Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Palm Beach Real Estate Roulette

In a quiet sale last week, best-selling novelist James B. Patterson made local headlines when he paid $17.4 million for Casa Ananda at 710 South Ocean Boulevard. Under reconstruction and renovation for the past three years, as well as unoccupied for nearly twenty years, the landmarked mansion may still not be ready for a housewarming by the time Mr. Patterson finishes another thriller or two.
by Augustus Mayhew

Author James B. Patterson’s $17+ million closing on July 8 should be my lede but since I spent Friday morning at Lin Castre Gosman’s sentencing hearing, now delayed until September 17, and what with an ever-growing number of Palm Beach philanthropists turned felonthropists, I thought I'd share some snippets of the ongoing courtroom drama.

Although I have never read one of Mr. Patterson’s books, the Gosman hearing had the makings of a Balzac plot with a cast of Palm Beach characters: Mrs. Gosman, 60, nee Linda Callahan, a former Manhattan commercial real estate broker, variously characterized as a “compassionate human being,” “a pillar of society,” as well as a victim, a casualty and/or a savvy opportunist and a "greedy grifter;" Mrs. Gosman’s husband, Abe Gosman, 80, once among the world’s wealthiest owning one of Palm Beach's biggest houses, today, a Corcoran real estate sales associate hosting Realtor open houses; the Gosmans' loyal friends from the Palm Beach Country Club; and, a swarm of well-tailored attorneys, who looked more ready than anyone else for a reception at Maison de l'Amitie, the 60,000-square-foot centerpiece of Mr. Gosman’s former North County Road 6.5 acre oceanfront estate.
Seen arriving separately for Friday morning's sentencing hearing at U. S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Lin and Abe Gosman met in 1987 and married in 1996.
While several Palm Beach businessmen have had their golf games interrupted by jail time, perhaps not in the past thirty years, since former showgirl-socialite Gregg Sherwood Dodge Moran, nee Dora Mae Fjielstadt, pleaded guilty to an assortment of felony charges, has a Palm Beach femme fatale traded down from a champagne-and-Chanel oceanfront to the harsh coarse cottons found in a prison cellblock.

House historians may recall Gregg and Daniel Moran's Greenwich showplace, Dunellen Hall. It was there Mr. Moran shot and killed an intruder, and later, Leona Helmsley, nabbed for her creative accounting, was locked-up in the slammer.

Several months ago DPC chronicled the Gosmans' epic rise-and-fall from the Forbes list to Palm Beach County’s court docket in “Beautiful Weather and Bad Luck.” Briefly, Mrs. Gosman is free on bail; she awaits sentencing on three fraud counts, having been originally charged with six.
Lin Gosman passes by the press pack with an apprehensive look. “This is difficult,” she said. "Expect the worse, hope for the best," said Mr. Gosman, who smiled and shook hands with supporters when entering the court house.
In November she spent a month in jail because of a dispute over the source of her bail money. Although her crimes could warrant a 38-year prison term plus fines and forfeitures, sentencing guidelines recommend her incarceration for 37 to 46 months, with the scuttle around the courthouse being that Judge Kenneth Ryskamp tends to be light on white collar criminals. Lin Gosman’s Miami attorneys, led by Donald Bierman and Ira N. Loewy, of Bierman, Shohat, Loewy & Kegerreis, asked the court to sentence Gosman to 12 months of house arrest and 1,000 hours of community service, followed by 3 years probation and another 600 hours of community service. Currently a volunteer at Morse Geriatric Center, it was suggested the Morse Center would accommodate Mrs. Gosman’s service hours.

The hearing ended before prosecutors finished their case and recommendations. So, maybe a plea deal is still in the works. Critical of the state’s case for most of the morning, the judge described the Gosmans' operatic bankruptcy proceedings as “... filled with bizarre rulings,” with much banter about the validity Mrs. Gosman's Dominican Republic divorce from her first husband.
Gladys Alpert (left) arrives at the hearing in support of her friend, Lin Gosman. Mrs. Alpert's letter mentioned that the same people who begged to be invited to Lin Gosman's house, now shunned her; Several of Lin Gosman's friends attended the hearing and wrote letters about her charitable deeds and considerate personality.
Mrs. Gosman spent the morning at the defense table seated between her three attorneys. Mr. Gosman sat in the second row. As the proceeding forged ahead, he walked over numerous times to confer in whispering tones with his wife's attorneys. During the hearing, the court heard from several witnesses.

