Thursday, May 14, 2009

Palm Beach Real Estate Roulette

"The 400," an inside view of 400 South Ocean Boulevard, where two apartments have recently sold, looking from the port cochere entrance into the atrium water garden. Known as Palm Beach and Florida's first condominium, the Edward Durell Stone-designed building was refurbished by his son, Hicks Stone, an architect and principal of the New York-based Stone Architecture.
By Augustus Mayhew

At the same time a number of Palm Beachers believe that surely crazy prices will once again levitate the plush platinum sandbar to its exalted position as the planet’s priciest enclave and various real estate experts channel the myth that Ocean Boulevard is immune from the pesky price cuts plaguing the mainland, island properties continue selling at noticeable discounts of the scale usually seen only advertised by dead-of-summer sales in Worth Avenue shop windows. South Fork rentals may be off as much as 30 percent but a few owners of 33480’s houses, condos and co-ops have filed change-of-address forms at the local post office.

"But, hasn't Palm Beach always been like this?" asked an inquiring mind last week, certain there must be at least one more Russian oligarch willing to forego the South of France.

"No,” I responded, "never before have so many houses and apartments been bought only to be resold."

Before the mania of jetting into Palm Beach simply to cash-in on its real estate flash, Pullmans once deposited visitors with swim suits, dance cards and tennis racquets rather than today's arrivals armed with calculators and measuring tapes. But, those carefree take-five days are gone, as many newcomers spend their days strategizing their next gambit at ARCOM or Landmarks. Familiar spec builders and home improvement enthusiasts aside, what with the once ubiquitous late William Elias having moved on to heavenly climes, Palm Beach has always been a favored safe haven for secretive LLCs, Bermuda mailboxes and European shell companies but never before have so many residential properties been in play strictly as commercial ventures, valued primarily for their square footage and cubic content in much the same denaturing fashion as storage warehouses.

Add to the mix, a highly anarchic market that defied appraisal science where the same houses were sold, resold, then sold again and again, as well as the through-the-roof sales of those coveted back-pocket trophy properties, where buyers paid off-the-chart prices to have what others might not have known they could have bought. And then, considering the creative lengths some purchasers exercise to conceal ownership and obscure actual purchase prices, Palm Beach, being just a short midnight swim from Bahamian banks, may as well be afloat in international waters awash in rubles, bolivars and Canadian dollars.

Robbie and Bruce Toll. Bruce (Toll Brothers principal) snapped up 754 South County for a cool $26.95 million.
Also, ponder the surplus of available mezzanine and super-prime priced, $10+ million, properties with the following barometer in evaluating market confidence. Reportedly, one in five mainland homeowners currently owe more than what their houses are worth, while some of the CEOs whose companies built and sold those now upside-down re-sales were among the Palm Beach boom’s most avid buyers and sellers.

NVR execs Paul Saville and Dwight Schar were animated players. Mr. Saville’s North End turnovers and Mr. Schar’s record-breaking $70+ million South End purchase of Ron Perelman’s Casa Apava can only be surpassed in sizzle by the size of the property’s current line-of-credit, believed to be the highest residential mortgage in the town’s history. Transeastern Home’s insatiable Edward Falcone plunked down $28.75 million for 8 South Lake Trail, $13 million for 445 Via Antigua and $7.3 million for 115 Via del Selva. Toll Brothers principal, Bruce Toll snapped up 754 South County for $26.95 million. And, further down the beach, Kolter CEO Robert Julien shelled out $13.78 million, buying what may have seemed like a primetime bargain in 2005 but in April 2009 a nearby property has sold for $5 million less.

Other homebuilding magnates and real estate tycoons attracted to the barrier island’s Neverland status included: Morgan Properties CEO Mitchell Morgan, whose portfolio includes 31,600 rental apartments in ten states, nailed down 343 El Bravo for $18.5 million in the South End’s mansion district; Manhattan real estate mogul Jane Goldman acquired 200 Via Palma for a mere $22.45 million; New England Development’s Steven S. Fischman got the key to 1100 North Ocean Blvd. for $16 million; The Related Company’s Stephen Ross stepped up with $30 million for The Reef, a Fatio-designed oceanfront estate made available just for him; and, more locally, Ranger Construction head, Leo Vecellio purchased 589 North County Road for reportedly in excess of $40 million in a Land Trust sale making the actual purchase price unrecorded in court documents.

