Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Palm Beach Real Estate Roulette

Things are looking up in Palm Beach. The 300 South Ocean Boulevard apartment building is one of Midtown's architectural landmarks, designed by architect Howard Chilton.
by Augustus Mayhew

As Palm Beach's real estate roulette wheel twitched and wobbled for much of last year, I often wondered how much longer I could spin the flip-flops and lateral moves before my column went kaput. Then, abracadabra, the island's tip-top house movers have spent the past ten days wrapping up the decade with an upbeat tic. Real estate's pyramidal investment strategy, popularized in California more than forty years ago based on the location-location-location mantra, must undergo a one-eighty makeover if it is ever to regain former confidence levels as a viable cyclical, considering its foundation has been supplanted by financing-financing-financing and the illusive math of square footage. Although 2010's scenario may include increased upside-down meltdowns, more than several mansions are heavily mortgaged, there is measurably less ennui and more expectation of a turnaround within the list-and-sell clique.

At Publix last week I was standing somewhere between the bananas and the nuts when I overheard that even when/if the Picower estate settles with the Madoff trustee, philanthropist Barbara Picower will not be leaving her Billionaire's Row oceanfront cottage. Sometimes, this translates in Palm Beach speak as, a few brokers might have already made their first overtures. Over on the cereal aisle, a couple were sounding thrilled that "Cats" was being promised as the Theatre Guild's first production if live theater returns to Palm Beach.
Shuttered for years, the Royal Poinciana Playhouse's fate could be decided in the next several months or the drama will continue in the courts for the next decade.
You remember, "live theater" was when road shows performed Neil Simon and Noel Coward comedies and faced what was known politely during my years spent backstage in the theater world as the most challenging audience in America. Palm Beach audiences were notorious, aside from the Royal Poinciana Plaza and Playhouse's perceived locational, structural, functional and economic obsolescence, already reported to have set in by the late 1970s when big name retailers were replaced with service professionals, and the theater became known more as a matinee house.

Some theatergoers didn't bother whispering when the house lights went down, they yakked it up as if they were in their living rooms. So much so, that once, a play's star stopped the show to ask audience members to shut up. Not only did PBers arrive late and left whenever they liked, but their stampede to valet parking during curtain calls made for theater legend.

For many years, I worked with Jim Riley, at one time the theater's tech consultant, producer and set designer. Jim's father, James F. Riley, a Palm Beach Town Councilman, was Bessemer's VP in charge of real estate in New York and Florida who supervised the plaza and playhouse construction project. I can not recall how many marathon weekends were spent on the nightmare logistics caused by the theater's incurable waterfront location, albeit scenic and much to the delight of the union stagehands and matinee bus drivers.

Opening Night at the Theater in 1958.
Hardly ever, if ever, was the theater capable of accommodating a complete touring show, many set pieces spent the show's run in the plaza's most spacious feature, the parking lot. At the January 20 Landmarks meeting, or some later extended date, commissioners must reconcile the paradox of having landmarked a misplaced somewhat 19th-century notion that defies the principles of adaptive re-use and may exist best as a 21st-century virtual reality where Palm Beach first-night glamour can be eternally relived with a mouse click.

Nonetheless, the Town Council will deliver the last word on the plaza and playhouse, who more familiar with the civility and grace of the well-mannered Palm Beach audience. That is, unless the International Court of Justice, The World Court at The Hague agrees to hear the case in 2020. And, with three Council seats in play for the town's February election, expect the winter months of public meetings to be the best stage show in town.

Here are some notable sales, some notes between deals, a spotlight on architect Howard Chilton's work, superbly-crafted Mid-century buildings lacking barrel tile and loggias but no less significant in their Ike & JFK era style and some images from my weekend visit to Winter Park for a portrait photography workshop.

