Thursday, February 25, 2010

Palm Beach Panorama

The loggia’s Portuguese tile mural and treillage are original features found at Casa Alva, one of Manalapan’s crown jewels, designed in 1935 for Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan and her husband, Jacques Balsan, by Maurice Fatio.
by Augustus Mayhew

During these chilliest of winter months, Palm Beachers may be meditating more on their philanthropic and spiritual interests rather than buying and selling real estate. However, Sotheby’s has posted a pending sale notice on their web site for 1370 South Ocean Boulevard, Manalapan. Known as the Pope house, once owned by Generoso Pope, the late distinguished National Enquirer publisher, the several acre oceanfront estate has already accommodated six different owners since 1999. Once touted as the “most expensive spec house in the United States,” 1370 SOB first sold in 1999 for $15 million; after the redo, $27.5M. Last summer, it was deeded to an LLC for $22.4M. Followed by, a $16.9 million price tagged by the Sotheby’s Palm Beach office.

After taking note of the outbreak of courthouse paperwork at a baronial South Ocean Boulevard estate and on a $40+ million North County Road newbuild, NYSD invites you on a virtual view of three historic properties currently on the Palm Beach market: Casa Alva, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan’s estate, owned by former Manalapan mayor, William Benjamin, and his wife, Maura Benjamin; Villa Giardino, an intown architectural folly with a fascinating chronicle of colorful personalities; and, Buenos Recuerdos, one of the few remaining museum-quality houses with original Mizner treasures where you actually feel as if you have stepped back into 1927 when architect Maurice Fatio designed it.

Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
Conrad Black & Barbara Amiel Black transfer deed to Blackfield Holdings

A flurry of court filings and Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel Black, considered among Palm Beach’s leading English-speaking Canadian intellectuals, transferred their 1930 South Ocean Boulevard estate by a Special Warranty Deed for $11.6 million to Blackfield Holdings LLC, a Delaware company located in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The Special Warranty Deed states the deed was in return for the cancellation of the $10 million debt plus interest, secured by a mortgage given by Laminar Direct Capital LP, a Houston-based subsidiary of D. E. Shaw & Company. Subsequently, the mortgage was held by Plainfield Specialty Holdings II. Plainfield’s founder, Max Holmes, was the former co-portfolio manager for Laminar Portfolios LLC that in 2005 extended the $10 million mortgage to the Conrad Black Capital Corporation.

Baron and Baroness Black bought their ocean-to-lake estate in 1997 for $9.9 million from a Swiss corporation while the media baron still headed Hollinger International. Reportedly, Hollinger claimed the Blacks bought the Palm Beach house with the company’s funds. In 2009 the property was appraised and assessed for $32 million by the county property tax appraiser. According to sources, during better times the Blacks hoped to sell the property for more than $30 million. Following Mr. Black’s 2008 conviction on several charges, he was sentenced to serve six-and-a-half years at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in central Florida, where, among his other fortes, he has become a resident scholar on the US prison system.

North County Road house wrapped with scaffolds and screens
Christo-like screens and scaffolds keep this County Road house under wraps as its owners have begun litigation with the mansion’s builders.
Years ago, I spent four weeks as a juror on a construction case that by time of deliberation was an endless blur of expert testimony except for the fact that the plaintiff, Palm Beach County, had flown one of its experts from West Palm Beach to Belle Glade, a 30-minute overland drive on a slow day. This must have made sense to someone. Whatever, that case was not quite the scale facing one Palm Beach couple. In October 2009, two months before Leo and Kathryn Vecellio filed suit against 14 defendants at Palm Beach County courthouse, the prominent couple bought their third Palm Beach house.

But, rather than ocean or lake views, this one, a one-story 3,000-sq.-ft. Bermuda-designed house purchased for $2.1 million, is across the street from their oceanfront mansion, where they now have a spectacular view of the house’s ongoing reconstruction and remediation work. About a year after Mr. Vecellio, president, chairman and CEO of the Vecellio Group, one of the nation’s leading contractors, and his wife, Kathryn, closed on their reportedly more than $40 million new oceanfront house, they moved out and have filed a civil case against Dean DeSantis, Laura DeSantis, Addison Construction, Danny E. Swanson, Phoenix Architecture, and at last count, nine other building-related companies. Mr. Swanson is regarded among Palm Beach’s stellar builders. In November 2001, Mr. DeSantis et al, as DLKK LLC bought the Merrill house from the Doris Merrill Magowan Trust for $11.8 million and proceeded to build the more than 20,000-sq.-ft. Mediterranean style estate next door to Nelson Peltz’s French-styled estate, Montsorrel, “Mountain of Sorrow.” While a uniformed security guard stands poised at all times to protect their oceanfront villa, in court, the Vecellios are being represented by attorney G. Joseph Curley, with Gunster, Attorneys at Law. Stay tuned.

