That auction may mark the low point of Peter Fournier’s troubled stay in Laurelhurst.
The high point probably came in December 2006, when Fournier and his wife, Kirstie, bought a sprawling, 12,000-square-foot, 17-room Laurelhurst home known as the Bitar mansion for $1.825 million.
Such a price might not raise eyebrows in the West Hills or Lake Oswego, but the Multnomah County assessor’s office says nobody, before or since, has paid more for a home in Southeast.
Now the Fourniers, who could not be reached for this story, are in foreclosure.
Their 1927 Mediterranean-style home—originally built for the president of the Doernbecher furniture company—was the work of architect Herman Brookman, who also designed such Portland landmarks as Temple Beth Israel and Fir Acres, the Frank estate that became Lewis & Clark College. The Bitar mansion features extraordinary woodwork, a marble-floored ballroom, a heated pool, a servants’ wing, and elaborate tile, metalwork and sculpture. The property sits on the equivalent of seven standard city lots and enjoys a commanding view of the West Hills.
Yet, today, the Fourniers’ property is an eyesore.
Waist-high grass sways on the lawn. A brush pile of ancient rhododendrons chokes the elegant semicircular brick driveway. Ugly plaster patches mar the home’s façade, and half-finished security gates stand watch over a property now occupied only by a couple of previously homeless caretakers.
Banks have foreclosed on thousands of Portland homes in recent years. And in a sense, the Fourniers’ story is a tale of what happened when the decades-long rising real estate tide turned into a tsunami.
But their situation is different. For one thing, there is evidence the Fourniers had the resources to pay their mortgage. Long before Bank of America pulled the plug, the family walked away from their home.
“We are going to demolish the house and sell it to the highest [bidder] to build apartments,” Kirstie Fournier wrote March 11, 2010, in an email to a neighbor.
“Have a nice live [sic].”
The Fourniers’ story also shows money cannot buy happiness, particularly when a family ill-suited to city living tries to fit into a tight-knit neighborhood. Laurelhurst Park—like any public space—can be a dangerous place, and there will always be friction between people whose lives intersect.
But Peter Fournier, whose property abutted the park, appears to have had little tolerance for park users, and even less for his neighbors.
The Fourniers’ Laurelhurst experience echoes difficulties they had before and after buying the Bitar mansion. Their rocky journey, from Lake Oswego to Laurelhurst to two new homes in the past year, shows that no matter how extensive a family’s resources, the social contract between neighbors remains a powerful force.
Says Elisa Leverton, a 25-year Laurelhurst resident, “When they moved from here, it relieved a lot of stress for everybody.”
In the beginning, the Fourniers, who sold a $1.7 million Lake Oswego home to move to Laurelhurst, made a good impression.
For Halloween, Peter Fournier transformed his yard. Lifelike ghouls and goblins hung from trees and lurked in bushes. Dry ice provided a foggy background and a sound system broadcast bone-chilling sounds.
Inside a glass anteroom covered in elaborate gold-toned metalwork, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Fournier delighted in showing kids the guts inside a lifelike ghoul as he handed out full-sized Snickers bars, Almond Joys and Airheads.
During the record-setting December 2008 snowstorm, Fournier cleared sidewalks and even some driveways with his snowblower.
“People in the neighborhood were very excited when they moved in, especially because they had young kids,” Leverton recalls.
The previous occupants of the Fourniers’ home, the Bitar family, owned it for 57 years. It served as the Lebanese consulate in Portland and over the years hosted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, pianist Van Cliburn, and numerous Oregon governors and U.S. senators. The home was also a frequent stop on architectural tours.
Fournier hoped to restore his new home to its original condition.
“I presently live in the home the second President of the company built in 1927,” he wrote in a 2007 post on the website of Furniture World magazine. “Anybody interested in selling me their Doernbecher furniture?”
