes and was unable to maintain the vast possessions. He died at the age of 67.
Cuisset said she has two sons, 45 and 38, and a daughter, 30.
Before the trust money came, Cuisset said, she and her mother “didn’t wait for anything. My mother raised me modestly. I wasn’t waiting for riches or whatever. We lived a normal life. My husband was a pilot. We had a normal life.”
The trust is known as the Juliet Lyell Sheldon (Shelly) Alexander Cuisset Real Estate Trust, according to Pyle’s listing.
Come to West Virginia
Cuisset said she was not happy with the three builders it took over seven years to build the mansion.
“It was poorly built,” she said. “More of a money pit than anything else. There was a lot of water damage in the house. The pipes in winter got so cold that they destroyed the ground.
“It took seven years to build it, but they built it too fast I think. You should have taken your time. We were in Europe and couldn’t guard it.”
Pyle said the home has been inspected and is structurally sound.
Cuisset said she and her husband came to West Virginia to help care for a 97-year-old relative. The couple opened Café de Paris on the corner of Capitol Street and Quarrier Street in 2005. The restaurant closed in 2009.
DT Prime Steakhouse now occupies the space.
During Café de Paris’ existence, Shelly Cuisset and Café de Paris were sued in 2005 over claims that they failed to repay $15,000 and $5,000 promissory notes. Cuisset also fell out with the city over colors used on the exterior and a mural of the Eiffel Tower. The color didn’t go well with the surroundings, the city was preserved, and the mural was supposed to be a real miniature of the Eiffel Tower with lights.
Cuisset said the family was unable to properly look after the restaurant after returning to France following the death of Gerard Cuisset’s father in 2009.
Someone itching to live in a big house with a great view — and spending a lot of time and money on the restoration — might find the property appealing.
Concrete around the pool is dirty and the water is full of algae. A bathroom picture shows exposed insulation that fell to the floor after the ceiling was removed. In the center stands a large black marble column. Floors look unfinished in several shots.
Thanks to its French owners, the house includes a section with fake shop fronts, one of which reads “1900 La Cremaillare,” a nod to a Parisian restaurant. A wine cellar looks like it could hold hundreds of bottles. A beautiful brick arch leads inside.
“We’re excited about that,” Flanigan said. “It will be interesting to see who gets it and what they do with it.”