One of Mrs. Gosman’s former bankruptcy attorneys, who billed 1000 hours @$350-400 per hour, pointed to sloppy inventory as the force majeure to why the state thought she was "a liar and a thief" during “the most contentious bankruptcy proceedings” he'd ever experienced. Questionable items consisted of not hundreds of valuables, he said, but no more than two Louis XIV gilt arm chairs, four French tapestries, a table and a mantle. An item valued at $84,000 for insurance purposes, might actually have been worth only $8,400. His client suffered stress. He testified the Gosmans received $5 million following the sale of the house to Donald Trump and the bankruptcy settlement, a share determined to be their homestead exemption value. Subsequently, Mrs. Gosman bought a Trump Plaza townhouse for $1.4 million.

Lin and Abe Gosman seen at a Palm Beach event during better times. Palm Beach Daily News archive.
Next, letters were placed in the court file from several of the Gosmans’ friends, including those of Gladys Alpert, Sandy Heine, and Hattie Whitehead, among them. Mrs. Whitehead has her own special page in Palm Beach history, when a decade ago she and her husband were collared in a gambling raid on their Worth Avenue apartment atop Brooks Brothers where police arrested 27 high-stakes card players, including a former assistant state attorney. The Whiteheads were indicted for operating a gambling house; in a plea deal, they opted for probation.

With as many ten friends present for the hearing, Mr. Bierman assured the judge that there were 20 to 30 snowbirds that would have come, if not for the hearing being held out of season. I sat next to a couple who would not give their names but said they were friends of the Gosmans' from the Palm Beach Country Club. Intermittently, they would tell me, “she hurts on the inside,” “she doesn’t want to show her emotions,” “you can not imagine …” and the like.

Abe Gosman began by giving the judge two photos of his wife, before the bankruptcy and today, “... a broken devastated woman.” Speaking from a prepared text, often with a halting voice, he asked for leniency. Her parents died when she was young and was raised by an aunt and uncle, also now deceased. He was her only support system. She gave people roses from her own garden, no matter how exhausted from her social obligations, Mr. Gosman said she was “compassionate, caring, and considerate … everything has been taken away from Lin, please do not take way the rest of her life … let Lin do community service.”

The former health care magnate and real estate titan ended with an abridged version of the Ronald Regan quote, "... tear down those prison walls, Judge Ryskamp," he said.
Lin Gosman with her attorney, Donald Bierman, leaving the court house.
Psychologist Stephen Alexander, PhD, testified his patient suffers from panic disorders, severe depression, anxiety and extreme distress syndrome, traumatized by losing her house, the nullification of her marriage for bankruptcy purposes and the public humiliation of her husband. Alexander described her as "a hopelessly broken and depressed woman" who was prescribed Lexapro.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Bell pointed out that despite Mrs. Gosman's shaky hold on reality she cashed in her several million dollar Madoff account, set up a Swiss bank account for her Belize trust with a British Virgin Islands address, rented storage units under fake names, shuffled cashiers checks around town, falsified mortgage forms, and ran a $100,000-a-month household with a staff of 11 documented by boxes of receipts.

According to her attorney, Linda Callahan Castre Gosman will address the court on September 17 before Judge Ryskamp delivers her sentence.
Following the postponement, Lin Gosman spoke to the media expressing her disappointment with the delayed proceedings. Lin Gosman's probation officer became concerned about her depression in January and recommended that she see a psychologist.

Casa Ananda sold for $17+ million
With Casa Nana two doors south asking $72.5 million, 710 South Ocean's $17+ million price tag may seem like a real deal. In April 2007, a small vacant parcel several blocks north at 101 El Bravo was sold for $16.5 million that now features a $42+ million spec house under construction.
Charles S. Roberts, president of Atlanta-based Roberts Properties Inc. and a Palm Beach Landmarks Preservation commissioner, sold 710 South Ocean Boulevard for $17.415 million to James B. Patterson, an Everglades Island resident and fiction writer, in a quiet sale handled by Betsey Hall, sales associate at Brown Harris Stevens of Palm Beach, according to published reports.

Casa Ananda is a more than 20,000-sq.ft. Spanish-style house set on nearly two acres built during the mid-1920s by reportedly a Mizner Industry’s contractor for Pittsburgh stockbroker-banker, Alfred G. Kay, and his wife, Elizabeth Donnell Kay (1894-1987). Previously, in 1921 the Kays had commissioned architect Addison Mizner to design Audita, their first Palm Beach house at 582 South Ocean Boulevard, several blocks north of Casa Ananda. Mrs. Kay is often credited with being Ananda's original designer, while later, several architects made alterations to the house. After being structurally abandoned for fifteen years, it has been undergoing an extensive reconstruction, renovation and remodeling during the past three years that Mr. Roberts has owned the property. At the June 18 Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting, Mr. Patterson, as contract purchaser, requested and received approval for modifications to the previously approved plans, as presented by his architect, Bridges Marsh & Associates, a Worth Avenue firm currently engaged in the restoration and renovation of Palm Beach's historic Town Hall.