Casa Alva
1300 Lands End Road, Manalapan
Offered by Rodney J. Dillard, Illustrated Properties, Palm Beach
Asking $13.5 million
Casa Alva, a framed aerial view, splendid seclusion and privacy on more than five acres yet a waterfront location with nearby ocean access. Owned since 1957 by William Benjamin, the estate’s surrounding area became part of Mr. Benjamin’s Pont Manalapan development.
A view of Casa Alva’s formal living room, looking southeast towards the morning sun. In the early 1930s, the Balsans bought La Linda, a 100+ acre estate located across the water from Mme. Balsan’s brother, Harold S. Vanderbilt, and commissioned Maurice Fatio to redesign it to accommodate their collection of imported French 18th and 19th century boiseries.
A sitting area looking out towards the loggia.
Remarkable Old World craftsmanship on display throughout. The Fatio-designed central staircase.
A secondary staircase fashioned after the original located between the kitchen and the formal dining room.
The living room fireplace. The formal dining room fireplace.
The formal dining room. Afar and to the right, Realtor Rodney Dillard, a pillar of Palm Beach real estate.
A view from the central courtyard fountain towards the loggia connecting the formal living room with the dining room.
From Casa Alva’s boat house, a view across the water to Eastover, Harold S. Vanderbilt’s Fatio-designed house. Mr. Vanderbilt was mayor of Manalapan for many years, as was Casa Alva’s current owner, William Benjamin.
Across the water from Casa Alva, the yacht, Hi-Note, owned by the singer known as Yanni.
Villa Giardino, 341 Peruvian Avenue, Palm Beach
Lawrence A. Moens, Lawrence A. Moens & Associates
Asking $12.8 million
A view from a Venetian side canal or a Peruvian Avenue façade in Palm Beach? Villa Giardino’s eclectic architectural and cultural chronicle makes for one of Palm Beach’s most entertaining house histories.
In 1931 architect John Russell Pope was in Palm Beach where not only did he find in a Peruvian Avenue garden shop the same sundial he had wanted to buy in England the previous summer but also he discovered “a small architectural gem,” Villa Giardino, the architectural creation of Ohan S. Berberyan (1882-1970), a noted international antiquities dealer. Mr. Berberyan was well-known in the most exclusive New York-London-Paris Louis-Louis circles for offering priceless must-have collectibles, a Marie Antoinette needlepoint, a deMedici tapestry or perhaps, a map used by Christopher Columbus.

However voluminous and detailed the Town of Palm Beach’s building records, there are some unexplained gaps where both plans and permits have been misplaced or lost. Unfortunately, Villa Giardino, first known as Jardin Latin, lacks any primary architectural records verifying the building’s origin except for a 1931 permit by Arnold Construction to build a 25-by-49 art gallery and residence, according to present Town Hall records. There was mention in July 1930 of architect Marion Sims Wyeth planning a two-story house in front of the west garden, variously described as “stucco and quarry key stone … a quaint old house found in Provence.” Berberyan’s plans must have radically changed, perhaps opting to have Wyeth draw up a more Italian ambience. Regrettably, there are no original plans on file.
Most often, Berberyan described Villa Giardino as “… built from drawings by Professor Berti, of the Academia in Venice, patterned after the Abazzia monastery for barefoot Carmelites in Venice … where Lady Cunard, Chanel and the Mdivani family once stayed.” Later, on the property’s north end overlooking the tiled fountain, a teahouse was designed and furnished by French fashion icon Paul Poiret (1879-1944) with “a Robsjohn-Gibbing decor.” While it appears to have a Wyeth touch, the original plans are not part of the Town of Palm Beach’s building records.
Thus, by threading various secondary sources, predominately newspaper stories, a dodgy narrative account, however less reliable, reveals the provenance of one of Palm Beach’s most notable cultural rendezvous. From 1915 to 1920, Ohan Berberyan was reported in several social columns, always a dependable source, as shuttling between Miami and Palm Beach before settling into his Peruvian Avenue studio, gallery and residence. Mr. Berberyan came to South Florida to provide objets and rugs for Vizcaya, James Deering’s (1859-1925) Italian Renaissance showplace.

Flaminia Gennari, deputy director for collections and curatorial affairs at the Vizcaya Museum, confirmed that indeed Mr. Berberyan did provide objets for Deering’s South Miami landmark. Mr. Deering’s majordomo for the Vizcaya endeavor was New York designer, Paul Chalfin, who was recommended to Mr. Deering by Elsie deWolfe, Lady Mendl. Mr. Chalfin and Berberyan were friends and business associates, as Mr. Chalfin is mentioned as a house guest at Berberyan’s Palm Beach residence. In 1918, Mr. Chalfin took an ad in the Palm Beach Daily News stating he was in residence for the season on his houseboat, Le Singerie, parked at the Beaux Arts docks.