Alas, that leaves an auto dealer, Terry Taylor, holding the current top spot in Palm Beach’s property pyramid. Mr. Taylor is asking $72.5 million for Casa Nana, purchased in September 2003 for $24.2 million.

With pending sale notices still up for 310 Eden, asked $4.5 million, and 425 Brazilian, asked $2.95 million, here are some of the latest island closings.

Flamm trades down: sells for $6.5M; buys at $3.45M
Two North Breakers Row., west elevation.
Yet, another Two North Breakers Row condo has sold following last month’s $7.5 million sale by the Samuel Shapiro estate to Bob Roberts. Elayne Flamm, along with trustees for various Flamm family trusts, conveyed Unit S-41 at Two NBR for $6.5 million to Clarke Avenue Investments Inc., a Delaware corporation, according to the warranty leasehold estate deed recently by Peter Flanagan, Esq.

Sometimes, buyers go to great lengths to deflect ownership of island property. For this transaction, court records indicate the corporate representative's name on the condominium certificate of approval is covered with what appears to be correction tape. While I could venture the principal’s name, obviously they prefer anonymity; previously, Clarke Avenue Investments Inc. acquired 180 Barton Avenue for $3.25 million.

After closing on her Breakers Row condo, Elayne Flamm, as trustee for the same various marital trusts, bought a duplex unit, 203-204N, at 400 South Ocean Blvd, for $3.45 million from Stephanie S. Blomeyer, according to court documents. Mrs. Blomeyer purchased the unit in 2003 for $2.1 million and after extensive renovation to the 3,300-square-foot apartment, she listed the property or $3.9 million with Cristina Condon, associate at Sotheby's. The apartment’s re-design was by New York’s Stone Architecture, Hicks Stone, principal.
400 South Ocean Boulevard condominium, northeast corner at Chilean Avenue.
Also, another apartment recently sold at 400 South Ocean. Elizabeth K. Gammino, trustee, signed off on Unit 418-E for $1.75 million to Roderic M. Oneglia, as a trustee for the Oneglia Seaspray Trust, according to court papers filed May 1st. Recently, on the same day David Oneglia, as trustee, purchased 209 Seaspray Avenue from Dallas-based F. G. Howard Jr. Enterprises for $3.9 million, he sold a condominium at 350 South Ocean to F. G. Howard Jr. Enterprises for $650,000, according to court records. Mr. Oneglia’s family is a founder of O&G Industries, a Torrington, Connecticut construction company. The property was listed by the Corcoran Group and sold by Martha A. Gottfried Real Estate.

More condos and coops ...
Recently, there have been sales at the Palm Beach Towers, designed in 1956 as the nation’s largest apartment-hotel resort by John Hans Graham, a noted D. C. architect. To take advantage of ocean, golf course and lake views, The Towers’ multi-storied H-shaped wings were angled and flared, connected by a central two-story concourse with a floor-to-ceiling glass lobby overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. Above, a view of the sleek Mid-century Modern complex looking west from Cocoanut Row towards the main entrance.
During the past several weeks, a flurry of condos and coops has sold as the summer months approach, including two units at the lakeside Palm Beach Towers. Apartment B-302 sold to Lenore Schottenstein Trustee, for $612,500, having previously closed in 2006 at $475,000. One floor higher, Unit B-412 sold to Mark and Gita Berk for $730,000. Additionally, Unit 318 is a pending sale, listed at $730,000.
The Palm Beach Towers lobby looking northeast towards the central stairs leading down to the lower concourse with offices, shops and a restaurant.
At 300 South Ocean Boulevard a 1,800-sq.-ft. second floor co-op apartment overlooking Midtown beach has sold for $1.962 million, approximately $500,000 below the asking price. The stylish Mid-century building was designed by architect Howard Chilton in 1960. The unit was listed by Fite-Shavell and sold by Betsey Hall at Brown Harris & Stevens.
The fashionably 1960's geometric southerly elevation of the 300 South Ocean Boulevard co-op apartment building designed by Howard Chilton.
Further north up the beach, Sheila Collins sold her 1800-sq.-ft. Bienestar condo, Unit 3, on Grace Trail for $1.5 million to John F. Haley and Elizabeth Hughes, seller and buyer are Gloucester, Mass. residents. Designed by Marion Sims Wyeth in 1924 and landmarked in 1988, Bienestar was converted from a mansion to a multi-unit condominium.

