With home sales doubled from last year and prices beginning to rise, older “conch houses” in the historic Key West district are selling.   

They are wooden homes, sometimes with second-story galleries and gingerbread decorations, brightly colored, and have pretty gardens.  Early settlers built their homes out of mortar made from sand, water and lime which was obtained by burning conch shells before being built with wood.  Some are set on piers for air circulation, and have sloping metal roofs to reflect heat and to carry clean water from gutters to a storage cistern.  Other features that are typical include louvered shutters, porches and verandahs.  The tongue and groove wood used in walls, ceiling and flooring give rigidity to resist hurriannes. 

Some, however, are not in great shape, need fix-up, and may be hard to finance. 

Homes in resort areas, sometimes referred to as “paradise communities,” can be pricey.  Due to the approximately 60% price drops for homes, buyers now include teachers, taxi drivers, bank tellers and members of the military stationed at the local Navy base.  Some historic properties, however, remain priced in the millions of dollars.


SOLD FOR $50,000,000?

Listed at $2500 per sq ft, a 20,000 sq ft Bel Air, California uber-mansion on l.76 acres was reported sold for the list price of $50,000,000.  This sale brings luxury, opulence and comfort back to the market with its impeccable and extremely tasteful interior, suitable for the most discerning buyer. 

Built in 2003, there are 8 bedrooms and 16 bathrooms and rolling park-like grounds within this gated, private compound. Seller is Bren Simon, widow of Melvin Simon who owned Simon Property Group, the largest public US real estate company and builder of many of the nation’s malls.

The property was purchased in the summer of 2006 for $27,500,275, and in June of 2007, the owners purchased the property next door for $8,800,000, knocked down the existing house and replaced it with a private parking area.  The house is 3 stories high, has a subterranean garage with parking for 10 cars, 7 fireplaces, 1 elevator, a guest house and poolside lounge.  The master bedroom is an astonishing 2000 sq ft.

The driveway is crushed granite.  Lavishly appointed interiors include a living room with over-sized herringbone patterned hardwood floor, wood coffered ceiling, and many French doors that open out to terraces and gardens that ring the residence.  The formal dining room is banquet hall size.  The library has intricately detailed and inlaid wood paneling and celadon accents.

Family quarters include a gourmet kitchen, media/music room, billiard room, wine cellar and exercise area, spa and pool.  The rectangular outdoor pool is between the house and the Bel Air Country Club golf course.  



Why do it? Being designated as a historic district can result in higher property values and access to grants and financial assistance for maintenance and repairs.

How long could this take? Working up to 20 hours a week, it could take 6 months or more. Be ready for intensive research, paperwork, local government involvement, surveys, and you may want a consultant.

What to research? Neighborhood architecture, be sure it is historic, photograph homes and streetscapes, survey property lines, and contact local and state historic officials and any historic preservation society, city or state groups nearby. Learn about any well known people who lived in the area in the past as well as currently.

Why hire a consultant ($5000-$20,000 or more)? A qualified consultant can do the paperwork, understand architectural terms, determine if properties are historic, usually meaning 50 or more years old. Exceptions could be properties associated with major events.

Suggestion: Contact your town’s state representative to determine boundaries of the historic district you want to create. Local designations may involve a town zoning board vote.

Know this: you may find opposition from neighbors and if so, an individual owner can decline to have their home listed. People may be upset if they cannot change any parts of their homes without a lot of paperwork to get permission.

What are the Designation differences?: Restrictions differ with local, state and national designations, so learn the differences. National designation is the most lenient; state designations tend to follow them. Local designations are the most restrictive and usually are included in municipal preservation ordinances. Restrictions can include colors of paint, additions or how windows and/or roofing are replaced. The National Park Service administers the National Register of Historic Places, which is considered the most prestigious designation. It is honorary and does not limit what owners can do to their homes. National and State designated properties are usually overseen by State Historic Preservation Officers. Most complaints are at the local level, but homes with local AND national designations tend to increase in value more than those with only a national designation, perhaps due to more oversight and more neighborhood involvement.



Last June, Ennis House in the gated Los Feliz section of Los Angeles, built in 1924, went on the market for $15MM, and in February price was lowered to $10.495MM, now is listed at $7.495M.   There are two buildings, a main house and smaller chauffeur’s apartment, separated by a paved courtyard.

Ennis House is one of the first residences constructed from concrete block, which Wright transformed from cold industrial concrete to a warm decorative material.  This material is inexpensive, and can be ugly, but he transformed the interlocking pre-cast concrete block into very attractive designs based on ancient Mayan temples, sometimes referred to as Mayan Revivial Architecture. He used 16” modular blocks with geometric repeats.  This is his 4th and largest concrete block construction.

There are 4 bedrooms, 4.5 baths within 6000 living sq ft. in this historic offering.   Perched on a hill, panoramic sweeping views are of the canyon, ocean and city.   

Included are soaring wood-beamed ceilings, window-lined loggia framing the pool, flowing multi-tiered floor plan, prairie-style leaded art glass which graduates in intensity from darker at the top to lighter at the bottom, mitered windows and one of only four glass mosaic tile fireplaces, this one with a wisteria motif mosaic.