Krakoff sells Blossom Estate waterfront for $10.65 million

The executive creative director and president of Coach Inc., Reed Krakoff, sold a vacant Blossom Estate 5.98-acre parcel for $10.65 million to attorney Ronald S. Kochman, as trustee under the 1255 S. Ocean Blvd. Realty Trust. The property consists of two combined waterfront lots that include a protected sanctuary within the Blossom Estate subdivision. In 2004, Mr. Krakoff paid $9.4 million for the lakefront acreage adjacent to an Audubon Society bird sanctuary and buffered by a mangrove area. Architect Richard Meier designed a multi-level house for the Old Palm Beach setting but later Krakoff decided against building. At one time, the property was listed for $19.75 million. The county's property appraiser's record shows a current appraised value of $10.7 million. Lawrence A. Moens, of Lawrence A. Moens Associates, was the listing agent and selling broker.
Built in c. 1893 and considered Palm Beach's earliest oceanfront house, Figulus, a 17-acre ocean-to-lake estate, was conveyed by Charles W. Bingham in 1919 to his daughter, Elizabeth Bingham Blossom. To his other daughter, Frances Payne Bingham Bolton, he deeded the parcel to the south, where she built Casa Apava at 1300 S. Ocean Blvd. In November 1942, court records show that the family extended a 99-year lease to the Audubon Society on the northern lakefront part of their property. After Elizabeth Blossom's death in 1972, the property was deeded to her daughter, Mary Blossom Lee. The main house, Figulus, was placed in the National Register in 1972 and demolished in 1974. Nearly a decade later, Lee's heirs sold the entire estate . Subsequently, developer Michael Burrows subdivided the historic estate into nine lots. Photo Library of Congress.
Sale Johnson buys Bear's Club estate for $4.95M

Nancy Sale Frey Johnson-Rashad,
a former Wellington resident, paid $4.95 million to Dev Bala Van Lefferdink and Morgan Van Lefferdink for 124 Bear's Club Drive, Jupiter. The sale amount appears to be equal to the existing mortgages on the property. Following her divorce from Johnson & Johnson heir and New York Jets owner Robert Wood Johnson IV, Sale Johnson sold her Fairway Island residence in Wellington for $1.875 million to Mark and Katherine Bellissimo. In 2007, Sale Johnson married Ahmad Rashad, Emmy-Award-winning sportscaster and a former NFL football star. The new Bear's Club residence was listed for $6.995 million. The five-bedroom house with a guest house was described as an "Italianate estate with every conceivable luxury appointment," situated on a 2-acre lot overlooking the Bear's Club signature Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. In 2001, the Lefferdinks, who are New Canaan, Conn., residents, purchased the lot for $1.15 million from The Bear's Club Development Co. The property was listed with The Bear's Club Sotheby's International Realty.

Dexter Shoe heir pays $4.1 million for Watermark condo

The estate of Alexander Grass sold a One Watermark Place condo, unit 1004, at 622 North Flagler Drive, West Palm Beach, for $4.1 million to Waterville, Maine residents Peter and Paula Lunder. In 2004, the seller paid $4.35M. In 1993, the late Dexter Shoe founder and Two North Breakers Row resident, Harold Alfond, and his nephew, Mr. Lunder, the company president, sold the family's Maine-based biz to Warren Buffet for $415+ million. Several years ago, when the Lunders donated their art collection to Colby College, they were described as "famously simple" by the Boston Globe.

Lawrence J. and Florence
A. De George.
Philanthropist sells waterfront estate for $6.15 million

Notable philanthropist Florence A. DeGeorge sold her Admiral's Cove Intracoastal Waterway estate at 176 Spyglass Lane, Jupiter, for $6.15 million to John L. and Doris W. Notter. The five-bedroom house with 365 feet of waterfront on 1.4 acres had reportedly been listed for $7.9 million. Lawrence DeGeorge, Mrs. DeGeorge's late husband who passed away in April 2009, was a former CEO of Times Wire and Cable. Mr. and Mrs. DeGeorge were benefactors for many local causes including the Florence DeGeorge Boy's and Girl's Club, completed in 2006 in West Palm Beach.