To the south, Jonathan Otto, who owns several Palm Beach area properties, has sold his two-bedroom 2100 South Ocean Blvd. condo, Unit 607-S, for $1.05 million to Ruth Runa Ross, according to the warranty deed filed on May 8th. The 2100 Condominium at Sloan's Curve is north of and adjacent to Phipps Ocean Park. In March 2006 Mr. Otto bought 8 Lagomar Rd. for $6.925 million, currently offered for $7.9 million. In January 2008 he purchased two units in the 2100 building, Unit 607-S for $1.15 million and Unit 601, a three bedroom 3,100-square-foot unit for $2 million. Mr. Otto is affiliated with RetailDNA Inc.

A Midtown house on Brazilian flips with a 20% discount
133 Brazilian Avenue is an exemplar of what Palm Beach calls "Regency," composed of a balustraded parapet, an imposing portico, statuary and frothy Corinthian columns.
After purchasing 133 Brazilian Avenue in July 2007 for $3.875 million, last month Raymond F. Bourne, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Bourne Investments, Inc. found a ready and willing buyer, Jacqueline J. Ferro, who paid $5.375 million for the refurbished property, according to the warranty deed recorded April 28th. The asking price was $6.59 million for the 7,000-square-foot Regency-style house with five bedrooms and a new pool. Mrs. Ferro is married to Michael W. Ferro, Jr., a founder of Chicagoland’s Click Commerce. In 2006 Click Commerce was acquired by Illinois Tool Works (ITW).

In February 2007 Bourne Investments bought another Palm Beach property, 151 Seaview Avenue, for $2 million, handing it off ten months later for $3.5 million to Carroll Petrie who then let it go to John D. Firestone for $3 million in September 2008.
Along 133 Brazilian Avenue's south elevation, what might be called a Tropical Empire landscape feature forms an aesthetic relief.
North End spec on Esplanade Way closed at $2.655M, asked $3.699M ...
Donald and Dayna Perry sold 220 Esplanade Way, a 4,000-square-foot two-story house with a split garage, for $2.655 million to Steven R. and Iris R. Lapidus. Mr. Lapidus is a New York real estate attorney. New builds continue to be attractive buys in Palm Beach.
Midtown MedRev spec sells $1.4M below original asking ...
Designed by SKA Architect+Planner in 2005, and after more than two years on the market, Paul L. Maddock, Jr., along with various family-related trusts, have sold 235 Atlantic Avenue for $2.5 million to Andrew J. Faas, of Toronto, along with a mortgage deed filed for $2.25 million. The two-story Mediterranean style 4100-square-foot house featured a hardscape composed with Bergerac pavers.
Last month the Middleburg-based Market Salamander unplugged its coolers and parked its catering van, reportedly until the fall according to a company spokesman who cited market conditions. In November 2004, Salamander Palm Beach LLC paid $2 million for a 6,300 square-foot supermarket at the 155 N. County Rd. location, and after a renovation , re-opened as a more Euro-styled food venue.
Landmarks Commission designation opposed by owners ...
958 North Lake Way, northwest corner facing North Lake Trail.
Following last month's Landmarks Preservation Commission recommendation that the Town Council designate the Richard Meier designed Modernist waterfront house at 958 North Lake Way, the owners, Sondra and David Mack, retained an attorney, Robert Deziel, to oppose the designation at the Town Council’s May 13th meeting. If designated, the late 1970's house might possibly be Mr. Meier’s first historically-designated landmark.

