Thursday, July 1, 2010

Palm Beach Real Estate Roulette

Summer in Palm Beach. Clarke Avenue beach. Beyond the umbrella, a view of El Sarmiento, a palazzo-by-the-sea built in 1923 as the Duke-Biddle’s beach house designed by Addison Mizner with some additions by Joseph Urban before a decade later J. Jay and Dolly O’Brien brought in architect Maurice Fatio who upscaled the Midtown landmark.
by Augustus Mayhew

Temperatures soar as Palm Beach real estate prices remain off their red-hot highs. Back pocket sales buoy the market, fueling the theory that it may be best to keep your property off the publicized market, since it appears deep-pocketed Palm Beach buyers can’t wait to pay a premium for something they think no one else has seen and/or they can’t have.

Here is the spin on some recent June closings, a narrative snapshot of El Sarmiento, and the latest wheel-of-fortune news on Wellington's polo impresario, John B. Goodman, now charged with DUI/manslaughter and vehicular homicide along with leaving the scene and failure to render aid.

Chicago chewing gum scion adds to waterfront estate

William Wrigley, Jr. as Palm Beach Enterprises LLC, a Delaware company, paid $6.1 million for 11472 Old Harbour Road, North Palm Beach, his Lost Tree Village neighbor’s waterfront house. Wrigley’s recent acquisition is adjacent to his 11465 Old Harbour Road point-lot estate with 420 feet of waterfront purchased last April for $11 million. Mr. Wrigley, whose name is pretty much everywhere in Chicago and Catalina Island, and his wife, Heather, declared Florida residency last year.

Designer Tomas Maier pays $3.175 million for Midtown penthouse
International designer Tomas Maier paid $3.175 million for a penthouse apartment at 300 South Ocean Boulevard, a Midcentury Modern co-op building. The sellers, Helen and Michael Walsh paid $1.8 million for the 2100-square-foot three bedroom unit in 2004. The asking price was $3.45 million. 300 South Ocean was designed by Palm Beach architect Howard Chilton.

Along with being the creative director of Bottega Veneta, a Gucci Group subsidiary, the German-born Mr. Maier established his own fashion label in 1997. Mr. Maier's own collection is sold in more than 100 stores worldwide as well as self-named venues in Palm Beach, Miami, and the Hamptons, according to the company's web site. His company's corporate headquarters is in Delray Beach. In 2006, Mr. Maier and his partner, Andrew Preston, COO of Tomas Maier, bought an oceanfront house in Gulf Stream for $7.3 million.
1530 South Ocean closes at $6 million
Elizabeth Hall Benson has sold 1530 South Ocean Boulevard to Seaspray One LLC for $6.085 million. Built in the mid 1990s on a parcel that was once a part of the Lagomar estate, Seabourne, as it is called, was listed in January 2009 for $13.5 million. The property is appraised for $5.4 million by the county’s property appraiser. The 7,100-square-foot two-story Bermuda-style house, located on the west side of the ocean road with 112 feet of private ocean frontage, featured a center hall, four bedrooms and numerous appointments.
Greenwich CEO buys author’s waterfront house

Greenwich resident Robert F. Greenhill paid $11 million for 686 Island Drive, novelist James Patterson and his wife Susan Solie Patterson’s waterfront Everglades Island house, according to the agents involved in the deal; $10.335M, according to the warranty deed. “The actual price paid by the buyer was $11 million and after closing costs were backed out, the price recorded on the warranty deed was $10.335 million,” said David Fite, principal at Fite Shavell & Associates. A former chairman and CEO of Smith Barney, Mr. Greenhill is the founder and chairman of Greenhill & Co. Inc., an independent investment firm.

Listed for $14.95 million, the seller and the buyer were represented by Betsey Hall, a Fite Shavell associate. Whatever the selling price, it is slightly below the $15.625 million the Alexander Haigs made off with in 2006 when they sold 685 Island Drive to Eric and Harriet Rothfeld.

In 2009 James Patterson paid $17.415 million for Casa Ananda at 710 S. Ocean Blvd. The eclectic landmark is undergoing a few more touch-ups before the Pattersons roll out the welcome mat to their historic oceanfront casa grande.

