|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.
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
|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.
1300 Lands End Road, Manalapan
Offered by Rodney J. Dillard, Illustrated Properties, Palm Beach
Asking $13.5 million
|Remarkable Old World craftsmanship on display throughout.||The Fatio-designed central staircase.|
|The living room fireplace.||The formal dining room fireplace.|
|Villa Giardino, 341 Peruvian Avenue, Palm Beach
Lawrence A. Moens, Lawrence A. Moens & Associates
Asking $12.8 million
|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.
|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.”
|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
|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.|
|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.|