"We're preparing to attend the Town Council meeting to present our position on this situation," Deziel said to the Palm Beach Daily News. Deziel stated that he believes the implied 50-year rule excludes the Mack’s house from landmark consideration. The Macks bought the house in 1992 for $3.5 million from the original owner, A. Alfred Taubman, the Midwest shopping center magnate and former chairman of Sotheby’s. Several years later, the Macks made a 2,400-square-foot addition to the house.

Meier In Palm Beach

Meier conceived Camelot, as Mr. Taubman named the house, as a showcase for Mr. Taubman’s art collection, according to court testimony, Taubman v. Meier, Case No. 81-2499, filed after structural defects caused Mr. Taubman to sue the architect, the builder, Robert Gottfried, roofing contractor and tile contractor/manufacturer, among others. The suit was eventually settled, mostly in Mr. Taubman’s favor, with Taubman and Meier reportedly still friends. Several years after the suit was settled, Mr. Taubman bought Collado Hueco, Guilford and Jane Dudley’s Mizner-designed 1920’s MedRev on South Ocean Boulevard, where he and Mrs. Taubman still reside. An architectural enthusiast, who briefly studied architecture, Mr. Taubman endowed the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. In addition, Mr. Taubman is the author of the autobiographical book, "Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer."

Richard Meier’s lakefront design skillfully illustrated what became an architectural brand as inspired and evocative as Whitehall, the 1902 Beaux-Arts mansion designed for Henry Flagler by Carrere and Hastings. Camelot’s organizational logic, a harmonious collage of space and light transforms simple cubic forms into an ethereal and functional architectural experience. Separated from the street by a stone motor court buffered by an imposing ficus hedgerow, the façade is composed with smooth segmented white panels divided by a recessed central entrance. The house inverts traditional room arrangements, according to the plans. Moving front to back, it progresses from private to shared living areas with the interior spaces delineated by geometry and divided according to function with disparate materials. The private rectilinear living areas utilize opaque materials such as stucco. The curvilinear public spaces incorporate reflective, enameled metal and glass panels facing the water beyond. Designed for more dramatic impact, the lake side is comprised of a pavilion and an open pool secluded from the Lake Trail.

Meier in Naples

Twenty years after the Taubman house, Meier was commissioned for another Florida residential project, the Neugebauer house in Naples, where the architect fused stone and glass creating a less complicated and more refined single-story residence but with an equally profound modernist aesthetic.
Neugebauer House, Port Royal, Naples. The façade’s repeated rectangular limestone panels contrast the alternating parallel stripes of grass and gray-stone pavers that lengthen as they approach the front steps and the cylindrical drum-shaped detached garage.
Meier designed a compelling structure with an inverted wing-like cantilevered roof that met the local design code and became the house’s state-of-the-art feature. From the water, the asymmetrical wing-like roof appears to float above the house, uniting the structure’s three defined spaces — the master bedroom, the guest rooms and the principal living-entertainment areas to the north. Each area opens onto the pool podium that frames the reflecting pond and lap pool. The thick, hurricane wind-resistant floor-to-ceiling glass walls allow for luminous water views of Doubloon Bay
Meier's Port Royal house was sited on a wedge-shaped lot, seen above, the inverted cantilevered roof along the north elevation, looking from the living room towards the louver-shaded kitchen windows.
Yet, another Palm Beach house designed by Richard Meier & Partners remains unbuilt, a multi-level lakeside house on South Ocean Boulevard planned in 2004-2005. Richard Meier’s work is regarded as some of the 20th-century’s most significant and although other significant Mid-century Modern works are still not designated in Palm Beach — Edward Durell Stone’s 400 South Ocean Boulevard, The Colony Hotel, site for the Florida Trust’s 2009 statewide conference, and Maurice Fatio’s early 1940’s Buhl House on Island Road, among them — clearly, 958 North Lake Way became a landmark the day it was built.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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