Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Palm Beach Real Estate Roulette

“My father’s godfather, Colonel E. R. Bradley, gave my parents the bowl as a wedding present,” said David Reese who, along with his daughter Courtenay Reese, are the principals of Palm Beach’s oldest established real estate agency, Claude D. Reese Real Estate Inc. A fourth-generation Palm Beacher, whose great-grandfather Elisha Newton “Cap” Dimick was the town’s first mayor, first hotelier, and at one time largest property owner, Mr. Reese’s family has lived on Palm Beach since 1876.
By Augustus Mayhew

Construction crews race to finish remodels and the latest array of spec houses, as the new super-sized 50,000-square-foot Publix supermarket appears to be, just a few more hurdles, all but a sure thing except the Save-the-Date cards for the December 2011 gala opening. Befitting today’s Palm Beach, Chanel is prepping the sushi and deli coats; Michael Kors is believed to be designing a new Publix tote. And rather than dwell on the what-to-do-for-months without Publix, some residents plan on having door-to-door gourmet catering trucks pass through their neighborhoods, much like construction workers are permitted on nearly every Palm Beach street. Who isn’t beguiled when the construction catering trucks repeatedly toot their horns?

From Alan Whicker's Journey of a Lifetime.
If you have the chance to see the captivating 1977 British documentary, Whicker’s World-Palm Beach, don’t miss it. With a Monty Pythonesque eye for the enchanted island’s surreal paradoxes, Alan Whicker’s tour of 70's PB is absolutely hilarious. And with a parade being discussed among the island’s leaders to highlight next year’s Centennial celebration, stay tuned on how artfully the town stages this once-in-a-century event, considering animal-drawn vehicles are not permitted on the island. Phantoms and Quattroportes, maybe.

Although 8-figure sales remain scarce, there have been a few residential Midtown and North End closings, including a unit at the Biltmore condominium selling for $3.5 million. 225 Mockingbird Trail sold for $2.3 million. An estate sale at 335 Crescent Drive brought $1.75 million. 346 Brazilian Avenue closed at $4.1 million. Greenwich residents Henry and Barbara Miller bought an apartment at Winthrop House for $1.525 million. In the nearly-blind department, late Monday afternoon just south of the Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach, next to the properties acquired last year for more than $20 million by, it is believed, members of the Ziff family, a vacant parcel has sold to Banyan Road LLC for $3.65 million.
Tim and Kelly Goguen sold their 3454 Grand Prix Farms equestrian facility to Adena Testa, as principal of Belhaven Stables LLC, for $8 million. Image courtesy Google maps.
Out among the hunters and jumpers, Swellington’s barns and riding rings continue to rope buyers. Tim and Kelly Goguen sold their 3454 Grand Prix Farms equestrian facility to Adena Testa, as principal of Belhaven Stables LLC, for $8 million. In a separate lease agreement, the Goguens will occupy 15 stables within the facility for the next two years. Realtor Linda R. Olsson’s refreshing web site might be worth a visit. Unlike the OSS-style gag rule in place with some Palm Beach brokers, Olsson actually provides news on island sales other than her own.

Here are a few of the latest Palm Beach transactions, a look at Bagatelle, and in Boca Raton, what remains of the never before recognized houses designed between 1947 and 1954 by renowned Modernist Norman Bel Geddes for theater magnate J. Myer Schine. If only Florida had been more inspired by its Midcentury Modern aesthetic, Frank Lloyd Wright’s FSC campus, Alfred Browning Parker’s Tropical Modernism, Paul Rudolph’s Sarasota Modern, Edward Durell Stone’s Space Age Capitol complex, and Bel Geddes plan for the Town of Boca Raton. Alas, the state is swamped with look-alike subdivisions. One of the Bel Geddes houses, the best, will be demolished very soon.

