Thursday, February 12, 2009

Palm Beach Real Estate Roulette

Known as the first incorporated condominium in Palm Beach and Florida, 400 South Ocean Blvd. was designed by Edward Durell Stone during the late 1950s, after his renowned American Embassy in New Delhi and before the iconic Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
By Augustus Mayhew

The main event, The Town of Palm Beach vs. The United States of America, Civil Action No. 09-64L has begun in federal court. While PB’s attorneys wage a courtroom battle over the government’s failure to remedy the gilded sandbar’s beach erosion problems, the barrier island’s Realtors are trying to sell whatever sandcastles they can amidst an episodic real estate market swimming in contracting sales numbers rather than sales contracts.

Nevertheless, asking prices are holding steady, there has been a flash of condominium sales, a blue-light North End residential closing and a momentary flicker of a boom in nearby exclusive Lost Tree Village. Along with a sizeable pending condo sale at 400 South Ocean Blvd, a sixth-floor Winthrop House apartment has sold for $2.25 million to ConAir Cuisinart tycoon Leandro P. Rizzuto and his wife, Sherrie Rizzuto, of Stamford, Connecticut.
Originally intended as seasonal apartments for members of the Everglades Club, the 400 South Ocean Blvd. condominium was designed with one of Edward Durell Stone’s signature water gardens, enhanced in a restoration by the architect’s son, NYC architect Hicks Stone.
While lesser apartments remain unsold, Cristina Condon, a Sotheby’s sales associate, reports her sensational 3,400-sq.-ft. double duplex at 400 South Ocean Blvd. listed for $3.95 million is under contract, with Bebe Presenti at the Martha Gottfried office representing the buyer.

Bought in September 2003 for $2.1 million, the north duplex was extensively renovated. A penthouse was sold in the building for $3.9 million in 2005 to a Canadian partnership.
Seen at the 400 South Ocean Boulevard condominium, the building’s landscape architect, Edward Durell Stone Jr., with his father, the legendary architect, Edward Durell Stone, who kept an apartment in the building for many years. Photo courtesy of Hicks Stone.
Looking west across the water garden to the port cochere entrance of 400 South Ocean Blvd. condominium, the building’s central atrium opens to the sky.
Chris and Christine “Binkie” Orthwein have begun their own stimulus plan, closing at $5.598 million + expenses on 756 Slope Trail, most recently priced at $7.95 million, a near 40% discount from the original $8.95 million asking price and considerably more of a savings than the $10+ million once asked for the property.

Scott Gordon, associate at Fite & Shavell represented the seller; a Jeffrey Cloninger associate, Michael Montgomery, represented the buyer.

The cash transaction was completed by Mr. Orthwein’s various trusts, established by his father, Adolphous Busch Orthwein, scion of the St. Louis brewery family with a longtime presence in Palm Beach, Gulf Stream and Wellington. Mr. and Mrs. Orthwein are moving from their South Flagler Drive “So-So” house to their new North End digs.

These days all the various Orthwein-Busch brothers, half-brothers and cousins can be found at Stephen Orthwein’s 500+ acre Port Mayaca Polo Club, a forty-minute drive west of Wellington, where 10-20 goal polo tournaments are in full swing until April under the direction of Memo Gracida.
Reportedly, the 756 Slope Trail closing was the most substantial residential sale in the North End during the past several months.
The modest frame cottage at 300 Seabreeze may not be Palm Beach’s grandest or most historical, offered at $2.25 million by Corcoran associate Rosalind Clark, but it does proffer a priceless location, next door to best-selling author, Ann Coulter.

With Miss Coulter a ficus hedge away, where she claims homestead exemption as her principal residence, you need only lounge around your backyard pool to overhear memorable maxims and adages that you would otherwise have to pay to read in her page-turning books or decipher from her tongue-twisting acrobatics on talk shows. Coulter paid $1.8 million for her Mission-style property four years ago.
300 Seabreeze is a prize-winning artfully staged 1,700-sq.-ft. renovation featuring three bedrooms, purchased in 2006 for $1.525 million, having previously sold five months before at $950,000.
Out west in Wellington, horseman Harry R. Gill has pocketed $4.8 million for his 5.2 acre parcel on Pierson Road that sold to Canadian show horse impresario Susan E. Grange of Ontario’s Lothlorien Farm. In December 2005 Gill paid $3.8 million for the acreage adjacent to Mark Bellissimo’s Far Niente Stables. Since 2003, Susan Grange has purchased more than $12 million worth of Wellington‘s horse country in several transactions.

Up in Lost Tree Village there is no sign of a down turn. CEO of the CVS $30 billion drugstore empire, Thomas M. Ryan, and his wife, Kathy Ryan, sold their Turtle Beach Road golf course house for $6 million to the Getaway Trust, Constance Pathy, Trustee. The Pathy family owns Montreal-based FedNav, Canada’s largest shipping fleet.

Then, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan jumped across the street and paid $11.271 million to Llwyd Ecclestone III and his wife, Patricia Ecclestone, for their Old Harbour Road Intracoastal Waterway house, believed-to-be one of the highest prices ever paid for a Lost Tree waterfront. Just four months ago Palm Beach Pops director Robert Lappin paid $8.66 million to live two doors away from the Ecclestone’s 10,000-square-foot house. A Lost Tree oceanfront is available at $15.9 million and an Old Harbour Rd. point lot Intracoastal Waterway house can still be bought for $14.9 million. And, in the one-degree-of-separation department, Llywd III’s uncle, Edward Durell Stone, Jr., and his aunt, Mrs. Edward Durell Stone, Jr., aka, Helen Ecclestone Stone, live just down the street in a Turtle Beach Road condo.
The Palm Beach Town Council has approved the façade at 236 Worth Avenue for listing in the local Palm Beach Register of Historic Places.
Although Worth Avenue shopkeepers have resisted attempts to forge an historic district that would extend the full-length of this renowned destination, several buildings are individually designated, including Via Mizner and the Everglades Club. On February 11th the Town Council approved the Landmarks Commission’s designation of 236 Worth Avenue, the simply sublime Deco Moderne granite-and-Monel façade showcase for Betteridge Jewelers, formerly Greenleaf & Crosby. Betteridge, the tenant, supported the designation while the property owner, Burt Handelsman, the largest owner of commercial property in the Worth Avenue area, objected to the designation, stating “Landmarking would take away the usefulness of the building.”

The black granite façade is trimmed with Monel, a durable nickel alloy that preceded the more popular, less expensive stainless steel. Patented in 1906 and named for Ambrose Monell (1873-1921), president of the International Nickel Co., Monel was widely-used for equipment and instruments. In 1910, Ambrose Monell joined Thomas Edison in forming a national Inventors' Guild. Monell’s son, Edmund Monell, was a long time Palm Beach resident, as are his children and their families.

Photographs by Augustus Mayhew

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