In 2006 Mr. Roberts bought 710 South Ocean for $13 million and was “excited about renovating this home,” according to the LPC minutes. Wachovia Bank had extended Mr. Roberts $16.8 million on the property, according to court documents
To the south, Casa Ananda has a novel addition that extends to the property line, reflecting its early history when Harold S. Vanderbilt (1884-1970) lived next door at El Salano. When the town refused to close off Ocean Boulevard in front of his house at 720 South Ocean Blvd., Vanderbilt moved to Manalapan, selling his Mizner-designed Palm Beach house to Louis and Norma Levy.
Alfred and Elizabeth Kay were prominent members of Palm Beach's cottage colony. They are credited as the co-writers, if not the writers, of “The World was My Garden, Travels of a Plant Explorer” renowned botanist David Fairchild’s autobiography, published by Scribner in 1938. Along with numerous other articles about Florida's flora and fauna, they edited “The Plant World in Florida,” a book based on the notes of Dr. Henry Nehrling. The Kays founded the Pine Jog Conservation Center, having first purchased 140 acres of land in West Palm Beach in 1946, establishing an experimental arboretum which imported tropical trees and shrubs.

In 1999 Mr. Patterson bought 686 Island Drive for $5.2 million from attorney Doyle Rogers. For everything else about Mr. Patterson, go to www.jamespatterson.com
To the south of James Patterson's latest plot, 720 South Ocean, the old Vanderbilt house, once owned by Jock and Brownie McLean who later sold it to Yoko Ono and John Lennon.
Lien times

The 2009 Palm Beach property tax bills will soon be in the mail and three prominent PBers appear to be tardy in paying last year's property taxes, according to recent published reports. Robert V. Matthews has yet to write his check $265,000; media baron Conrad Black, aka Lord Black of Crossharbour, temporarily of Coleman Federal Prison, is probably too consumed with righting the American penal system than paying his property taxes; and, Reed Krakoff has yet to put a stamp on his $225,000 check. Last fall, Mr. Krakoff’s architect, Richard Meier, filed a lien for $550,000 on Krakoff’s 5-acre South Ocean Blvd. parcel, as outstanding on Meier’s more $1 million fees for designing what might have been Meier’s second Palm Beach house. Additionally, Bank of America has increased the mortgage from $4 million to $8 million on the property. At last look, Mr. Krakoff’s lot was available from Realtor Lawrence Moens for about double the $9.4 million he acquired it for in 2004 from Blossom Estates LLC which made $2.5 million from the flip to Krakoff. Blossom Estates co-president? If you guessed Linda Castre Gosman, you qualify as an expert Palm Beachologist.

New Jersey political scion sells South Flagler Drive waterfront
A member of New Jersey’s most distinguished political families and brewers, Peter Hood Ballantine Frelinghuysen, sold 4901 South Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach for $1.3 million to Kim and Kenneth Farino, according to court records. Mr. Frelinghuysen was deeded the 5,000-sq.ft. house built in 1982 on a half-acre waterfront corner parcel by the late George Frelinghuysen in 2004 for $1.3 million, who had acquired the property in 1993 for $772,500.
James Hunt Barker sells for $1.5 million

James Hunt Barker, a longtime Palm Beach resident, sold his vacant 415 Brazilian Ave. parcel for $1.5 million to David W. Frisbie of Palm Beach, according to the recorded warranty deed.

James Hunt Barker, seen at his guest house in March 2009.
Although appraised at $2.8 million and an earlier offer from a neighbor for $2.1 million, Mr. Barker accepted the cash offer with no contingencies. "Some money is better than no money these days; who knows what tomorrow will bring," he said.

Following a tragic fire that claimed the lives of a close friend and one of his spaniels, as well as a lifetime’s collection of artworks and personal artifacts, Mr. Barker spent the last year encamped in his guest house, caught in a tangle of code enforcement hearings and unable to find financing to restore his house of more than thirty years.

