A little less than a month ago, a newly-constructed mansion in Palm Beach, Florida hit the market. The asking price? $140 million. A truly stunning amount. Even more stunning? The home reportedly just sold for an amount that's being described as "close to asking". If the home officially closes at that level, it will be the second-most expensive single family home sale in US history, behind Jeff Bezos' $165 million LA mansion, which was acquired in February 2020. Also, just FYI, technically hedge fund manager Ken Griffin paid $238 million for five-units of a building in Manhattan back in January 2019, with the intention of converting them into one huge apartment. But we don't consider this a single-family residential purchase. The home that just sold in Palm Beach has a really interesting backstory dating back over 100 years. A backstory that involves former President Donald Trump, the richest person in America in the 1930s, a multi-billion dollar divorce settlement, a Russian billionaire and even Jeffrey Epstein…
First, a little backstory.
A decade ago, where today's $140 million mansion sits, you would have seen an unimaginably large and ornate mansion called Maison de L'Amitié ("house of friendship" in French). The property featured a 61,744 square-foot French provincial-style mansion on 150-feet of ocean frontage. The property's tennis house was 8,200 square-feet. It also had a large pool and guest houses on top of sprawling green grounds that would impress a Saudi King.
Here's what it looked like:
The original property (different from what you see above) was built in 1917 by an heir to the financial analytics company Dun & Bradstreet. In 1930, the original owner Robert Dun Douglass, sold the home to a man named Harrison Williams. Harrison earned a fortune in electric utilities. In 1930, Harrison's net worth was estimated at $680 million. That's the same as around $10.6 billion today. He was described for a time as the richest person in America. At his peak he was easily one of the richest people in the world, excluding royalty.
Harrison died in 1953. In 1974, his widow Mona sold the property to oil magnate Charles Wrightsman and his wife Jayne. Charles died in 1986. A year earlier, he and Jayne sold the home to Les Wexner for $10 million. Wexner earned his fortune through retail conglomerate The Limited, owner of brands like Victoria's Secret. Decades later Wexner's reputation would be tarnished by his decades-long, mysterious association with Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein makes another appearance in this story in a moment.
Wexner tore what was then a 100-year-old mansion down to the ground. Three years later, in 1988, Wexner sold a partially-completed new home to a man named Abe Gosman for $12 million.
Abe Gosman was an interesting character. He earned a fortune that, in the mid-1990s, topped $500 million ($900 million in today's dollars). His source of wealth? Nursing homes. At its peak, Abe's company Meditrust was the largest health care real estate trust in the US with 233 facilities in 34 states.
Abe and his girlfriend Lin Castre built the mansion you see in the photo above, and named it Maison de L'Amitie. Luciano Pavarotti was flown in to celebrate the completion of the mansion with 250 guests.
Unfortunately, the party did not last for Mr. Gosman. By the early 2000s Medicare cutbacks and health law changes decimated his empire.
In 2001 Abe Gosman filed for bankruptcy. In his filing he listed assets of $250 million and liabilities of $233 million. In 2003 he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation, at which point his most valuable assets hit the auction block.
Enter Donald Trump
On January 7, 2005 Donald Trump bought Maison de L'Amitie out of a bankruptcy auction for $41.35 million. Trump topped two other bidders. One of the losers was Jeffrey Epstein.
Trump later claimed that he performed $25 million worth of upgrades and renovations to the property. Property records would later show that he performed modest upgrades, including a new kitchen, some renovated bedrooms and "some minor interior alterations of doors, frames and windows."
In 2006 Donald listed the home for $125 million. It was the most expensive listing in American history up to that point.
Trump lowered the price to $120 million then $100 million…
Enter Dmitry Rybolovlev
In the summer of 2008, fresh off a soaring IPO and just a few months before global real estate markets collapsed on an unprecedented level, a Russian billionaire named Dmitry Rybolovlev popped onto the scene.
Dmitry Rybolovlev is yet another interesting character to own Maison. In the late 80s and 1990s Dmitry was working as an emergency cardiologist at a small Russian hospital. During this time he met and married a former classmate named Elena. This will be important in a moment.
In 1992, Dmitry and Elena moved to Moscow where he founded an investment company. Over the next few years he made a nice little fortune through wise investments in potassium mining. In 1995 he poured his earnings into a recently-privatized fertilizer company called Uralkali.
There was a little speed-bump. In 1996 Dmitry spent 11 months in prison after being accused of murdering a rival businessman.
After being released from prison (because the only living witness recanted his testimony), Dmitry moved his family to Geneva, Switzerland. He spent the next decade growing Uralkali into Russia's largest fertilizer maker.
In 2007, he took Uralkali public on the London Stock Exchange.
In 2010, Dmitry sold around half of his shares to a group of investors for $5.3 billion.
Let's get back to Palm Beach.
Dmitry agreed to buy Maison de L'Amitie from Trump for $95 million. At the time it was the most expensive residential property sale in US history. In theory, had he waited just a few months or a year, when most of Florida was foreclosing, Dmitry probably could have picked up Maison de L'Amitie for a dollar just to get it off Trump's books.
A few months after Dmitry made the purchase, his wife Elena filed for divorce due to his "serial infidelity". She would later accuse Dmitry of using offshore trusts and large asset acquisitions, for example a $100 million mansion in Florida, as a tool to hide billions in wealth. In a 2011 divorce deposition, Dmitry denied owning the Palm Beach property.
He never spent a single night at the home and would later claim to have never met Donald Trump once during his lifetime.
In 2014 a Geneva court ordered Dmitry to pay Elena half of his fortune, $4.8 billion. It would have been the largest divorce settlement in history up to that point. Dmitry appealed and the couple eventually reached an undisclosed amicable settlement.
In 2016, Dmitry filed a plan with Palm Beach county that would allow him to raze Maison de L'Amitie and subdivide the property into three lots.
In 2017, a home builder named Mark Pulte bought one of the three lots for $37 million. He proceeded to build the home that just sold for $140 million. Below is a video tour of the $140 million mansion. The buyer's identity is not known, but the Wall Street Journal described him/her as a "New Yorker relocating to Florida amid the pandemic".
As you watch, remember, this is just one of three lots that was carved out of the former Maison de L'Amitie property:
The above home is 21,000 square-feet. According to its listing description it has a mix of hardwood and stone floors, a large bar, game room, wine cellar, outdoor movie theater and a massive pool with submerged sun loungers.
What About the Other Two Lots?
Good question! Just to quickly recap. In 2016 Dmitry Rybolovlev tore down Maison de L'Amitie and subdivided the property into three lots. The lot that just sold for $140 million is the one on the left, facing the ocean.
What's the status of the lots 2 and 3?
Dmitry actually has already sold both of those lots. He sold lot #3 in 2016 for $34.3 million. He sold lot #2 for $37.3 million in 2019. In total, Dmitry sold the three lots for $108.6 million, about $13 million more than he paid Donald Trump back in 2008. Likely a loss after a decade's worth of demolition costs, property taxes, maintenance etc…
I couldn't determine the owners of those two lots after a quick googling, and this article is already way longer than I intended. But it was worth it, no?
And we will certainly update you when we learn the identity of the buyer of today's $140 million mansion. My money is on Ken Griffin.