Neighbors were not
sure where Fournier’s income came from. Neither Fournier, 48, nor his
wife, Kirstie, 52, worked a conventional job.
On a résumé she posted online, Kirstie Fournier wrote that the couple’s residential construction firm, Agate Investments LLC, “built dozens of residential homes” in the previous decade and owned five residential rentals.
Agate did build some houses in the metro area and Marion County, and renovated others, but struggled financially. The firm’s Oregon contractor’s license had lapsed by the time the Fourniers moved to Laurelhurst. The Oregon Home Builders Association has no record of Agate ever having been a member.
Peter Fournier did have family money. Documents show he is a descendent of the founder of Procter & Gamble, which last year ranked 22nd on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest companies. (Fournier’s middle name is Procter.)
When he moved to Laurelhurst, Fournier, a 1997 Georgetown Law graduate, told neighbors he had started a new business—Residential Security Patrol.
Portland police had stopped responding to residential burglar alarms, so Fournier’s plan was to hire ex-cops to respond to calls in affluent eastside neighborhoods. Used police cars he’d bought for the company lined his driveway.
Behind the neighborliness and entrepreneurship, however, there was another Peter Fournier. And a property-line dispute began to reveal a different side of him.
Next door to Fournier lived Dick Kroll, 72, and the late Park Bailey. The two were longtime Laurelhurst residents who bought and renovated houses.
Their home—a brick Georgian that rivals the Bitar mansion in its grandeur—stands immediately east of the Fourniers’ and also borders Laurelhurst Park.
Police records and neighbors’ accounts show the dispute took many forms: Fournier allegedly threatened Kroll and Bailey, he frequently yelled homophobic slurs, he blasted conservative talk radio at them with outdoor speakers for hours, and he would shine spotlights from his property into their windows for nights on end.
“It all started when he tried to claim a piece of my land with his fence,” Kroll says. “And before long, he had a halogen floodlight pointed at my house all night long.”
Fournier and his wife became so well known to police that officers took the unusual step of entering a “flag” in their computer system if either was involved in a call.
Typically, if police are called to a neighborhood, especially in a low-crime area such as Laurelhurst, one officer responds. Not so with the Fourniers.
“Please flag [the Fourniers’ Laurelhurst and Ladd’s Addition addresses],” says an April 19, 2010, police report. “Mandatory two-officer response for all calls for witness and verification reasons.”
Fournier’s difficulties came to a head in March 2010.
He had erected a 10-foot wooden fence between his house and Kroll and Bailey’s, and 6-foot-high columns for security gates at the entrances to his driveway. Both projects violated city code, and inspectors forced him to sharply reduce the heights of both.
Fournier’s beef with his next-door neighbors paralleled a dispute he had that same month with an even more powerful neighbor—the City of Portland.
Portland Parks and Recreation informed Fournier that the fence between his property and Laurelhurst Park was significantly inside the park boundary, so a big of chunk of what Fournier thought was his backyard belonged to the park.
The fence pre-dated Fournier. But his communication with parks employees grew increasingly acrimonious over the course of a year.
Responding to a city request that he remove structures that were on park property, he chain-sawed a decrepit greenhouse and burned it in his backyard, resulting in a blaze so big that neighbors called the Fire Bureau.
In an apparent fit of pique, Fournier also cut down ancient rhododendrons on the disputed land. He piled the resulting debris in his driveway, where it remains today.
“As the plants in question were planted by my predecessor in title, I must remove them,” Fournier wrote to a parks official in a Feb. 11, 2011, email. “This is very unfortunate, as the remaining Rhododendrons are quite spectacular, and at least 80 years old.”
Fournier also tangled with contractors and creditors. Shortly after the Fourniers moved to Laurelhurst, for instance, a city inspector ordered Fournier and several neighbors to repair their sidewalks.