Buffetts make off with $18.5 million
As widely-believed for weeks, Jimmy and Jane Buffet’s neighbor on Middle Road, the elusive Kalamazoo billionaire, Jon L. Stryker, as Via Marina LLC, paid the couple’s separate trusts $18.5 million for their Wyeth-Major designed one-acre plus oceanfront Midtown estate at 540 South Ocean Boulevard, once known as Annetteamo. For more than a decade, the media-shy Stryker has lived next door to the Buffetts in a Wyeth-designed MedRev, described by acquaintances as “kind of a Moroccan-themed interior when we were there, quite modest for a billionaire.” Stryker’s sister, Ronda Stryker, owns a South End beachfront condo at La Bonne Vie. Stryker made NYC real estate news several years ago when he paid $6.2 million for a Time Warner apartment while renovating his Central Park West penthouse digs.
El Mirasol estate sells for $6.7 million
Angela Koch and her husband Douglas Stockham have sold 140 El Mirasol for $6.7 million to NSHE Rosemead LLC, an Arizona company based in Phoenix. The property was most recently listed for $7.9 million by Caroline Seymour, an agent with Brown Harris Stevens Palm Beach; Robin Donnelley, an associate with Fite Shavell & Associates, represented the buyer. NSHE Rosemead LLC is an affiliate of National Safe Harbor Exchange, a subsidiary of Fidelity National Financial Inc. (NYSE:FNF). The 8-bedroom, 9-bath British West Indies-style house with approx. 9,000-square-feet of living area is located in the ocean block on a double-lot parcel in a subdivision named for the Addison Mizner-designed 40-room mansion built for Ned and Eva Stotesbury.

Manalapan oceanfront sold for $7.15 million
The Albert C. Ebert Residuary Land Trust, Terry L. Ebert Mendoza, trustee, sold Chateau Mer au Lac for $7.15 million, a more than two-acre oceanfront Manalapan estate located at 1120 South Ocean Boulevard. The 11,000-square-foot house featuring 190 feet of ocean and waterway frontage was most recently listed for $8.95 million by Robert V. Stunkel, estate agent with Nestler Poletto Sotheby’s International Realty, Boca Raton. The buyer, 1120 South Ocean Boulevard Realty Trust LLC, was represented by Lawrence A. Moens, principal of Lawrence A Moens Associates Inc.

Designed in the mid-1950s Bermuda style by Palm Beach architect John Volk, Chateau Mer au Lac was sited along the ridgeline, its horizontal extent parallel to the ocean complementing the structural form of the adjacent property to the north, Eastover, the former Harold S. Vanderbilt estate. In 2004, Eastover’s owner, Veronica Hearst, replatted the estate and reconfigured the historic Fatio-designed house, selling off the estate’s north and south 150 feet, accommodating two oceanfront parcels.

The late Albert C. Ebert, a Chicago real estate investor, and his wife Terry bought Chateau Mer au Lac in 1987 for $1.6 million. It has a current assessed value of $7.1 million, according to the county property appraiser’s records. The estate was once owned by internationally-renowned comic artist and writer Rolf Kauka, thought to be the one who named it Chateau Mer au Lac.

El Sarmiento
150 South Ocean Boulevard
All in the family when the in-laws get together. L to R: Angier Buchanan Duke, his wife Cordelia Biddle Duke, his sister Mary Duke Biddle, and her husband (and Cordelia Duke's brother) Anthony J. Drexel Biddle. Undated photo, possibly c. 1915-1920. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
North Carolina tobacco scion, Mary Duke Biddle, and her Philadelphia-socialite husband, Anthony J. “Tony” Drexel Biddle, enjoyed several blissful seasons at 150 South Ocean Boulevard, including having Joseph Urban make a few theatrical changes here-and-there, before they divorced in 1931. Mr. Biddle and E. F. Hutton were the primary social arbiters for the town’s exclusive Bath & Tennis Club. Mrs. Biddle’s brother, Angier Buchanan Duke, married his sister-in-law, Cordelia Biddle. Two years after the Biddle-Dukes divorced in 1921, Mr. Duke commissioned a small Mizner-designed house at nearby 160 Barton Avenue with a 45-foot living room. But, it would be Jules Bache who would move into Duke’s planned “Ballroom House,” as Mr. Duke accidentally drowned when a rowboat capsized at 2:30 a.m. while he was making his way to his yacht anchored in the sound off the Greenwich coast.
El Sarmiento, a view from the Clarke Avenue beach.
With Tony Biddle turning his social skills into a career as an international diplomat and Mrs. Biddle’s interests focused more on North Carolina than Palm Beach, Mary Duke Biddle sold El Sarmiento in 1934 to J. Jay O’Brien, “the penniless polo player,” and Dolly O’Brien (Laura “Dolly” Hylan Heminway Fleischmann O’Brien Dorelis) while the O’Briens were Charlie Munn’s houseguests at Amado. The uber-social O’Briens hired Maurice Fatio to add on an Entresol, dining room and Olympic pool with a cypress bar, introducing some new scale to go with their six fountains and cypress-floored Banquet Room. In 1936 artist Charles Baskerville painted murals for the drawing room.
El Sarmiento, a partial view of the original South Ocean Boulevard entrance when the house’s main entrance opened onto the ocean road. In 1968, the Kirklands bought the north corner lot on Barton Avenue from the Frelinghuysen estate, which today serves as the estate’s principal entrance. Thus, thirty years later when the Kochs applied for a variance, their front entrance was originally the north side. the west side was the back, the old front was now the east side and the south side of the house became the rear, making for a lengthy hearing process.