In June 2009 Mrs. DeGeorge purchased a smaller waterfront house at 3132 Cassekey Island Road in nearby Jonathan's Landing for $1.975 million. A director with Hilton Worldwide and the Conrad Hilton Foundation, Mr. Notter's business interests are in California and Florida. Previously, after selling their 196 Spyglass Court house for $4.7 million in 2007, Mr. and Mrs. Notter bought another Admiral's Cove house at 122 Victory Drive for $1.975 million.

NYC attorneys buy North End landmark for $4.76 million

Park Avenue residents Brian Wille and Robin Remick paid $4.76 million to L. E. Bierly, Jr. and Christopher P. Drake for their 315 Tangier Avenue house, the 2007 Ballinger Award-winner designed in the two-story plantation style during the 1930s by architect John Volk. The house was previously priced at $6.4M before being retagged at $5.9M. Paulette Koch and Dana Koch, associates with The Corcoran Group represented the sellers. Mr. Bierly and Mr. Drake, of the Boston-based Bierly-Drake Associates interior design firm, paid $3.05 million in 2005 for "Magnolia House" and began an extensive renovation. In 2006 Bierly & Drake sold 243 Garden Road for $3.5 million, purchasing it in 2003 for $1.85 million. In 2008 the design team became the fourth owners within the past five years of 230 Esplanade, landing it for $1.5 million.

Landmarked Casa Giravento sold for $9.3 million
The landmarked Maurice Fatio-designed house in the South End estate section sold in 76 days.
Edward Falcone sold 115 Via la Selva, known as Casa Giravento, for $9.3 million to Edward and Selaine Niedel. In 2004 Mr. Falcone bought the historic mansion situated on nearly one acre for $7.3 million. Built for Warner L. Jones in 1928, Casa Giravento was known for more than forty years as the seasonal residence of Detroit real estate tycoon, Wesson Seyburn, and his wife, Winifred Dodge Seyburn, daughter of auto pioneer, John Dodge. In what was PB's version of "Dodge City," Mrs. Seyburn's sister, Isabel Dodge Sloane, lived nearby at Concha Marina and her aunt, Mrs. Horace E. Dodge, owned Playa Riente, regarded as Addison Mizner's most magnificent house. Upon Mrs. Seyburn's death in 1980, her estate sold the Via la Selva property. Rosalind Clarke and Laura Coyner, agents with The Corcoran Group, listed the house for $9.95 million. Paulette Koch and Dana Koch, also associates with The Corcoran Group, represented the buyer.

Between the deals

North Lake Way residents for more than 35 years, Robert and Arlette Gordon are selling their spectacular 3-story lakefront house. Tagged at $16.9M by their son, Scott Gordon, a Fite Shavell associate, the Gordon house may not qualify for a landmark plaque but it does seem the Gordons lived there forever. Even in a town where walls and hedges have turned nearly every house into its own medieval fiefdom, don't miss a peek at the 1220 South Ocean $60+/- million spec chateau's entrance gates. The decade may be ending but South Ocean Boulevard royal Conrad Black, the Socrates of conservatism, remains locked up, while the resort's intelligence community deciphers the latest update on Rush Limbaugh's condition. Yes, Eles Gillet is living next door to Rachel Uchitel.

Palm Beach Modern: Howard Chilton (1909-1992)
A 389 South Lake Drive sales brochures illustrates the 1960's luxe life as designed by Howard Chilton. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
“You must capture the view, the sun’s rotation, the prevailing wind,” said architect Thomas Howard Chilton, in describing his design style for a 1980’s Palm Beach Daily News interview. A Florida native and the son of a carpenter, Chilton graduated from Palm Beach High School before attending NYU’s School of Fine Arts and Architecture (1931). Affiliated with a New York firm before moving to Palm Beach during the 1940s, Chilton designed more than 15 distinctive S-shaped Midtown apartment buildings and 700 houses during his fifty-year career in the Palm Beach area.