Fournier hired Metro Sidewalk Repair in May 2007 for $1,400 worth of repairs. Metro Sidewalk did the work and the city inspector signed off on it—but Fournier refused to pay his bill. It wasn’t as if he lacked the funds: His mortgage was $8,400 a month and he had paid the home renovation firm Hammer and Hand nearly $150,000 to spiff up his new house.
The dispute over the sidewalk tab dragged on, with lawyers on both sides, until an arbitrator finally ordered Fournier to pay.
“He was just being a little contrary,” says Brian O’Brien, Metro Sidewalk’s lawyer.
Court records show banks, collection agencies and other creditors have also pursued Fournier. Hammer and Hand sued to collect another $60,000 for work on his home in 2008. That bill—now up to $74,000 with interest—remains unpaid, although a Multnomah County judge entered a judgment against Fournier in May.
Plenty of people don’t pay their bills—even some who live in mansions.
But it was Fournier’s seeming obsession with safety that got him in real trouble.
Nobody should have been surprised when Fournier confronted a rowdy group in Laurelhurst Park.
In conversations with neighbors and online, Fournier had lamented the dangers he saw in one of the east side’s most affluent neighborhoods.
“The Portland Business Alliance, through their SAFE program, in cooperation with Portland Police, and the Parks Department, have succeeded in pushing a large portion of the homeless population from the downtown east across the river,” Fournier wrote on a parks department blog in November 2008. “There has been a large increase in camping, drinking, littering, drug use, sexual activity (used condoms everywhere), and abusive and mentally ill individuals harassing park users.”
Fournier felt city officials ignored his concerns.
“Pleas made to Southeast Precinct Police and Park Rangers, as well as Mark Warrington, [Parks] Public Safety Manager, have resulted in no improvement or noticeable action,” he continued.
“Everybody I have contacted appears to be an apologist for the problems and those who create them, rather than a problem solver for park users and the homeowners in the neighborhood.”
So Fournier decided to clean things up himself.
On Feb. 20, 2009, he heard yelling and the sound of glass breaking near the park’s pond. Fournier, wearing a uniform, badge and service belt complete with a Taser and handcuffs, sprang into action.
“I believed that a park visitor was possibly being assaulted,” Fournier later wrote.
“[I] approached the general area of the noise, to observe the situation, and found myself in the middle of a group of at least six, possibly nine individuals, all wearing black, most partially clad in leather with studs, and several with pentagrams on their backs.”
Fournier told the beer-swilling crew to leave the park.
“After several of the individuals began approaching me from several directions,” he wrote, “I ordered them to lie down prone on the ground, for my own safety.”
All except one of them lay down. That man advanced on him. Fournier unholstered his Taser and shot him.
The man later identified in a police report as “Fred Alfredo” fell to the ground.
“Ow, what the fuck?” he yelled.
Fournier handcuffed another of the men and waited for police to arrive. For the moment, by his standards, he was a hero.
After the Taser incident, Fournier faxed a three-page “incident report” to the East Precinct, using the clipped language cops favor.
He did admit to excessive zeal.
“There was a question as to whether I had exceeded my authority,” Fournier wrote of the Taser incident. “[I] will modify my procedures and response in the future to include observation and reporting to police dispatch.”
Parks officials banned Fournier from Laurelhurst Park for 30 days for carrying and using a Taser on park grounds. But before that exclusion went into effect, police responded to another incident, this one at the park’s community center.
“Upon arrival, I observed a black and white Crown Victoria [the standard model for police cars] with a badge on the door (decal),” wrote the responding officer. “Fournier was standing beside this car flagging me down. Fournier was wearing a dark uniform and jacket with a badge and duty belt.”
Fournier told the officer he’d seen a homeless man sleeping in the park and told him he’d have to leave by the 10 pm closing time. When the man failed to leave the park, Fournier called the police.
Soon after that incident, his exclusion from the park went into effect. Fournier turned his vigilance to other neighborhood hot spots.
