Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Palm Beach Real Estate Roulette

The Biltmore condominium’s west elevation seen from the Lake Trail at sunset. The Biltmore first opened as the Alba Hotel in February 1926, bankrupt just four months later, it then reopened as the Ambassador Hotel, part of the Ambassador Hotel chain. Later, it was rechristened the Biltmore, changing owners numerous times, among them, the Hilton chain, H. R. Weissberg, George MacDonald and A. C. Sonnabend. The last of the town’s great lakeside hotels, the Biltmore was converted into a naval training facility during WW II. In 1980 the building was completely gutted and transformed into a 128-unit condominium.
By Augustus Mayhew

In 1979 the Shah of Iran’s overthrow sparked a mini-boom for the Beverly Hills real estate market, and thirty years later, Pari-Sima Pahlavi, fka Mrs. Doreez (Peri) Dolats, nee Pari Sima Zand, is doing what she can to keep the Palm Beach market afloat, shelling out $2.5 million for her latest apartment at the Palm Beach Biltmore, according to court papers filed December 31st. Pahlavi bought a 7th-floor, 1,800-square-foot, 3-and-3 from Deena Freeman, aka Deena Morgan, who had paid $1.45 million for the unit in 2003. While some Pahlavi royals have their Vuitton Pegase packed and ready-to-roll back to the family’s imperial marble palace in Tehran, Mrs. Pahlavi previously deeded her 3,000-square-foot Biltmore penthouse into a trust for heirs, HIHs Kamyar and Sarvenaz Pahlavi, children from her marriage to the late HIH Prince Abdul Reza Pahlavi.

The island of Palm Beach has always been a sanctuary for ex-intelligence officers, their OSS Society’s member directory sometimes placed on a coffee table or nightstand stacked atop the Social Register, and none more powerful than the late controversial CIA director, William Joseph Casey, who was among “Wild Bill” Donovan’s most devoted loyalists.
A framed photograph of Sophia and William Casey rests on a living room end table at Estrella del Mar, the couple’s North End oceanfront house, being offered for sale by their daughter, Bernadette Casey Smith, a director of the William J Donovan Foundation and the OSS Society.
Step inside the Casey’s beach house at 1240 North Ocean Boulevard and in a flash you sense an aura that the owners might be napping in the next room, even though Mr. Casey, a one-time SEC chairman and Reagan campaign manager, died more than twenty years ago, and his wife, Sophia, passed away in 2000. And after more than a year on the market, Corcoran associates Elizabeth Cleckner and John Pangborn have yet to find a buyer, did they call Jack Bauer, willing to write the $9.8 million check for the 10,000-square-foot stucco-and-barrel tile Mediterranean montage sunk into potentially two lots plus a beach cabana on a smaller oceanfront lot across the street.

What Camp Casey lacks in glamorous interiors and architectural grandeur, it more than makes up for with a private beach, picturesque views and an if-these-walls-could-talk allure, much like the fascination with the old Joe Kennedy house several blocks to the south. While Corcoran’s web site offers a proficient Realtor’s tour, more adventuresome readers are invited to what might be a last look before the Cushing Demolition truck arrives, a more unconventional browse by a writer still struggling with a correspondence course from the prestigious Edith Wharton School of Business.
The beach house’s puzzling asymmetric mass might be best deciphered by a cryptographer’s enigma machine than a structural engineer. The front door is on the south side of the house; the original front is now the east side, layered by additions and modifications with second-story picture windows overlooking the ocean. Estrella del Mar’s multi-phasic façade, floor plan, irregular roof planes and modest architecture may not be suited for Palm Beach’s sophisticated 21st-century buyers who need to keep the salt spray off their Maserati Gran Turismos.
As seen from the sloping great lawn, the back of the house, the north elevation, extends from the living room’s L-shaped covered porch to the French doors leading into the library. Surprisingly, town records do not name the original architect for the original 1925 part of the house built for Mme. Jeanette Gais, the Worth Avenue couturier who had used Addison Mizner for her earlier projects. Mme. Gais would leave Palm Beach with bouquets of liens and lawsuits courtesy of her creditors. In 1927, the new owners attached another 800-square-foot addition, the first of several appendages.
A driveway sign posted at the entrance to 1240 North Ocean Blvd. A bronze bust of William J. Casey perched on a library shelf.
A pillow placed on a living room chair.
A painted concrete Virgin Mary statue with a candle is planted facing the porch on the north lawn. In the kitchen a tea kettle awaits on the back burner of a museum-vintage stainless-steel gas range-oven.
In 1977 the Caseys purchased 1240 North Ocean Blvd. from Granville Morse, shuttling between Mayknoll, their Long Island compound, and Palm Beach.

Days before William Casey was scheduled to testify at televised hearings about his role in the Iran-Contra affair, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor; shortly thereafter, he died, leaving history to Lt. Col. Oliver North and Bob Woodward.