Phipps Estate sells for $5.45 million
Apollo Global Management’s Henry R. Silverman, as sole trustee for the Catherine Silverman Trust, sold 234 Via Las Brisas to John G. Brim, as principal of 222 Ridgeview LLC. An NYC resident, Mr. Brim bought 222 Ridgeview Drive in 2005. Listed by Corcoran Palm Beach associate Jim McCann, the five-bedroom Mediterranean-style house featured 8,800-sq.-ft. living area on approx. a half-acre lot. The Silvermans bought the house in May 1999 for $4.1 million; it was most recently assessed at $6.3 million.
Seabreeze Avenue spec nails down $5.1 million
George Ford, as 218 Seabreeze Avenue LLC, sold 218 Seabreeze Avenue for $5.1 million to Guitiriz S.A.A., a Uruguayan-based company. Described as a West Indies-style house when it was approved by ARCOM in 2007, the 4,980 square-foot house was built by Mr. Ford’s company, Leeds Custom Design LLC. Listed by Scott M. Gordon with Fite Shavell & Associates, the buyer’s agent was W. Peter Mahler of Wilshire Realty.
The Breakers buying Palm Beach Daily News building
In what appears to be a private sale, the Palm Beach Daily News reported that its parent company, Palm Beach Newspapers Inc., has sold its 265 Royal Poinciana Way commercial office building to The Breakers, a subsidiary of Flagler Systems Inc. With closing scheduled for September 30, PBDN plans to lease space on the island at a yet to be disclosed location. The Breakers plans to utilize the approx. 10,000-square-foot office building as “a new working environment for members of our administrative team,” according to a published report. The property is currently assessed by the county tax appraiser for $3.2 million
After the last series of storms left Palm Beachers stranded without basic services and due to the constraints of his late wife’s illness, David Reese decided to build a new storm-proof house on the site of his old North End beach house. “Jean and I both loved this plantation house in Barbados, Bagatelle, that had the raised double-stair entrance,” said David Reese. Below the main living areas, Mr. Reese placed the garage and service area, including room for a new super generator, that anchor the house. Because of Mrs. Reese’s illness, the living and sleeping rooms were placed on one uninterrupted level, allowing an ease of ingress and egress.
Last February I wrote a feature about the Reese family’s pioneer legacy that did not include many of my photos of Bagatelle, Mr. Reese’s North End house built from a design inspired by a Barbados plantation. Here are a few views of his recently-built hurricane-proof oceanfront house.
Being born an islander with a lifelong passion for the sea, Mr. Reese has a collection of English and European sailing paintings in the dining room.
A touch of whimsy accents the entrance hall’s powder room. A royal cat worthy of the Doge’s Palace became a keepsake from a family trip to Venice.
The formal living room’s french doors open east into the family room overlooking the ocean beyond.
Venetian glass lamps frame a view towards the dining room. “I think we also found the fabrics in Venice,” said Mr. Reese.
In the family room, a Montana landscape provides a focal point.
Acquired during a trek to Turkey, a Turkish-tiled mural highlights the oceanside loggia.
Built on a raised foundation allowing for ocean views, the east loggia opens into the family room. The glass reflects the ocean and beach house across the street.
Mr. Reese’s great-grandfather, Elisha Newton “Cap” Dimick, welcomes residents and visitors at the entrance to Palm Beach on Royal Palm Way. Mr. Dimick developed the town’s first subdivision to the south of Royal Palm Way and built the middle bridge. David Reese’s father, Claude Dimick Reese, was known as “Mr. Palm Beach,” having served more than 35 years in town government, as mayor from 1953 until 1971 and previously as a town councilman and council president for 20 years. Realtor David Reese at his North End beach. His family’s photos may be at Town Hall, but David’s legacy is part of the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame. He was a co-founder of the Palm Beach County Surfing Association, organized during the mid-1960s when local governments banned surfing, arresting surfers for trespassing. Mr. Reese was among those who challenged the town’s anti-surfing ordinance and won. A founder of the Eastern Surfing Association, today Reese is among its more than 10,000 members, comprising the largest surfing organization in the world.
Bel Geddes in Boca Raton
A last look at one of the houses Norman Bel Geddes designed in Boca Raton. Built for Eskreid Bunderson, the house is scheduled for demolition.
Boca Raton’s stucco and barrel tile Old World skyline is probably the last place you might expect to find noted futurist Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958) modernistic designs. And yet for a moment more than fifty years ago, it seemed Bel Geddes’ curvilinear glass walls and cantilevered roofs might replace Addison Mizner as the town’s most influential designer and planner.

At the same time impresario J. Myer Schine retained the acclaimed theatrical and industrial designer to revitalize his Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, he brought the visionary modernist to Boca Raton. After WW II, Schine acquired Clarence Geist’s Boca Raton Club and proceeded to convert it back into a hotel. Although not an architect, Bel Geddes drew up plans to update the resort as well as an extensive master plan for Boca Raton, creating a practical and economic Florida architectural style that did not rely on 16th-century Spanish prototypes.

An established Broadway set designer, Norman Bel Geddes was considered among the avant garde in adapting aerodynamic and streamlined concepts to American industrial and entertainment design. In 1927 he began designing sleek cars, ships, factories, restaurants and railways. He became known for his World’s Fair pavilions, the “Magic Motorways” at the New York World’s Fair and GM’s Futurama Caravan, among them.
A Bel Geddes designed cutting-edge front entrance.
For Boca Raton, Bel Geddes conceived what he called a “Resort Colony” of modernistic cottages, serving as “stage scenery for a lifestyle.” He designed sixteen models plus a shopping mall, sports arena, restaurant and another hotel with a yacht club. The geometric compositions featured cantilevered flat roofs, open floor plans, high ceilings and curved glass walls. Enthused about the project, Bel Geddes went on to design a new town hall, hospital and new street plan for post-WW II Boca Raton. But when he took town leaders to Miami Beach to see his Copa City night club, fitted with “up-in-the-air platform stages,” the more conservative Ratonites were less than enthusiastic for Bel Geddes' form of futurist design.

