House Bootiful

UPDATED 08/28/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/28/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

MOST PEOPLE HAVE BOUGHT shoes on impulse at one time or another. But when it comes to serious splurging, Ruth Miller of York, Pa., has a leg up on nearly everyone. A retired data processor, she recently paid $80,000 cash for what is believed to be the world's largest shoe, a beige ankle-high clodhopper that's not only as big as a house—it is a house. Twenty-five feet high, 48 feet long and 17 feet wide, the stucco structure features three bedrooms, a kitchen down at the heel and a living room in the toe. And there's a shoe-shaped doghouse outside to boot. "When I saw the ad in the paper I immediately thought, 'Boy, that'd be something unique to own,' " says Miller, 69, who over the years has invested in nearly two dozen local properties. "I like having things nobody else can have."

Considered one of the nation's finest examples of roadside architecture, the house—which is located off Route 30 just east of York and is on the National Register of Historic Places—was built as an advertising gimmick in 1948 by Mahlon Haines, a local shoe-store entrepreneur. For the first two years, Haines invited newlyweds to stay there for free; later, an orthodontist purchased the shoe and converted it into an ice-cream parlor. By 1987 the site was in disrepair; Haines's granddaughter then bought it for $69,000, restored it and unsuccessfully tried to sell it for $169,000. In February, Miller—partly motivated by civic pride—struck a deal after the bank foreclosed on the house. "I heard there were several out-of-town buyers who wanted to move the house to another state," says Miller. "Well, I thought, 'This is a historic place. I don't care who wants it. They ain't gettin' it.' " But Miller, who currently lives in a stone ranch-style house with her husband, Bud, 64, a retired trucker (son Timothy, 36, a machinist and drag racer, lives nearby), has no intentions of actually moving in. Busy polishing the shoe with new paint—faux laces and a dark brown sole are in the works—she is turning the site into a tourist attraction, complete with antiques and souvenirs for sale inside and fast food outside. And if that doesn't work out? "I'll buy and sell anything. The only thing I won't ever change is my husband," she says. Clearly, the guy's no heel.

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