And while, the timing of Casey’s demise is often the subject of speculation, it has never reached the air-thin level of the Kennedy assassinations.
The Way of the Cross scenes are painted on tiles seen from the terrace.
The Casey library is a paneled inner sanctum lined with book shelves in a detached building behind the garage that overlooks the north lawn and features a kitchenette and 15 chairs, an at-ease setting where generals and colonels could as easily plan disinformation campaigns and map their next coup as well as enjoy card games and watch tapes of Ronald Reagan’s old movies. Bob Woodward’s bestsellers are on almost everyone’s must-read list, except the Casey family's, where you will not find Woodward’s tome, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. The Caseys, God bless them, declared that Woodward’s 4-minute deathbed Iran-Contra confession with Mr. Casey was pulp fiction. The Caseys may want to discuss counterintelligence with Judy Belushi.
Ever wonder who reads books with titles like World Coal, The Weapons of WW III, and The Citizen Army, and who still finds time for The Age of Elegance? Think no more, as the Casey library shelves are filled with books that might have been written by former OSS information specialists who kept fighting WW II for fifty years after it ended.
Casey Beach. The oceanfront property includes a cabana, terrace and one of the island’s beautiful front-yard beaches, where better to build sandcastles, play spy games, concoct secret codes and blueprint black ops.
The author of Die Rich and Tax Free!, financial shaman, Barry Kaye, may have decided being alive and rich is better, as he and his wife, Carole, have placed their 5th-floor Watermark condo on the market with Sotheby’s at $6.7 million, having acquired it for $3.85 million in August 2006.

Watermark condominium is located on West Palm’s Flagler Drive, its 48 units on 15 floors as seen from across the Intracoastal Waterway along Palm Beach’s North Lake Trail.
Did they have time to move in? If the Kayes make off with the $2.85 million, presumably while still alive, they will leave behind an illustrious group of Watermarkites, Sheila Johnson, the General Alexander Haigs, Jean Tailer, and Veronica Atkins, among them.

The Tollmans may have reached the final gavel of United States vs. Stanley S. Tollman, Criminal Docket No. S7 02-441.

Travel magnate Stanley Tollman’s eight-page plea deal/Christmas present from the US Attorney was accepted by a federal judge during the holidays, with the US Attorney dropping all charges against his wife, Beatrice Nina Tollman, Stan Tollman pleading guilty to one count of bank fraud and only having to cough up $105 million in restitution to the IRS, $60 million payable within thirty days and the remainder over five years, secured by mortgages on Southwood, the Palm Beach house ($25 million), the New Preston, Conn., farm ($20 million) and the 485 Park Avenue apartment ($10 million).

NYSD readers may want to jot down the name Colin Passmore at Simmons and Simmons, Mrs. Tollman’s London attorney who successfully fought her extradition for six years.
The house’s name, Southwood, is carved above the front entrance door. During the 1980s Bea and Stan Tollman’s parties at the Via del Lago house were uncommon, now with criminal charges wrapped up and if Mrs. Tollman’s “depressive state” can be cured, perhaps they will return to their Wyeth-designed Palm Beach lakeside estate, albeit with a $25 million IRS lien.
Palm Beach splendor does not happen overnight as seen here along 710 South Ocean Blvd.'s east elevation. In December 2006, the Charles S Roberts Fund OAR, LLC, a Georgia-based company, bought 710 South Ocean Boulevard for $13 million, and after fifteen years of indifference, the house is undergoing an epic Palm Beach-style restoration-renovation under the watchful eye of AIA Jeffery Smith.
Upon completion, the locally-designated historic house at 710 South Ocean will feature a new two-story addition along the east elevation, a loggia to the north with a second-story addition above the loggia, a terrace along the ocean side of the house, a two-story pool pavilion, another terrace on the afternoon side of the house, a three-car garage, a set of monumental stairs, new pool and spa and additional chimneys on the East and North elevations.

The new owner is also rebuilding a previously demolished music room. Wachovia Bank has an outstanding loan on the property for $16.8 million, according to court documents.
Reportedly designed by Mrs. Alfred Kay and built in 1924 by Addison Mizner’s contractor, 710 South Ocean had additions in 1941 designed by Marion Sims Wyeth and in 1960 by architect Gustav Maass.
Veteran island builder-developer Michael Burrows, Harvard Business School’52, is usually receptive to sharing his expertise. I called him because I knew Ruth and Bernie Madoff bought one of his design-build houses on North Lake Way, and I thought, since he might be one of the only people who ever made money from Bernie Madoff, legally, he might fill me in on dealing with the Madoffs. “I can’t talk,” he said, “My son, Peter Burrows, is an editor at BusinessWeek and he’s in town working on a Madoff story.

And, here I thought my legacy would be that Rush Limbaugh bought one of my houses,” he added. I assured Mike that reporters from Maui to Mumbai were already doing Madoff-PB stories, but alas, all he told me was a writer’s ultimate dead end, “Larry Moens represented me.” Mr. Moens, Palm Beach’s most prodigious broker, has he ever talked about any of his clients?

Photographs by Augustus Mayhew

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