Friday, June 24, 2011

Let's Talk Turkey About Witanhurst House

While the Joneses and Johnsons pray to whatever god they pray to that they'll keep their jobs in this still sour economy so they can pay the mortgage and buy four dollar a gallon gas, the super-rich just keep on keepin' on with their mind-altering and insanely expensive real estate transactions.

Last summer Mexican telecommunications bazillionaire Carlos Slim paid cab driver turned real estate tycoon Tamir Sapir $44,000,000 for the luscious Duke-Semans mansion, a Beaux Arts townhouse extravaganza on New York City's Fifth Avenue long owned by the Duke family, as in Duke University and tobacco heiress Doris Duke. Out in the Hamptons hedge hog David Tepper recently paid $43,500,000 for a 6,135 square foot ocean front mansion only to tear it down to the ground to make way for an even bigger and better 18,000-ish square foot beach house more suitable to his needs and visions of real estate grandeur.

In Los Angeles, Goldman Sachs fat cat Gene Sykes recently paid $40,000,000–in cash, we're told–for La Belle Vie, philanthropic widow Iris Cantor's behemoth 35,000 square foot chateau-style pile in Bel Air. Showbiz widow Candy Spelling reportedly has her conference center-sized mansion in Lala Land just about sold for around $80,000,000. Most reports say the buyer of Miz Spelling's bloated beast in the Holmby Hills–long listed at a blistering $150,000,000–is 22-year old heiress Petra Ecclestone. However two of Your Mama's sources suggest the buyer might actually be Indian gajillionaire Mukesh Ambani whose primary residence in Mumbai, India is a 27-floor tower designed and built for the exclusive use of his small family at a rumored cost of more than a billion dollars.

It seems rom-com queen Jennifer Aniston will also soon benefit from the super-rich's increasingly white hot desire for shockingly expensive homes. The unlucky in love actress listed her handsome Beverly Hills, CA house a few months ago with a jaw dropping $42,000,000 asking price. It wasn't long, we understand from our plugged-in sources inside the Bev Hills real estate game, before Miz Aniston was entertaining a couple of offers for her newly renovated and expanded residence that she dubbed Ohana, the Polynesian word for extended family. Some say the buyer of Miz Aniston's unwanted nest is Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Others suggest it may be Andrey Melnichenko, another Russian billionaire with a penchant for big boats and big houses. Still others have told Your Mama it's neither Russkie but rather a New York-based financier. Whomever the buyer is, the deal must be getting close to being completed because the listing for Miz Aniston's Ohana vanished from the MLS this week.

Over in London, a swinging and exceedingly pricey city that bursts at the seams with the world's free-spending wealthiest, all the property watchers are in a damn tizzy about Witanhurst House, a hulking, historic and dour Georgeian style pile–some reports call it Queen Anne style–that sits on about 5.5 bucolic acres in the hoity-toity quasi-suburban Highgate 'hood (shown above). The monumental property and mansion, which had fallen into a sad state of obsolescence and disrepair over the last 20 or 30 years, is the second largest private residence in London behind only Buckingham Palace.

The property, which occupies one of the highest points in London, was first developed in the late 1700s by successful stock broker who built a giant Georgian-style pile for his wife and eight children. In the 19-teens the property–then called Parkfield–was acquired by soap and candle tycoon Sir Arthur Crosfield and his Swiss tennis champion wife. Mister and Missus Crosfields, like so many moguls and potentates do today, re-imagined and re-built Parkfield into their own Barbie Dream House, a gargantuan George Hubbard-designed pile they named Witanhurst House.

Over the subsequent years Witanhurst House was bought and sold any number of times and used as a location for various films (Citizen Kane) and reality programs (Fame Academy). It was not, however, treated with the kid gloves with which it probably needed and deserved to be treated. In 2007 it was purchased from an Arab potentate by fancy-schmancy investor/real estate developer Marcus Cooper for about £32,000,000, more than fifty million American dollars at today's rates. Mister Cooper had an almost immediate change of real estate heart and flipped the three story mansion (plus mezzanine and basement) back on the market just months after buying with a foolishly high asking price of £75,000,000.

Floor plans Your Mama snatched from the listing and marketing materials when the estate was listed in 2007-08 show a massive paneled stair hall with twin staircases and capacious double-height dining and drawing rooms. A vast 70-foot long and 20-foot high walnut-paneled ballroom with gilded cornices and multiple fireplaces has at least seven sets of French doors that open the to a wide terrace that overlooks the pastoral grounds. Floor plans also show a comparatively intimately-scaled library, study, billiard room and estate office with separate entrance and private bath on the ground floor.

By Your Mama's count, according to the 2008 floor plan (above), the pre-renovation Witanhurst House contained six principal bedrooms–two on the mezzanine and four on the second floor–each with en suite pooper. Eight more bedrooms share 2 bathrooms on the third floor, probably originally designed to house live-in domestics. A latter addition to Witanhurst House contains extensive staff quarters comprised at least a dozen private bedrooms that share just 4 bathrooms. We counted at least two dozen fireplaces throughout the house.

Floor plans from 2008 show the imposing three-pronged brick-built gate house encompasses a trio of apartments, each with two bedrooms, sitting room, kitchen and bathroom. We haven't any idea how the current owner plans to make use of the gate house but it would certainly be perfect for housing a small army of eagle-eyed sniper-trained security personnel.