The gardens were planted in the style that Berberyan had seen at the Paris Exhibition of 1924. There was “… a sunken garden with three ponds lined with Venetian mosaics and translucent lanterns that also served as jardinières.”
As seen today, this is the original gated entrance to Berberyan Gardens, virtually unchanged since 1931.
In 1929, the new owner of the Boca Raton Hotel & Club, Clarence Geist, appointed Ohan Berberyan, “a New York and Palm Beach art dealer,” director of the club’s interior décor. With Schultze and Weaver designing additions to Mizner’s original hotel plan, Berberyan completed the interiors with Charles of London and Paul Chalfin, who he worked with a decade earlier at Vizcaya.

Having been the setting for festive parties, exotic dinners and fashion shows, with the likes of Cecil Beaton, Noel Coward and Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, among them, Berberyan Gardens opened to the public in 1931. Mr. Berberyan was known for his aesthetic mix. In 1935 he presented an exhibition of A. J. Munnings sporting art along with Elsie deWolfe’s Modernist collection of china and glassware.
When Mr. Berberyan sold the gallery-residence in 1943 to New York yachtsman Sylvanus Stokes and his new wife, Patti Stokes, he kept the “… Roman garden and the guest house to the east.” At the Stokes’ wedding, Erich von Stroheim was the couple’s best man, as Mrs. Stokes was the former actress, Patti duPont. Nine years later, the Stokes’ bought the east half of the garden.

Shortly thereafter, the Stokes’ sold in 1954 to William and Mary Sisler. The Sislers added a guest cottage and redid the tea house. Their son, Paul Sisler Hayes, opened Galleria XXII Marzo in Palm Beach. During their residence and following Mr. Sisler’s death, Mary Sisler began acquiring Dadaist, Pop and Abstract Expressionist art, including 90 works by Marcel DuChamp. The Mary and William Sisler Collection and Papers are at MoMA.

A decade later, Mrs. Sisler sold the property to retired Cincinnati industrialist Charles Dubois. Before Mr. DuBois and his wife, Allyne DuBois, became entranced by Villa Giardino, they bought Casa Vendida for $300,000, a new elegant North County Road oceanfront house located “… up the pike apiece from Los Incas.”
Before they placed Villa Giardino on the House and Garden tour in 1968, they retained architect Belford Shoumate to design a three-story garage addition facing Peruvian Avenue on the property’s west side. The addition featured salvaged doors from Mizner’s La Fontana, floor tiles from Playa Riente and an octagonal Zodiac room with an atmospheric ceiling.

In 1976, Banyan Road residents Harold and Catherine “Kitty” Yoh bought it from Mrs. DuBois, owning it for nearly the next 30 years. Since then, several owners have come-and-gone. It is now offered for sale by Realtor-owner Lawrence A. Moens, principal of Lawrence A. Moens & Associates, a Palm Beach real estate firm.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Mr. Berberyan was a prominent New York rug dealer. He died in 1970; Villa Giardino still stands.
Buenos Recuerdos, 79 Middle Road, Palm Beach
Offered by Nancy Mendel, Sotheby’s International Realty
Asking $9.2 million
Built for Henry Barkhausen in 1927, Buenos Recuerdos was designed by Maurice Fatio in a classic Spanish Colonial style around a central courtyard framed by four arched loggias. Situated one block from the ocean, the museum-quality hacienda affords eight bedrooms, an observation tower and more than 11,000-sq.-ft. of living area. The Barkhausen’s son, Henry Jr., married Alice Wyeth, the daughter of architect Marion Sims Wyeth. In 1935, Pennsylvania financier Abram Nesbitt II bought the property. The Nesbitt family still own the property and have kept the house in prime condition.
From the moment you walk into Buenos Recuerdos, you experience the unmistakable feeling of Old Palm Beach.
From the central courtyard, a view west towards the entrance loggia. To the right, the foyer; to the left the dining room.
The brick courtyard and center fountain well display tile from another era.
The east loggia opens into three guest bedrooms. Covered with Mizner tile, the north loggia extends from the foyer to the east loggia and opens into the formal living room.
A Mizner-designed chandelier highlights the foyer’s pecky-cypress ceiling.
Floored with black wedge Mizner tiles, the nearly 40-foot formal living room features a colorful ceiling with two Mizner chandeliers.
The living room’s black Mizner tiles with a Mizner fireplace and signature Mizner fire screen with plant holders.
The formal dining room with fireplace and timbered ceiling.
The informal dining loggia furnished with what appear to be a Mizner table and chairs.
In the courtyard, a Spanish Renaissance heraldry plaque imported by Mizner with a wrought-iron planter attached by Mizner Industries. A Mizner wrought-iron sconce.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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