Story and photos by Linda Ball
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
You might not be aware of, or know where – or what – Falconridge Farm is.
An oasis in the midst of an ever-growing city, the equestrian property on 4.2 acres in the Highland Park area is on the market for the first time in decades, asking price $7,600,000. After hearing about the listing from a reader, we set out to find out why it’s up for sale.
The owners, Dr. Jean Nokes and her husband Milt Ghivizzani, have lovingly tended to the property for decades. The property is for sale because Dr. Nokes is no longer riding. But especially for her, their history with this property is rich with memories; she gave us a tour.
Nokes’ childhood home is set on a hill that overlooks Falconridge Farm. She comes from a long line of people working with horses. Her grandfather Nokes was an accomplished horseman from logging in the woods, eventually becoming a chauffeur in the horse and buggy days. He bought “high steppers,” or trotters for his employer and her grandfather Elfrink raised race horses. Her father was the eldest of 10 children, but out of this huge family, Jean was the only one to get the “horse bug.”
Jean had another bug though, which was to study medicine and become a physician.
“It was difficult for her; they would close classes so women couldn’t take them.” said Boni Buscemi, the Realtor with Realogics Sotheby’s Realty, who is the listing agent for Falconridge Farm. Jean chose Boni to represent the property because she has an equestrian background.
Jean put herself through medical school teaching classical piano. One of her students, a 14-year-old girl, had lupus, which led to kidney failure. “There was nobody doing dialysis,” Jean said. “They were doing experimental dialysis in the Swedish Hospital basement but it was cost prohibitive.” The girl, Caroline, became the test patient for in-home dialysis. Jean would go to her home to teach her piano, but she was inspired to choose nephrology as her specialty. Eventually, Group Health hired her, and she developed its kidney and transplant program.
With school behind her, she was able to come back to her love of horses. She began cobbling the farm together in 1969, buying one city lot at a time. When she had eight lots, she built the barn. Then she kept on adding to the farm until she had over four acres. “There was nothing here – no Kenyon Street, no roads,” she said.
When first opened, she called the facility Noel Arabians and raised 56 Arabian horses. She bought her own first horse, after she finished med school. The family home was sold to one of the people who boarded their horse with her, who subsequently sold it to another mutual horse friend. In 1976, Jean married her first husband, but sadly, within three years he died. She threw herself into her career, and leased the farm out for eight years.
She came back to it only to find it overrun with weeds and trash. The bill for the dump was almost $10,000. Her current husband Milt, to whom she has been happily wed for 32 years, offered to rebuild the farm, which was a laborious task. Jean said he dug every posthole by hand – not at all insignificant considering the volume of fencing at the facility.
She had a covered riding arena built in the late ’70s, which was damaged in her absence, but it’s all up to speed now, and one of the most impressive indoor arenas anywhere, with mirrors stretching along one wall to reflect the beautiful view of the Cascades. In their heyday, the grounds looked like a cross between a golf course and Butchart Gardens, Jean said.
The gardens are a bit overgrown now, which breaks her heart, but Jean’s horse, Cielo, a mare she’s had for 20 years, and one other horse, are still there and Jean is still teaching students dressage riding, which she calls “equine ballet.” She had about 12 horses boarding at Falconridge as of last December, but they’ve moved out due to the plan to sell the property.
It’s home to other animals: Luna, Dr. Nokes’s very old, three-legged cat also lives there. Luna gained fame for riding the horses for up to 16 hours a day and was featured on the International Discovery Channel. Milton had a pet rooster named Othello, who would sit in the arena on a fence where he could see himself in the mirror.
Othello is gone now, but is buried on the edge of the arena, with a plaque in remembrance.
Jean is hoping the property will appeal to someone in the equestrian world. “This would be a beautiful estate,” she said.
Indeed, there is plenty of room to build a home and keep the arena, barn, tack room, and other facilities. But there’s also a chance it could become a housing development – developers have been looking at it, though after all of the love, work and memories made at Falconridge, Dr. Nokes says she is not going to jump at the first offer. She was deeply touched when a group of about 25 neighbors got together recently to discuss forming a non-profit, perhaps a horse rescue, that would somehow let it live on. Wouldn’t that be lovely?