Coeur d’Alene Magazine: The Eagle Has Landed

Summer/Fall 2023 | Coeur d’Alene Magazine

It’s a mighty fine summer morning. The early sun brushes the pine trees and the lake with bold strokes. The water gleams. It’s early and there are no boats out yet, and the landscape has the look of something ancient, yet thrillingly new.

It’s time to wake up to these panoramas in the palatial master suite. Take coffee and breakfast on the patio, the morning crisp and serene.

Go into the office, check the market and make a few calls, turning the gaze again to that unforgettable stretch of water and sky. Hit the home gym while sports highlights play on the big screens. It’s the start of another very good day.

Throughout the course of his life and career, Jim Benson has had the opportunity to live in some of the most beautiful places in America. But his new favorite home is perched overlooking Lake Coeur d’Alene. As a financial executive, he has lived in Newport Beach, Boston, Palm Beach, Rhode Island and Beaver Creek. There was that beloved summer home at Stone Manor, built of limestone marble on the shores of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Nothing quite compares to waking up at the home he has built at Gozzer Ranch and Lake Club and looking out at that tremendous wall-to-wall view.

Him and his spouse Lynn, both raised in Illinois, found this location on an impromptu road trip out West in the sprint of 2019.

Jim says “Hy happy circumstance, Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier National Park was still closed. So we diverted, and following the recommendation of a friend, we came to Gozzer. I liked the club, I like golf and I love this lake.”

He bought four lots together and set out to create the ultimate lakeview home. Something that would be one-of-a-kind, of “One of One” as Jim likes to say.

“We appreciate sunsets, so we faced northwest,” he says. “From here, the panorama of the lake is magnificent. And it’s entirely private. Your own little paradise.”

The goal for the project was a mountain contemporary style in which every room would be a winner; a layout that captured maximum views.

There would certainly be top-flight sound and entertainment systems, a large scale office and a fully equipped exercise suite. Every room should have scale and purpose. The home should be built for grand entertaining, but also have more intimate places where one could cozy up and read  a favorite book or watch a show.

Enter Bing Hu, an internationally pedigreed architect with a robust connection to Gozzer.  When Gozzer was first envisioned by founder Mike Meldman of Discovery Land Company, Mr. Hu walked the land and advised on the Tom Fazio-designed golf course.

“Bing and I clicked right off the bar,” Jim says. “One day I told him, in jest, ‘I’d like to have a multi-floor wine tower and wrap a home around it.’ He got very excited about this project, took my goofy ideas and made them great.”

It was Bing Hu who came up with his nickname for the property, “The Screaming Eagle.”

The build this ambitious dream, Jim and Lynn selected Edwards Smith Construction, the renowned luxury builders whose work is on prominent display around Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Gozzer community.

“Jim and Lynn are just genuinely nice people”, says Andy Smith, co-owner of the construction firm. Throughout the process, they were always open to suggestions, ideas and ways to achieve the look they were after.”

A project like the Benson residence goes far beyond a custom home, Andy says. “This is commissioned art piece that captures the very essence of its owners. Our job is to help bring out that essence, combining our talents and expertise with their wants and needs. It’s a collaborative journey of discovery.”

And the peak of that perfection, the culmination of ideas and architecture, is perhaps achieved best in this home’s magnificent great room. Here, tinkling notes from the piano soar up to the mighty vaulted ceilings in a space devoted to the admiration of Lake Coeur d’Alene. And what a view it is.

Mother Nature puts on a rather splendid show up here, and it’s never the same show twice. By day, the light and the weather continuously re-imagine themselves, painting and repairing an ever-changing rare and transcendent canvas of lake, forest, and sky. By night, the faraway lights of town reflect across the water, echoing the stars above.

In the wine tower, holding 2,600 bottles, form and function are elevated to pure art. The biggest problem when choosing a bottle or two to serve with dinner is the literally dizzying array of good choices.

Amont the large scale art hung on the walls, one piece stands out in particular, depicting the energy and flow of a cattle drive. Jim likes ranching, and owns two ranches in New Mexico and one in Arizona, where elk roam the mountains and American Wagyu cattle roam the plains.

As construction on their home progressed, Jim and Lynn continued to admire the work of Edwards Smith’s crew. Jim was known for stopping by and chatting with the guys, letting them know the owners appreciated their talents and their process.

“I tell our guys they are the A Team,” Andy says. “They’ve been together for a lot of years. They know each other and know each other’s needs. There’s a synergy among all the trades that shows in big and ways and small.”

Raised in fairly modest circumstances, Jim planned to be a college economics professor before life intervened. In 1968, while waiting to be called up in the Army’s 200th ASA Special Ops reserved unit, he joined the training program at Pacific Life. He came back from active duty, earned his MBA at the University of Southern California at night and went on to become president at Equitable, Met Life, and John Hancock- a brilliant 50-year career in financial services.

He felt strongly about philanthropy, which led to him founding a non-profit for sports activities for people with disabilities. Thanks to World T.E.A.N. Sports, able-bodied and adaptive athletes have climbed Kilimanjaro, trekked the Italian Dolomites, paddled the Pacific coastline, ridden across America and around the world.

In 1998, Jim assembled a group of 45 disabled North Vietnamese veterans and 45 disabled U.S. veterans to ride bikes together from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, a powerful experience lasting 16 days.

“I was never sent to Vietnam,” he says. “I thought perhaps I should do something in honor of those people who served, something unique that would be constructive. We did this ride just after Vietnam and the United States had re-established diplomatic relations. It was one of the most fascinating this I have ever been involved in.”

Lynn had a successful career in education, but her lifelong passion has been competitive inland sailing. As a member of the Lake Geneva Yacht Club, she spent time sailing with the legendary Buddy Melges family. She is a longtime C Scow sailor, with all the desirable characteristics of a good crew: lightweight, boat-smart and athletic.

Jim and Lynn actually grew up in the same small town in Northern Illinois. When they formally reconnected in 2011, her friends regaled him with tales of what a great sailor she is.

With her sailor’s ways, Lynn greatly enjoys looking out from her new home at the changing wind patterns on the lake.

“The unexpected positive of building this house and being part of this place is all the wonderful people of Coeur d’Alene that we’ve met,” she says. “Everybody’s been terrific. Everybody’s happy to be here.”

With their home complete, Jim and Lynn did something above and beyond, yet certainly in character. They hosted an event at the house for all the tradesmen who worked on the project. It was a festive evening for 130 or so people, with drinks, hors d’oeuvres and a tour. Each of the trades could see how their work had uniquely dovetailed into that of the others, making something considerably larger than the sum of its parts. A chance, like anyone who builds something enjoys doing, to step back and take a moment to admire the work.

Andy says, “Lynn and Jim were always appreciative and thankful in recognizing the quality of the team, the energy and the efforts to put together this pretty incredible design. I feel lucky to have met them and proud to be the builder of their home, but more importantly, to have become friends.”

Architect: H&S International 

Builder: Edwards Smith Construction

PDF version of article with pictures here.

Video and more pictures here.

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