The house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The City of Los Angeles has declared the house a Cultural Heritage Monument and it has been designated a California State Landmark.  In 2008 the house was included as one of the top ten houses of all time in the Los Angeles Times.  The house was used for several Hollywood movies.

Approximately $10MM has been estimated for future preservation efforts.  The house had serious damage from earthquakes and rainstorms.  Even before its completion Ennis House had structural instability as blocks had cracked and lower sections of walls buckled under tension.  Air pollution was one cause of premature decay, and applying a protective coating caused additional problems.     

A FEMA grant was issued in 2006 to add a new structural support system, restoration or replacement of damaged blocks, windows, and a new roof and completed in 2007 at a cost of over $6MM.



TAKE NOTE THOSE OF YOU WHO WILL BE IN THE KANKAKEE AREA IN EARLY JUNE and see March 18th, 2010 article on this blog about the KANKAKEE house:

Thanks Marilyn for the posting!! "Wright in Kankakee" is a non-profit organization in Kankakee, IL. We are excited to announce that Thomas Heinz, AIA author of approx. 30 books on Frank Lloyd Wright, will be presenting a lecture at the Kankakee Public Library on June 7, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. 

"Wright in Kankakee" is very fortunate to have his support behind their efforts to purchase the house and introduce this beautiful historic building as a House Museum. We invite all interested parties to participate.  We appreciate your support as well.



Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous and beautiful Falling Water property in Pennsylvania was depicted on a postage stamp in a 1982 “American Architecture” series.  
The house was designed in 1934, partly built over a waterfall in Bear Run, 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  Time Magazine called it Wright’s “most beautiful job” at that time, and Smithsonian Magazine has the property on a Life List of 28 places “to visit before… it’s too late.”  

 In 1966 it was designated a National Historic Landmark and in 1991, American Institute of Architects members named the house, the “best all-time work of American architecture”.  In 2007 AIA has it ranked 29th on the list of America’s Favorite Architecture.  Tours are available and there is a Gift Shop on the premises.



1,500 - 1,600 of the uber-wealthy now reside in a Miami-Dade County 216-acre historical site, built in 1935 for the winter estate of William and Rosamund Vanderbilt.

Most live in exclusive condos with only a handful of stand-alone homes on the island, and most are part-time residents.  There are 760 equity club members, paying a $250,000 initiation fee, plus annual dues of $18,500 for the basic membership and $4,500 a year for golf.  Food and drink costs at the island's 8 bars and restaurants is additional.  Non-residents pay a $26,700 initial fee with yearly dues starting at $20,600.

Wanting to stay competitive with other famous hot spots favored by wealthy clientele, there will be $60-MM in upgrades coming.  There will be new bars and restaurants and an extension of the beach area.  Extensive new landscaping will be done.  The local Island Market Deli will expand and an upscale Italian restaurant will be redesigned.  Town Center's pool will get a fountain.  The Mansion, a main gathering place for events, will have new restoration to the marble and woodwork, with an eye to maintaining historical integrity.  

So far $25mm has been spent since 2007 on items such as:
  • extensive landscaping and a new irrigation system for the 9-hole par 35 Pete Dye championship golf course
  • Two new outdoor liquor bars at the beach area and a new sushi bar
  • Extra sand was trucked in to extend the beach about 8'
  • The exotic bird collection will move from the Vanderbilt Mansion to an area where the noise does not disturb events
  • Some of the island's hotel units will be upgraded
  • 14 clay, 2 grass and 2 hard tennis courts will be replaced at the Grand Slam Tennis Center
  • Two marinas will be upgraded; deep-water accommodations for up to a 250' yacht
  • A new Tuscan-style casual pizzeria will be added to Town Center 
The island features fine and casual dining, tennis, golf, deep-sea water marinas, a spa and is only 20 minutes to Miami International Airport, 10 minutes to Miami's business district and 7 minutes from Miami Beach.  There are four pools on the island.


According to a consulting expert, "All upgrades will help Fisher Island maintain its cachet among the ultra-rich...they have money to afford anything and, when it comes to their personal downtime, they want the bet, they expect the best, they demand the best... if they're not happy they will take their fortunes and go elsewhere."



This Old Town Key West home, c. 1895, ­features classic sitting porches and nice curb appeal.  There are two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor and another bedroom and bath on the first floor. The house features Dade County pine, high ceilings, spacious great room, and unique historic artist's chute from the 3rd floor and a second-story sundeck, screened side porch, patio with hot tub, solar-heated pool, and ­orchid house. Classic moldings and historic pine are evident throughout. Includes a formal parlor in the front and a large open kitchen, dining, living room in the rear with screen porch on the side. Multi-layers of decking descend to a large solar heated pool.
This grand historic home had a cigar maker's cottage moved from another area and abutted to the main structure in the rear. There is an artist's studio with bath and kitchen on 3rd floor. It was once owned by the well-known surrealistic artist, William Copley. A trap-door slit still exists where he passed his paintings from the 3rd floor studio apartment to the 2nd floor. For sale at $1,750,000.