Of his sixteen proposed house designs, I have found available notations for seven of them. The local firm of Pope & Blake formulated the blueprints; Anthony Lamont was the contractor. At first, I was surprised to find that the Boca Raton Historical Society and local building officials were unaware of the extent of Bel Geddes’ work. But then, I discovered the complete Bel Geddes archive is conveniently housed at the Harry Ransom Center located at the University of Texas in Austin. Of the seven built houses, it appears only three remain. One of them altered; two others in fairly original condition. The Bunderson house, the most dynamic of the existing designs, is facing imminent demolition. In 1956 J. Myer Schine sold the Boca Raton Hotel and surrounding property for $22 million to former Alcoa president Arthur Vining Davis, introducing an entirely different era of development.
With its board-and-batten vertical wood panels painted pink and its pool terrace paved with a sea of Mexican tiles by a previous owner, a black-and-white image is perhaps more sympathetic to the house’s more harmonious design aspects. In 1951 The New York Times described one of the houses as an “unusual luxury dwelling in Boca Raton estates.”
The view of the living areas looking northeast from the patio.
The living room’s magnificent curvilinear glass wall joins together the rectilinear east and west wings.
A view through the dark reflective glass wall into the open beamed living room.
The pink paint and Mexican tiles are unforgiving complements to modernist new wave design.
From the east, a profile view towards the west.
Across the street from the Bunderson house, a newly-built mansion illustrates the scale and extent of the surrounding neighborhood.
Nearby, this Estates section Bel Geddes-design known as the Fields House, retains many of its original exterior geometric features and interior floor plan.
Dorothy Hesse enjoys many of the house’s distinctive Midcentury Modern elements.
The original brick working fireplace. The fireplace’s unique circular shape adds dimension to the house’s rectilinear composition.
An early photo of Dorothy Hesse’s house. Photo courtesy of the Boca Raton Historical Society.
The Bel Geddes design across the street from Mrs. Hesse’s house was designed for the Killebrew family and was recently demolished.
Built for J Myer Schine’s associate Byron Parks, this Cocoanut Row corner house has kept its original Bel Geddes profile except for the distracting pop-up arched entrance.
Another view of 1200 Cocoanut Road.
The Harry Ransom Center is planning the first national exhibition devoted entirely to the work of Norman Bel Geddes’ work since the 1970s. “I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America,” will be presented in Fall 2014 at the University of Texas in Austin. The Ransom Center holds the entire archive of the visionary theatrical and industrial designer who revolutionized theatrical lighting design, introduced the concept of streamlining, and strongly influenced the layout of the nation's interstate highway system.
Norman Bel Geddes with blueprints by an unidentified photographer. Photo courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center.
The final chapter, the Palm Beach mansion …
Although the ownership of 252 El Bravo Way has not been settled, the bankruptcy court has ordered the house sold.
In a market where you would think a real estate broker would be welcomed, one Palm Beach couple appears to have boarded up their mansion, not wanting any agents to darken their door. The marathon $500 million Jeffrey and Dawn Prosser personal and corporate bankruptcy cases have resulted in more than 4,561 motions, orders, suits and countersuits with 43 pending appellate-level cases, according to court records.

And after four years, with the jet, the Lake Placid house, the wine, the Pissarro, among the liquidated luxuries, it appears to be down to the disposition of the Prossers’ last remaining valuable asset, their Palm Beach house. Or, so it is believed. Much of this continues to surprise the presiding judges, who are fogged up as to who or how the El Bravo Way residents are financing their endless volleys of litigation. Although it is still unclear which bankruptcy trustee will benefit from the proceeds of the Prossers’ historic Volk and Maass-designed landmarked South End mansion, the court has selected a local real estate agent to sell the house.
Designed for Charles and Gracia Hall by Volk & Maass, 252 El Bravo was the setting for a host of social events until the Halls divorced in 1936. Mrs. Hall cited Mr. Hall’s “ungovernable temper,” when she was granted custody of the couple’s two children by a Los Angeles circuit court.
Despite several calls to island brokers, I have been unable to uncover who has the listing or find any broker even aware the property is on the market. Nevertheless, recent court documents show that this broker has requested a 4 percent commission, 5 percent if there is a split with a selling broker. Also, according to published reports, the Palm Beach broker considers the Prossers “hostile occupants,” who according to a recent report “... will put up every obstacle and roadblock that they possibly can to interfere with the sale .... At the very least, I expect there to be a complete lack of cooperation when it comes to routine, simple matters, like showing the property ...”

Stay tuned.

Coming Soon
The Society of the Four Arts, Gubelmann Auditorium. West elevation.

“Palm Beach: A Social History” will be my captivating topic as part of next season’s Society of the Four Arts’ lecture series. The one-performance-only will attempt to chart the island’s social evolution from a remote lakeside jungle to an international social galaxy.

Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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