Monday, December 29, 2008

Palm Beach Real Estate Roulette

During the past year the Town of Palm Beach Architectural Commission approved demolition for 25 single-family houses, bringing the total to 380 houses since 1995. Most recently, an eclectic Hispano-Moorish pastiche, 4 Lagomar Road will be put down, one of the last Norma Desmond-Max Mayerling South Ocean Boulevard villas that town records indicate was a 1960’s Belford Shoumate design but the county property appraiser’s office stated 1929 as the year built. Originally, Lagomar was an ocean-to-lake estate, subdivided in 1953 when the 1924 Mizner-designed main house was fragmented and the surrounding property was carved into a subdivision.
By Augustus Mayhew

The art of the deal has new meaning
among Palm Beach’s real estate croupiers. Joanne Leibovit, her late husband, Louis Leibovit, was an attorney and Palm Beach Country Club founder, closed on her 110 Wells Road house this week at $4.6 million, having been under contract for many months with the buyer’s additions and alterations approved last year by ARCOM. The buyer, 110 Wells Rd Inc., managed by TAJA Realty Trust, a Massachusetts-based trust, secured a $5 million mortgage from the Boston branch of Ireland’s Anglo-Irish Bank plus the seller is holding a $1.387 million purchase money mortgage that, according to Exhibit B in recent court filings, is additionally secured by the following art works as collateral: three Jim Dine metal sculptures, two Barry Flanagan sculptures (Birdbath and Elephant with tusks), one Antonio Jacobsen painting, two Warhols (a screen print and a lithograph) and three Tom Wesselmann works, two color pencil pieces and an acrylic/pastel, Great American Nude.

Besides Christie’s recent auction of 54 pieces from connoisseurs George and Frayda Lindemann’s collection of French mid-century and Art Deco furnishings, as well as objet d’art from their former Peter Marino-designed Palm Beach house, reportedly resulting in sales of $3.9 million, the Lindemann’s pocketed a pre-holiday $8 million adjustable-rate mortgage @ 6.375% with JPMorgan Chase Bank for Casa del Corazon, their 3.4 acre estate a few gates north of Limbaughland on North Ocean Way, purchased for $23 million in September after they deposited the super-uber $67.5 + million from the sale of their Blossom Way oceanfront house.
4 Lagomar Road, tile detail.
As Palm Beach County court clerks await the traditional year-end rush of December 30th real estate closings (will it happen this year?) PB and Newport pillar Maureen Donnell may be the only one in her Clambake Club circle that sold any Palm Beach real estate during the past two months, closing at $4 million on 300 Parc Monceau, her south of South End, 9000-sq.-ft., 5/8 lakefront that she and her late husband (Marathon Oil) paid $2.5 million for in 1984, according to property records. $4M is only about more than $10M short of what nearby lakefront teardowns have sold. But, Donnell is keeping it in the family. The buyer, Geoffrey Caraboolad, is Donnell's son from her first marriage and a Boston-based real estate developer.

After the E.F. Hutton's moved to Mar-A-Lago, Hogarcito became home to E.F.'s brother, Franklyn, and his daughter, Barbara Hutton, who after seven marriages died alone in a hotel room at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in 1979.

In a market where almost monthly 10% price hikes were the usual norm, this week a slight gasp when a North Lake Way lakefront spec, whose owners purchased the property in 2006 for $7.25 million, then built a new 8,000-sq-ft house, dropped $2 million. Yesterday’s $14.9M is today’s $12.9M.

Hogarcito, once home to Marjorie Merriweather Post, before she built Mar-a-Lago is still waiting for just the right buyer. The landmark is now represented by associate Stephen Ploof at the Linda A. Gary Real Estate bureau, the house was previously tagged by the former listing agent at $19.5 million. After Midwest serial bride, Marjorie M. Post, and her husband, E. F. Hutton, moved in to their first PB villa overlooking the Everglades Club golf course, MMP found the multi-story manse too small.

Thus, the Hutton's architect, Marion Sims Wyeth enlarged Hogarcito's crescent plan and, abracadabra, Mar-A-Lago, where the Huttons were able to bring in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Former AmEx CEO and Bristol-Myers Squibb exec, James D. Robinson III, and his wife, PR strategist, Linda Gosden Robinson, will be commuting from their 778 Park Avenue co-op to a new Florida hideaway. Having sold their Wellington pad for $4 million during the summer, they bought a $5.5 million golf course villa at Lost Tree Village, according to the warranty deed filed 24 December. Purchased from James and Kathy Batts, who paid $5.565 million in May 2007, the Robinsons' 6,600-sq.-ft. house features lake-and-fairway views and is a 25-minute drive north of Worth Avenue. 