In 1945, the Alexander Kirklands acquired the house from Dolly O’Brien, making it a showcase for their museum-quality European antiques, the highlight of the island’s 1969 House and Garden tour. Four years later, Richard Merrill bought the “Spanish castle” and proceeded to spend “millions on interior and exterior renovations.” Once Mr. Merrill entertained most of Palm Beach it was time to sell the house to Dimitri Nicholas who in 1976 began his own remodel of the house. Then, the house was owned by a whirlwind of corporations as well as possible phantom offshore companies, such as the Cord Automotive Company, Dart International and Norido 2.
Today, along with an adjacent southerly property, El Sarmiento is owned by Julia and David Koch who were presented the Preservation Foundation's Ballinger Award in 2008 for crafting an elaborate family compound. Designated a landmark in 1979, El Sarmiento’s building history makes for yet another intriguing Palm Beach landmark.
The Kochs lifted the adjacent Major-designed British Colonial style house, repositioned it, and then, Voila, restored it. Well done!
Crisis in Pololand: Car Bombs, Mind Erasers and Cocaine
John Goodman, left, seen leaving Palm Beach County Jail, accompanied by two of his lawyers. Center, West Palm Beach criminal attorney and former prosecutor Guy Fronstin; Right, Mark Shapiro, a Miami attorney and partner with Roy Black, Mr. Goodman's lead counsel. Forensics and trace evidence are among Mr. Shapiro's specialties, according to his web site.
The 911 calls and several witness investigation reports were released this past week as polo patron John Goodman’s lawyer and NBC legal analyst Roy Black urged the public to refrain from reaching any conclusions from the “one-sided” sheriff’s interviews detailing the February 11 incident where his client’s Bentley crashed into a Hyundai sedan driven by Scott Wilson, who was left to drown in a drainage ditch. These sworn statements have begun to document Mr. Goodman’s puzzling whereabouts and wanderings before the collision, during the 50-minute aftermath when he left the scene and before he called 911, and the three-month limbo that ended in his pre-dawn arrest at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Miami.
According to the sheriff's investigation, John Goodman's blood alcohol level was .17, double the legal limit, plus traces of prescription hydroxycodone and dihydroxycodone, "the new hillbilly heroin," were also found ("lower back pain"). Mr. Goodman spent the months before his arrest at several South Florida hotels, reportedly including the Canyon Ranch Resort & Spa, the Seagate Beach Club in Delray Beach, and the Four Seasons Hotel in Miami, as well as attending at least one Miami Heat basketball game with fellow polo players Marc Ganzi, Kris Kampsen and Sugar Erskine. There has been no mention whether Goodman might have begun a 12-step or drug rehab program.
However much the media portrays the high-flying pololand mogul as heir to a billion-dollar air-conditioning fortune and the saintly founder-angel of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, these just-another-billionaire playground resume attributes are possibly not what keeps Mr. Goodman in the apparently untouchable not-a-day-in-jail circle. However global the Goodman family’s ductwork, when John Goodman married Carroll Reckling in 1986, some would say the former lacrosse player turned heavyweight horseman moved into a privileged social realm.

Carroll Reckling Goodman is a Sterling, as in her great-grandmother Isla Randa Carroll Sterling Turner and Frank Sterling, her great-grandfather, and his brother, Ross Sterling, founders of Humble Oil/Exxon-Mobil, along with the Robert Blaffers and the William S. Farish family. “Real rich” as they say in Texas. Mr. Goodman’s brother, Greg Goodman, may own Mt. Brilliant, the historic Lexington horse farm once owned by the Haggin family; his sister Meg Goodman may host coveted Giuliani for President and George-and-Laura type fundraisers but somehow it can never measure up to Big Oil and the Sterling family’s extraordinary role in every aspect of Texas history.

Three faces of John Goodman seen leaving Palm Beach County Jail.
Yet, amidst Mr. Goodman’s misfortune I can't help but recall “Blood and Money,” Tommy Thompson’s riveting thriller about River Oaks society that began with the mysterious death of Joan Robinson Hill; her accused husband, Dr. John Hill’s trial, where his second wife testified he tried to kill her; Dr. Hill’s subsequent murder; the subsequent death of his killer; and the arrest and conviction of a respectable Houston matron with underworld connections, Lilla Paulus, found guilty of having contracted Dr. Hill’s murder. Then, there was/is Enron. After all, it is Texas.

