This waterfront luxury home overlooking Lake Jackson outside of Manassas is for sale. It has quite a history.
By Dwayne Moyers
This is the story of 8351 Purse Drive, Manassas, Virginia — a house with intrigue in its history and a colorful character behind its construction. The house’s name, Alvictus, is derived from the first owners’ names: Alice-Victor-us; Alice was the second wife of Victor Purse, a State Department offcial. The home’s past includes being a safe house that the Central Intelligence Agency used to hide Russian spies defecting to the United States, and hosting Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy, the 64th U.S. Attorney General.
The storied house’s modest origins can be seen in a 1963 article in the now-defunct Manassas Journal Messenger:
Mr. and Mrs. Victor Purse, in their search for mountain or waterfront property with development possibilities and within easy access to metropolitan Washington, discovered a little log cabin on the edge of a ravine overlooking Lake Jackson.
In 1959 they acquired the property and then purchased adjacent lots, including a ravine where the hillside was eroding into the lake. The hillside has been terraced with a swimming pool, and the little cabin is now a deep-red wing of a spacious two-story house of modern design complementing the natural beauty of the setting.
This house is constructed of colorful Bull Run Mountain stone , under a low-pitched roof of white gravel. In the first story, large white double doors form the front entrance into a center foyer which leads into the kitchen and dining area.
On the left is a large living room with front and end walls of glass 18-feet high, supported by white concrete pilasters. On the right is a breezeway, across from which is a large family, or sitting room. Steps down lead to a patio and a barbecue shelter facing the lake. On the back is an outside terrace-level entrance to the upper story where the sleeping quarters are arranged.
The Purses depend upon their own talent to build, landscape, and design the home and grounds, to blend into the contour of the land and lake. Their long-range plan for landscaping, furnishing the house, and refurbishing the little cabin reflects their deep love of the outdoors, and they hope to retain informality in all phases. Eventually, the entire hillside will be covered with informal terraces, pools, and plantings.
Mr. Purse is Executive Director for Administration in the State Department, in Washington, and Mrs. Purse is principal technical assistant to the Director of Purchases in the Government Printing Office. They look forward to retirement when they will have more time to enjoy the peace and beauty of Virginia.
THE MAN BEHIND THE HOUSE
My research found that Purse entered service with the State Department in 1943 as a “Management & Procedure Analyst.” In 1948, he became the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration (salary: $7,341) and rose to become Deputy Chief of Protocol in 1957, where Purse national headlines.
In October 1957, Purse was in New York assisting Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip as they departed the United States after an official visit. Purse had a tense relationship with political appointee Wiley T. Buchanan, Jr., who was the State Department Protocol Chief. Earlier in the year, Purse had become personal friends with King Saud of Saudi Arabia during his visit to the United States for a meeting with President Eisenhower. They became friends during the visit of the royal family, and King Saud insisted Victor Purse go with him back to Saudi Arabia and become his guest. The King even gave Purse’s first wife, Elsie, a $3,000 Oldsmobile convertible as a gift. These type of informal — and sometimes lucrative — relationships with guests of President Eisenhower would eventually cause Buchanan to urge a State Department superior to remove Purse from his protocol assignment.
Like many foreign diplomats visiting the United States, the Queen and her husband became friendly with Purse after meeting him. They were grateful to Purse for his work during their U.S. visit, and extended an invitation to visit them at Buckingham Palace.
This caused deeper tension between Purse and Buchanan, which exploded after the royal couple left the country. Purse was invited to fly from New York to Washington on the Columbine III, the presidential airplane, while Buchanan had to use commercial transportation back to the capital.
When Buchanan saw Purse exit the Presidential airplane, there was an immediate confrontation between the two officials. The incident was reported by several reporters who saw Buchanan confront Purse about riding with the President without authorization. It didn’t seem to matter that Purse was invited by several cabinet officials to join the presidential flight.
In March 1957, United Press International (UPI) reported the crescendo of these confrontations in an article titled, “Victor Purse Booted Out of Job as State Department Chief of Protocol.” The story was covered by news outlets throughout the nation and around the world. Reports from sources inside the State Department described a long-time behind-the-scenes cold war between Buchanan and Purse. Buchanan, 43, viewed Purse, 39, as too undignified, fidgety, and casual for the task of guiding dignitaries through formal receptions, dinners, and visits.
Purse viewed Buchanan as too stuffy and rigid in his approach to dealing with diplomats. When Purse was asked by reporters to make a statement about this incident, he would only say, “I’ve been asked to leave protocol and take some new assignment.”
IN THE HEADLINES AGAIN
Another controversy would soon engulf Purse. In November 1957, a report moved on the UPI wire: “New Code Governs Gift-Taking by U.S. Diplomats.” The article reported the State Department had circulated a new code of ethics barring diplomats and their wives from accepting gifts from foreign governments, such as Purse’s acceptance of the Oldsmobile convertible from King Saud. The King had distributed 70 trunks of expensive gifts to government officials, but Purse was the only diplomat punished.
After Purse’s wife was directed to return the King’s gift, she separated from her husband, divorcing soon afterward. And she never returned the gift that cost her husband his job in protocol.
Purse took the blow to his reputation hard. In late January 1958, when Purse didn’t report for work during normal morning hours, an investigation of his whereabouts led to him being found wrapped in a blanket on the kitchen floor of his apartment. Arlington police detectives reported all gas jets of the stove were open and a cardboard box covered a ventilator. His mother, Dr. Grace Sheeks Guile Purse, told reporters her son had been upset for months about the car and the separation from his family. When reporters continued to press her for answers explaining the conduct of her son, the highly regarded physician said, “He is highly emotional and very dramatic. That’s how he got to where he is, and that’s all there is to it.”
Purse would recover from this incident, and by 1962 he became the Executive Director for the Bureau of Administration at the State Department. In fact, a book written by Bryton Barron, titled The Untouchable State Department, Purse is described as State’s most respected, capable, and distinguished employee.
Purse was more interesting than most people, just like Alvictus is compared to other homes. He intended on using the highest terrace (aka the front yard) for a heliport to avoid traffic on Shirley Highway; Purse moved to Lake Jackson intending to commute to the State Department building in Washington by air. But it never happened, for Purse moved from passion to passion, often before projects came to fruition.
THE SAFE HOUSE YEARS
When researching the background of Alvictus, I was surprised to learn it wasn’t much of a secret that it was used as a safe house by the Central Intelligence Agency for defecting Soviet spies during the Cold War. It seemed to be common knowledge by residents of Lake Jackson. Purse talked about Russian spies living in Alvictus during conversations with Eowana Jordan, whose mother purchased the property from Purse in 1983.
The safe house era began when Purse lived in Arlington and Falls Church in 1958-1975, and then Palm Beach County, Florida, after retiring from the State Department. The diplomat felt his lakeside home was ideal for use by the CIA. I agree. The home is hidden on a street with few other houses, and its surrounding walls and security gates make it suitable for housing anyone trying to live a quiet existence. By agreement, Purse was unaware of the much of what was happening at Alvictus when the U.S. government was paying rent for its guests. Once when asked if any interesting people have visited the property, Purse said, “Robert Kennedy was out here once. That’s all I can say about it.”
Purse died in 1994, but the unique house still stands, looking for a new owner. Given its colorful past, who knows what future intrigue will play out at 8351 Purse Drive.
About the Author:
Dwayne Moyers was born and raised in Manassas (1983 Osbourn Park “Yellow Jacket”), and is now part of a real estate team with his wife, Maryanne Moyer