Designed by Marion Sims Wyeth and built for Palm Beach's town manager, Trevette Lockwood, the house was never landmarked. Mr. Barker has retreated for the summer to his 19th-century Wedding Cake House in Kennebunk, Maine, where his plans on returning to Palm Beach are indefinite.
After Mr. Barker's Brazilian Avenue house and guest house were demolished, he sold the vacant lot.
USA Today heir inks deal

Stephen and Sandra Fisher sold their Jupiter waterfront four bedroom 5,000-sq.-ft. house located at 18813 Rio Vista Drive in the Anchorage Point area for $2.725 million to Dixon Gannett, as trustee for the Frank E. Gannett Trust of Dallas, Texas, according to the recorded warranty deed. In 2002, Mr. Gannett bought 93 Lighthouse Drive in Jupiter Colony for $3.25 million, the home of the late crooner, Perry Como. Mr. Gannett’s father, Frank Gannett, was the founder of the Gannett Media Group.

Manalapan oceanfront mansion sells, again and again

Today's ready-made mansions are decked out with every conceivable luxury and one Manalapan ocean-to-waterway estate may even be equipped with a revolving front door and a moving van, having sold five times since 2000. This time the property was not believed to be on the market and sold for what appears to be the amount of the existing mortgages and liens, so you decide if this is/was a real sale.

Peter and Tamara Lowe.
Motivational expert, Peter S. Lowe and his wife, Tamara A. Lowe, sold 1370 South Ocean Boulevard for a recorded price of $22,458,406.34 to Germantown-Seneca Joint Venture, a Maryland general partnership, with a post office box address in St. Petersburg, Fla., according to the warranty deed. The current sellers are the co-founders of the Tampa-based GET MOTIVATED! seminar, described on their website as capable of “more inspirational firepower than a stick of dynamite." Best known as the former estate of the late Generoso Pope, founder and publisher of The National Enquirer tabloid, the eight bedroom-nineteen bathroom multi-level approx. 30,000-square-foot house is located on nearly three acres with 300-feet of ocean and waterway frontage, a 12-car garage, tennis court and a 2000-bottle wine cellar, among its amenities, currently assessed at $22.493 million, according to the property appraiser's records.

Five years ago Mr. and Mrs. Lowe bought the house for $22.4 million from mansion market maker Frank McKinney, through his company Venture Concepts International. The Lowes financed the purchase with two Bank of America mortgages totaling $18 million. In April 2005 Bank of America extended the couple an additional $100,000 revolving credit line, modified in January 2007 to $3.4 million. Last July the Lowes satisfied a $2 million IRS lien on the property, filed in 2007. Adding to the house’s provenance, Mr. McKinney bought and sold the property twice. In 1999 he paid $15 million to Lois Pope, Mr. Pope’s widow and third wife, who had owned the house since the early 1970s. Then, after an extensive renovation, he sold it to software tycoon Daniel Gittleman in 2000 for $27.5 million, only to buy it back from one of Mr. Gittleman's companies four years later for $19 million. Then, he sold it to the Lowes.

Ponzi schemer Thomas J. Petters.
Just down the beach in Manalapan at 1840 South Ocean Boulevard, the house owned by alleged $3.5 billion Ponzi schemer Thomas J. Petters, has been a pending sale for some time. It has a contract for $9.475 million, more than the $8.75 million Mr. Petters paid for it in December 2004, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. According to the paper's July 8 report, the buyers are Robert and Suzanne Steinberg of Vista Drive in Greenwich, Conn. Mr. Steinberg is a former Bear Stearns & Co. executive. Currently, according to the property appraiser's records, the Steinbergs own 2 Ocean Place in Highland Beach, a 10,000-sq.-ft. oceanfront house they bought in 2005 for $6.75 million.

North End closings

A sales associate with Fite Shavell & Associates, Paul Birmingham, has sold his 937 North Lake Way house for $1.8 million to Chris and Nancy Milliken. Built in 1952, the four bedroom house featured approx. 3,500-sq.-ft of living area.

In August 2008, Guy and Michelle Henderson paid $4.6 million 240 Kawama Lane. Last week they sold the vacant lot to Bruce Lane for $3.5 million. ARCOM had approved a 7,900-sq.-ft. house on the property.

Here is a shorthand round-up of sales that might best exemplify the 21st-century's first real estate boom. In 2005 Real Property Intellectuals bought 264 Country Club Road for $1.25 million, flipping it to 264 Country Club LLC, a subsidiary of Phoenix Realty Holdings, Patrick J. DiSalvo, manager, for $1.6 million. Planning to build a spec house, 264LLC obtained a $3 million mortgage from Lydian Bank. Last month, 264 Country Club LLC gave Lydian Bank the “deed in lieu of foreclosure” valued at $1.24 million. On June 26, Lydian Bank sold 264 Country Club Drive to JDM Investments for $1.18 million, Jonathan D. Moss, president.