Hogarcito, front screen door. Golfview Drive, Palm Beach. Photos: Augustus Mayhew.
Developer E. Llywd Ecclestone (father and son) built Lost Tree Village during the 1960s, an exclusive enclave requiring prospective homeowners pay an initiation fee of $20,000, be sponsored by two current residents, provide five references, two of which must be two other Lost Tree residents, and be interviewed by the admissions committee. Once they are homeowners, the Robinsons can apply for admission to the Lost Tree Club, affording a golf membership for a $150,000 initiation fee and a social beach club with an entry fee of $75,000, that is, after they are sponsored by two more members and provide the required four reference letters. 

Among Mr. Robinson's numerous endeavors, he and his son, James IV -- who still owns a Wellington residence bought in May 2007 for $3.95 million --  are partners at RRE Ventures Inc., whose senior advisors include former U. S. Senator Sam Nunn, Terry Semel and Gustavo Cisneros. 

And then, just how did Robert and Ellen Jaffe buy their Palm Beach house at 444 North Lake Way and will their astute paperwork protect their Florida homestead from any and all potential post-Madoff civil suits?

In January 2003 Mrs. Jaffe filed for Florida residency, claiming a lakeside apartment at 333 Sunrise Avenue as her primary residence, having previously purchased 447 Primavera Way in April 2002 for $6.25 million through the Jaffe’s Sylvan Trust.

Unfortunately, even for the Jaffes, building on one of the island’s non-conforming properties can prove treacherous, however aesthetic the site and the views, where variances often dictate a house’s final design. Eventually, in 2004 the same developer who sold them the property bought back the unfinished house for $8.4 million, only to sell it again ten months later to Southampton’s Randall and Barbara Smith, who tore the new MedRev house down and put up an even newer Italian Renaissance-inspired villa.
To some, the Brazilian Avenue lots behind Hamburger Heaven appear to be a Palm Beach version of Christo and Jean-Claude's Running Fence, the highly-touted 1970's environmental project that now exists on museum walls. Instead, the fabric covered chain-link fence is not an aesthetic giving form to the wind but is securing a construction site for one of NYC developer Aby J. Rosen's RFR Realty ventures, the 215 Brazilian Holding LLC. In January 2007 the Rosen-managed investment group bought the Plaza Inn for an undisclosed amount, demolished it, inked an $18 million mortgage with Lehman Brothers Holding, increased to $18.64 million in March 2008, and received the Town Council's development green light in July. According to the declaration of use agreement filed in October, Rosen's 24-unit development is limited to a 36.5 ft height cap, a 134-seat function room, no pool patio activity after 8 p.m. and was granted a 4-year build-out rather than PB's usual 2-year limit on construction. Nearby residents anxiously await the latest caravan of incoming concrete trucks.
Having nailed down the 444 North Lake Way property for $7.8 million, the Jaffes set up a trust as they did at 447 Primavera Way. This one was designated the Three Fours Trust, with their Boston attorneys, Lourie & Cutler's Amy Naughton and David Adelman, taking title as co-trustees, and when the lawyers subsequently resigned, title passed to the successor trustees, Robert and Ellen Jaffe, according to court records.

Along North Lake Way, the Jaffes find themselves next door to William and Phyllis Mack, no more than two doors from Bernard Madoff and a mere few steps to the south of Charles Bronfman. Bernie and Ruth Madoff own 410 N Lake Way (in Mrs. Madoff's name only), the former address of Peter Pulitzer who sold to developer Michael Burrows in 1989. Burrows demolished the old Pulitzer house, built new, and sold a new house to the Madoffs in 1994 for $3.8 million.

The Jaffes demolished the existing house, La Ronda, the John Volk-designed Modernist round house built for James and Ziuta Akston, and proceeded to build their version of a 21st-century Palm Beach, 11,000 sq. ft., winter cottage. Considering the Jaffe’s various savvy real estate maneuvers, who knows if Robert Jaffe might have tutored his North Lake Way neighbor, Bernard Madoff, on how to make real money?

Stay tuned.

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