Just before 8 am on Oct. 14, 2009, Fournier saw Bob Bullock, a cameraman for KATU TV Channel 2, taping outside Laurelhurst Elementary, which one of Fournier’s two children attended.
Fournier told Bullock to stop filming and attempted to block his view by moving his SUV in front of Bullock’s camera. Bullock showed Fournier his KATU identification, but Fournier ignored it.
PLAN OF ATTACK: Peter Fournier confronts KATU’s Bob Bullock. Courtesy of KATU
Fournier flashed a badge and “called me a ‘fucking stupid, fucking loser reporter,’” Bullock wrote in a now-pending lawsuit. “[Fournier] then swung his hand at me striking the camera twice, which I was holding while filming.
“[Fournier] then grabbed the camera and knocked me to the ground. With [Fournier] over the top of me, I remained on the ground. [Fournier] then held me down with his foot pressed violently against my chest cavity.” (Bullock captured much of the incident with his camera. Watch the footage at wweek.com.)
Police arrested Fournier and charged him with felony assault, criminal mischief and impersonating a police officer (for flashing a badge).
Fournier told police he feared Bullock was a predator lurking to videotape children, an explanation that made little sense given that he had seen Bullock’s KATU identification and called him a “reporter,” as tape of the incident reveals.
Fournier was convicted of assault and sentenced to four days in jail and two years of probation.
That conviction cost Fournier his fledgling security business. On Oct. 15, 2009, the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which licenses security firms, yanked Fournier’s certification.
Not long after cutting down the rhododendrons in early 2011, Fournier and his family fled Laurelhurst for Southeast Portland.
“The neighbors ran us out,” he would later say.
On Feb. 19, 2010, a limited liability company registered to Fournier’s parents’ California address paid $735,000 for an elegant 1905 Old Portland-style home in Ladd’s Addition.
There is no mortgage recorded with the sale, which suggests the Fourniers paid cash for the 4,700-square-foot home.
As in Laurelhurst, Fournier decorated elaborately for Halloween. He also began a series of projects: He sunk 10-foot fence posts, hanging security lights on some; he bulldozed the backyard and tore out interior steps.
He got into disputes with homeowners next door and across the street, says Jenny Myrick, who lived next door to Fournier in Ladd’s Addition.
“I think what happened here is part of a pattern,” says Myrick, who says Fournier would talk to her for hours while she worked on her garden. “Peter had problems with everybody. He was at odds with everyone in front of his house, beside it and behind.”
Former neighbors in Lake Oswego, where Fournier lived from 2001 through 2006, recall similar behavior. There, he clashed with city officials over a fence and ran afoul of city code when he dotted his 2.3-acre property with about 100 John Kerry signs in 2004.
“I remember he started to build a fence. It stopped and stayed in a state of suspended animation for about a year and then disappeared,” says Doug Babb, who lived across the street from Fournier in Lake Oswego. “He was known at the local coffee shop as the ‘Coffee Bomber,’ because he allegedly threw a cup of coffee at somebody during a political argument.”
Today, Fournier has fled Ladd’s Addition, too. His house there sold July 6 for $660,000, a loss of $75,000.
Meanwhile, the Laurelhurst property remains on the market for $1.8 million.
The “For Sale” sign in front is rapidly disappearing into the grass, and a 1979 Chevy pickup, registered to a man who, prior to becoming Fournier’s caretaker, lived in a camper parked on various streets in the neighborhood, occupies the driveway.
A few blocks away on East Burnside Street, Kristine Bitar Wilkins, who grew up in the house, runs the Bitar family property business with her husband, Michael.
Friends keep them posted on the goings-on at the Bitar mansion, but the Wilkinses cannot bring themselves to drive by.
“My wife is so sick about what happened to the house she can’t talk about it anymore,” says Michael Wilkins. “It’s not just a foreclosure, it’s a tragedy.”
And Peter Fournier? He’s moved on, across the river, to a new neighborhood...in Southwest Portland.