Known for his iconic Florida Modern style, Mr. Chilton was a versatile architect with practiced innovative design skills. Many of his residential designs could be found throughout Palm Beach and Martin counties as well as the island’s North End, where during the past 25 years many Mid-century Modern houses were demolished during the ongoing make-every-house-a-mansion movement.
Howard Chilton was sued by an island organization for his bold Modernist design for a bank building at 180 Royal Palm Way, accused of “defiling the beauty of Palm Beach.” The lawsuit was settled when Chilton agreed to a compromise, placing a colossal portico on the building’s façade. While his critics were satisfied, thirty years later, the hybrid contradictory design elements make for one of the town’s most anomalous buildings.
“I have tried to get away from square boxes and was inspired by the curvilinear lines found in Greek amphitheaters,” Chilton said, when talking about his iconic serpentine wave-shaped buildings that give PB’s Midtown streets their sense of panache. Mr. Chilton's wife, Sylvia Chilton, was a noted Palm Beach artist. For their Ibis Island Intracoastal point house, now demolished, the noted architect opted for a round living room.

In a 1960 speech at The Colony Hotel, Howard Chilton predicted that during the following three to five years, Palm Beach would see a phenomenal growth of co-ops and condominiums from Royal Palm Way to Worth Avenue, making for what became one of the town's major building booms as well as the introduction of the parking garage into the local landscape.

Here is a glance when Modernism reigned as Palm Beach's most popular architectural style and a brief showcase of Howard Chilton’s accomplished, yet overlooked, Mid-century Modern designs.