According to several social columnists, the month before the Wellington nightmare began, Carroll Goodman was at the Rienzi Society’s annual black-tie gala, named for the four-acre River Oaks estate that her grandparents donated to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts along with their European decorative arts collection. A violin trio played as she found herself once again surrounded by familiar faces — her parents, Isla Carroll and Tommy Reckling, the Murchisons, Cullens, Trammells, Houston’s wealthiest and most powerful families among them. The event was co-chaired by her brother, T. R. "Cliffe" Reckling, and his wife and her former sister-in-law, Meg Goodman, and her husband, Mike Bonino. At Rienzi’s more recent spring event, columns mentioned the Recklings but no word on the Goodmans.

Frank Sterling’s house is the presidential mansion for the University of Houston; Carroll Sterling Masterson’s estate is one of Houston’s prized museums. John Goodman had named his polo team Isla Carroll, after his wife’s legendary philanthropic family. At the Houston Polo Club, Goodman played on Farish Field, named for William S. Farish; at Wellington, Goodman and his friends played on Stanford Field, until last season named for Texas feloncier Sir Allen Stanford, whose years of center box access to the club’s wealthiest South American patrons must have kept his cricket tournament afloat. At least until Sir Allen’s arrest in 2009 for masterminding a $6 billion Ponzi scheme.

Today, ten attorneys later, Sir Allen sits in a Texas jail awaiting a January 2011 trial on a 21-count criminal indictment; John Goodman, facing DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide charges, is at home in Wellington, unmonitored, having posted $100,000 bail. He is restricted from drinking, driving or patronizing bars. He has turned over his passport, checks in with court administrators twice a week and is subject to random drug and alcohol tests three times a month.

"I just had a wreck," are the first words Mr. Goodman said to the 911 operator when he called nearly an hour after the accident. Having already made several calls, a girlfriend in Atlanta, his house manager and others, as well as wandered into Kris Kampsen's barn where he said he was looking for a telephone, on the 911 tape Mr. Goodman states several times in various rambling forms, "I didn't see the other car ... Where am I? ... I pulled out after I stopped. I didn't see a car ... I'm sorry... Where am I? ... I did not see another car after I ... Where am I? ... I obviously hit something ... it's horrible." According to the sheriff's investigators, Mr. Goodman was going more than 60 mph when he ran the stop sign. Scott Wilson’s family has already filed a civil case against Goodman, the polo club, the Player’s Club, et al.
According to the state’s corporate records, The Players Club is owned by Sperin LLC, a Manhattan-based company owned and/or managed by Neil Hirsch, Blackwatch polo’s patron and a Hamptons notable. Along with numerous corporate entities, Mr. Hirsch is listed as one of the directors for the non-profit Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Foundation.
Undoubtedly, everyone at the Players Club, its entrance seen above, the night of February 11 has retained a lawyer. Goodman's $200+ bar tab included Car Bombs, Mind Erasers and shots. In a sworn statement, Stacey Shore told investigators that at some time around 12:30 a.m. Mr. Goodman asked her to join him in looking for cocaine. A Players Club bartender stated she had seen Mr. Goodman in the club with cocaine powder around his nose. As part of Carroll and John Goodman's recorded child custody agreements, Mrs. Goodman expressed concern about her ex-husband's cocaine use when he was with their children and wanted him to be randomly tested.
A memorial for Scott Wilson marks the spot where his car flipped over into the water. After years of driving past these roadside memorials along the interstates and highways, I stopped and spent some time here, obviously planted by family and friends who thought the world of Mr. Wilson.
The memorial includes a small bird feeder, small flags, a cross of white roses, stuffed monkeys, a light and a photo of Mr. Wilson, 23, atop a small painted barn-shaped birdhouse. On a road flanked by horse farms and McMansions, this ad hoc memorial provides a powerful moving moment.
This warning sign located across from the accident site is one of many found in Wellington.
The criminal trial could still be more than year away, plenty of time for Mr. Black to forge a plea deal so Mr. Goodman’s Wanderers polo team can saddle up and get back on the field. Will Scott Wilson’s mother and father agree to split $50 million? Will Greg Goodman take over his brother’s Wellington polo club? Several polo insiders believe Mr. Goodman will not be spending the next several years in a Florida prison.

There will be a lot of things not to talk about at next year’s Rienzi Society gala in Houston.
At this Wellington drainage ditch, Scott Wilson died and John Goodman had an “end of the world” experience, as he described it. No matter the months, the years, or how far the corner of Lake Worth Road and 120th Avenue is from Houston’s River Oaks enclave, there will always be those who will never forget the life and death of Scott Wilson.

Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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