South End transfers
237 El Bravo Way was designed by Marion Sims Wyeth with a distinctive entrance courtyard and views of the Everglades Club golf course.
Dean P. Vlahos and Michelle Alton, fka Michelle Vlahos, have sold their two South End historic houses for $14.57 million, $1.2 million less than what they had recently paid for the properties. Vlahos and Alton sold 237 El Bravo Way for $6 million to Grant Mashek and Allyson Foreman Mashek and 105 Banyan Road for $8.575 million to Barbara Dooley, according to the two warranty deeds filed July 10 by attorney Robert Lee Shapiro.

In May, Northern Trust Bank filed foreclosure notices on the El Bravo and Banyan Road properties. The seller purchased the El Bravo house in August 2007 for $6.45 million with a $5.48 million mortgage and had listed it for $6.9 million with Corcoran associates Paulette Koch and Dana Koch.
105 Banyan Road is a Wyeth-designed three-story 10,000-sq.-ft. house with a tennis court located in the ocean block and originally built during the 1920s for the John S. Pillsbury family who named the house La Chosa.
In September 2005, Mr. and Mrs. Vlahos bought 105 Banyan for $9.275 million and listed it with the same Corcoran associates for $9.9 million. According to published reports, Mr. Vlahos, a Minnesota restaurateur, lost nearly $20 million in a Ponzi scheme run by Manalapan resident Thomas Petters. Mr. Mashek's family lives in Palm Beach.
105 Banyan Road's entrance door.
2042312 Ontario Inc, a Canadian corporation with Jim Williams, president, sold 125 Vizcaya for $2.8 million to Jerome Weinrib, an NYC resident, who previously sold his Sloan's Curve condominium. The seller bought the approx. 4,000-sq.-ft house located in the ocean block built in 2002 for $2.5 million in 2004.
In yet another curious transaction where we must ask whether it qualifies as a real deal, 13 Via Vizcaya LLC, Malasky Homes, principal, paid Sam and Marjorie Meek $1.8 million for the property in 2004 demolished the house and built a new 6,000 sq ft house on the half-acre lake block parcel. Last week the property was deeded to the Donald C. Malasky Revocable Trust for $2 million with Orion and DB Private Wealth Mortgage extending a $2.025 million ARM.

Trading Places, Palm Beach style
The owner of 1564 South Ocean Boulevard, seen above, switched houses with the owner of 134 El Vedado. Photo by Robert Stevens for The Corcoran Group.
Exchanging a French Normandy-style one-acre ocean block estate, once priced at $12+ million but now listed for $7.9 million, for a smaller MedRev South Ocean Boulevard house, priced at $7.85 million, may seem improbable, even in Palm Beach where the exception is most often the rule. And considering the current excess of inventory, the odds of two sellers buying each other’s seemingly incomparable properties for the same amount must be rated a long shot. But, two Palm Beach sales associates recently closed two South End transactions where the sellers traded dissimilar houses for an equal market value.

Dana Koch, a Corcoran associate, listed 1564 South Ocean Boulevard for $7.9 million. The owner, Main Street Services Inc., Robert L. Miller, president and CEO, has traded places with Fred Michael Brunner, the owner of 134 El Vedado, a property listed for $7.85 million by Ashley Deflin, another Corcoran sales associate.

“Both sellers accepted a $6 million value for their property,” said Koch. “We worked out an even exchange and closed last week,” added Koch.
The owner of 134 El Vedado has traded away his secluded French Normandy-style house for a MedRev on South Ocean Boulevard with deeded beach access. Photo by Robert Stevens for The Corcoran Group.
The owner of 1564 South Ocean Blvd. bought 134 El Vedado as 134 LLC, a Delaware company, from Mr. Brunner, an Arkansas resident, for $10, according to the warranty deed filed by attorney Guy Rabideau. El Vedado’s owner, Mr. Brunner, took title to 1564 South Ocean Boulevard from Main Street Services as a corporate entity, according to Mr. Koch and Bill Yahn, a regional senior vice-president for The Corcoran Group.

Previously, the El Vedado house was listed for $12.5 million, before being reduced to $8.395 million. A local landmark since 1991, it was designed during the mid-1930s by John L. Volk. The six-bedroom house was once owned by the late James Kimberly, the Kleenex heir who was a former honorary consul to Jordan during King Hussein's reign.

The 5,900-square-foot MedRev-style South Ocean Blvd. two-story house was acquired by Main Street Services in 2005 for $5.05 million and located within the Lagomar block, featuring four bedrooms and 40 feet of deeded beach access. Previously, it was listed for $10.95 million with a different brokerage company.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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