The Lake Drive Apartments, 455 Australian Avenue
The Lake Drive Apartments, 455 Australian. One of Chilton's earliest Florida Modern buildings, designed along with noted NYC architect, George F. Pelham, Jr., the building features transitional late 40s-early 50s ele
300 South Ocean Boulevard
A view from Brazilian Avenue of Howard Chilton's 300 South Ocean Boulevard cooperative.
From the fourth floor of the 300 South Ocean cooperative building, the view looking southeast towards the Midtown beach.
Looking southeast towards the oceanfront from 300 South Ocean's second-floor terrace, designed with a casual Tropical Modern ambience.
300 South Ocean, under construction. Courtesy of 300 South Ocean cooperative.
300 South Ocean's spacious penthouse floor plan and specs.
A view from the pool, located in a courtyard on the building's west side. Just amazing! What looked to me like one of Palm Beach's oldest surviving coconut trees found sheltered on 300 South Ocean's west side.
300 South Ocean's T-shaped aerodynamic design is highlighted in this circa 1961 view, looking southwest from above the ocean. Note, to the right, a glimpse of La Fontana, one of Addison Mizner's greatest houses designed in 1923 for George Luke Mesker. While interior photos are part of the Historical Society's collection, this view of La Fontana with additions by Mizner and Fatio is extremely rare, possibly the only known photograph. Demolished shortly after this aerial was taken to make room for the One Royal Way condominium, also a Howard Chilton design, what some believe may be La Fontana's linen-fold paneling can be found in Park Place's lobby, another Chilton building on South Lake Drive. Courtesy of the 300 South Ocean Boulevard co-operative.
One Royal Palm Way, 100 Royal Palm Way
The One Royal Palm Way condominium is located where La Fontana once stood, just to the north of 300 South Ocean Boulevard.
One Royal Palm's port cochere entrance is similar to Southlake's.
The Mizner Industries fountain at the entrance to One Royal Palm Way was from La Fontana's courtyard.
Park Place, 369 South Lake Drive
The Park Place cooperative was among Howard Chilton's earliest lakefront apartment building designs.
At Park Place, the V-shaped pool is set within the curvilinear courtyard.
In Park Place's lobby, the linen fold paneling is believed by some to have been salvaged from Addison Mizner's La Fontana before it was demolished.
The Park Place lobby has two carved doors that also look much like Mizneresque imports.
The Southlake, 315 South Lake Drive
A view of the Southlake condominium's entrance from Brazilian Avenue.
The Southlake's port cochere entrance.
An early afternoon view of Southlake, looking southeast from the pool.
Southlake's kidney-shaped concrete sunshade captures the era's functional aesthetic.
The mix of open and enclosed balconies makes for Southlake's varied dimensional facade facing Lake Worth and the town's Marina.
Melbourne House, 227 Australian Avenue
The Melbourne House condominium building is one of Midtown's most attractive Mid-century designs.
The Melbourne House pool is situated in front of the building. The Melbourne House lower level port cochere entrance.
The Australian of Palm Beach, 429 Australian Avenue
The Australian condominium was built during the mid-1970s.
389 South Lake Drive
From South Lake Drive to Peruvian Avenue, the 389 South Lake co-operative building commands an impressive presence.
The flared geometric port cochere at 389 South Lake.
The exterior reception is furnished with black wrought-iron furniture.
The entrance is accessorized with a pair of matching Modernist-era plaques.
2500 South Ocean Boulevard
For a nearly ten-acre oceanfront parcel adjacent to the Palm Beach Par Three Golf Course, Howard Chilton designed an ensemble of buildings during the mid-1970s that were sited to take full advantage of the views and sea breezes.
The Crescent, West Palm Beach
A panoramic view from the South Lake Drive marina looking towards West Palm Beach where the first building on the left, now the Trianon, was the proposed location in 1962 for a 21-story apartment building designed by Howard Chilton called The Crescent.
Palm Beach Memorial Park, Hypoluxo
Designed in 1960-1961 as offices for a private cemetery, this Chilton-designed arched office building with a pylon was featured in national magazines.
Considered one of the area's most Modernist designs, the Palm Beach Memorial Park building is one of Howard Chilton's most iconic buildings.
Along with the main building, Chilton designed sculptural features for each of the cemetery's gardens and mausoleums. On the other side of "The Whole World in his Hands,." my family's plot where my grandfather and father are buried.
Rollins College & Winter Park Ramble
Established in 1885, the Rollins College campus is an architectural oasis, a welcome reprieve from Greater Orlando's theme parks. The college's president from 1896-1902, Reverend George Morgan Ward, left Rollins to become Henry Flagler's pastor at the Royal Poinciana Chapel in Palm Beach.
Renowned church architect, Ralph Adams Cram, known for his Church of St. John Divine and St. Thomas Church in NYC and the Princeton University Chapel, designed the college's imposing chapel in the MedRev style in 1931-1932.
Built c. 1910 as the college's library and administration building, now Carnegie Hall houses the English department, human resources and the international programs offices.
Lyman Hall is one of several MedRev style residential buildings credited to architect Richard Kiehnel (1870-1944), of Kiehnel & Elliott, a Pittsburgh-based firm that also designed several notable buildings in Coral Gables and Miami Beach.
Located at Lyman Hall, the ROC is one of the college's special interest clubs.
Architectural details are as eclectic as they are Mediterranean.
Rollins College claims the largest longest-running Walk of Fame in the United States.
Just a few steps north of the Rollins campus, downtown Winter Park's shops and restaurants are some of Florida's most sublime aesthetic attractions.
A favorite for years, on this trip the Briar Patch looked pinched by the influx of Starbucks, Panera and other chains on Park Avenue.
My weekend photo workshop was at the Crealde Art Center, a cluster of one-story lakefront buildings clustered like a small serene Spanish village near the Rollins campus.
"It is always the gold reflectors that really works the magic," said portrait photography instructor Patrick Van Dusen, touching on the fine points of reflectors with the help of an assistant.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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