This article originally ran in "Tales from the Morgue" March 1, 2008.
When the dowager countess of Suffolk and Berkshire lived near Oracle, in the 1950’s, she didn’t have to worry about development encroaching on her view. She owned most of it.
The countess, the former Margaret Leiter of Chicago, had been wintering in the Tucson area since the mid-1930’s.
Before her marriage to the English nobleman Henry Molyneaux Paget Howard, Leiter was already a wealthy woman. When her father died, he left an estate worth $48 million.
Originally, the countess owned land that now includes the Suffolk Hills subdivision. Her winter home on Magee Road was apparently modeled after her home in England. It was purchased in the late 1950’s and became the Immaculate Heart Lodge Convent.
Then she moved to a 3,500 acre ranch in the northwest foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and built a new home. Suffolk House was an elegantly landscaped estate nestled against the mountains. It had a spacious library and lounge, lavish servants quarters and European bathroom fixtures. There was also a 20-by-40 foot swimming pool.
After the countess died in 1968, Motorola bought 300 acres of her land, including the plush complex of nine buildings. They used it for a conference center. It was given to the University of Arizona in 1980. But, in 1984, the UA sold it to a group called Biosphere Ventures Inc. for $3.4 million. They built what has been called a one-of-a-kind terrarium and the rest is history.