Lucky Mister Cooper sold the property during the summer of 2008 to a corporate entity named Safran Holdings for somewhere around £50,000,000, more than one hundred million U.S. clams at 2008 currency conversion rates. At that price the big deal netted Mister Cooper a substantial net profit of 15-20 million pounds. The owning corporation was reported by one British newspaper to be controlled by Russian construction tycoon Yelena–sometimes spelled Elena–Baturina. Miz Baturina's husband Yury Luzhkov was the powerful mayor of Moscow from mid-1992 until September 2010. Moon-faced Miz Baturina–a formidable self-made woman in a decidedly man-centric industry–has vehemently denied buying Witanhurst House, dontcha know? The lady was so nettled, in fact, by being fingered as the wildly wealthy new chatelaine of Witanhurst House that she filed some sort of lawsuit against at least one newspaper who named her as the owner.
Whomever the new owner of the 40,000-ish square foot Witanhurst House may be–described in the Daily Mail this week by a construction crew member as "'a wealthy European family looking for a permanent base in London'"–they've recently embarked on an extensive and expensive renovation and restoration of the house that also calls for–you got it–a tremendous expansion. The expansion, most of which will involve the installation of a shopping-mall sized subterranean complex, will just about double the size of the house and will reportedly cost the owner somewhere in the neighborhood of £50,000,000. For all us Americanos across the pond that translates to a heart stopping eighty million dollars at today's rates according to Your Mama's currency conversion contraption.

The mysterious owner–who obviously wishes to remain anonymous but is clearly a real estate size queen of epic proportions–has shockingly grandiose plans for the historic and already huge Witanhurst House. Approved plans call for an approximately a tremendous multi-level subterranean extension to include an entertainment wing with guest suites, game room and massive theater with balcony. Also planned is an extensive fitness and spa facility with 70-foot indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, pool bar, gym, changing rooms, sauna, massage room and–no hotel-sized house would be complete without one–a beauty salon.

The existing staff wing, according to reports and plans, is to be removed and extensive service quarters in the basement are planned with staff suites, security room, laundry facilities, and a 25-car underground garage accessed by a heavy-duty elevator that will whisk the owner's fleet of fancy cars up from the garage to plaza-like motor court that stretches out in front of the grand mansion.

Our favorite spoiled billionaire-style feature planned for the new Witanhurst House is the Orangery, a detached Georgian-style pile across the motor court from the main house that when built will include living room and kitchen and will probably be far larger than the average rich person's mansion. According to a spokesperson for Safran Holdings, the new owners–whoever they are–called the new Orangery a "necessary" feature as it will allow the owners less-lavish and more intimate living quarters should "the family fancy a simple night in with pizza and beer." What? Bitch, pleeze. Who are these people with their Marie Antoinette visions of their very own Hameau de la Reine? Seriously.

These people, whoever they are, can spend their money however they like. It's their money to spend. However, let's break it down, children: If their people–the ones paid to represent them–are going to be out there (allegedly) making asinine statements like that then these Richie Riches should expect that the peasants are going to get angry. Those who struggle financially tend not to appreciate cavalier statements that effectively mock the punishing disparity between those that have little and those who can have any and everything they want no matter the cost even if it's a walk-in cheese vault, a solid-gold swimming pool or a minimum-wage Asian lady who lives in the basement and only appears when her mani-pedi services are requested.

The roughly 5.5-acre grounds will–natch–also get a billionaire-style over haul and plans call for extensive formal and terraced gardens and not one, but two tennis courts.

Despite it's titanic size, when complete, Witanhurst House will still be substantially smaller than Buckingham Palace. It will be, however and no doubt, no less lavish. Your Mama's knees turn to quivering pools of jelly just thinking of the number and cost of full-time staff required to maintain a private residence of this exceptional (and, let's be honest, ludicrous) magnitude. Certainly having this property maintained and restored is far better than having it collapse into rubble but we can't help but wonder why a single family, no matter how large, can't make due to due in the existing (and already colossal) 40,000 square foot mega-mansion. But then again, Your Mama is not a real estate size queen and would sooner live in a studio apartment than a house the size of a goddam Wal-Mart.

The hoity-toity Highgate 'hood is home to a number of high-profile showbiz people who include Clive Owen, Bob Hoskins and Ulrika Jonsson. Witanhurst House itself anchors the end Highgate's poshest star-jammed street where celebrity homeowners include actor Jude Law, aging supermodel Kate Moss and tea-house queen George Michael and his long-time man-friend Kenny Goss. Rockstar Sting and his Tantric-sexing wife Trudy Styler own a large mansion immediately next door to Witanhurst House that over the years they've leased to other entertainment industry types like Pierce Brosnan.

Your Mama imagines these privacy-seeking celebs (as well as the other wealthy neighborhood inhabitants) probably don't care for the construction disruptions and international attention the massive expansion of Witanhurt House brings to the sleepy but swank area but they may in the end benefit from the state-of-the art security–which will no doubt include a slew of armed guards who would rather shoot you than ask you to step off the driveway–the new owner of Witanhurst House will surely employ.

Excavation and construction of the copper-mine-sized pit between the gate house and main house–where most of the subterranean extension will be–has reportedly already begun and is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2012.

listing photos and floor plan: Knight Frank
cross section illustration: John Lawson and Philip Argent for Daily Mail


tovangar2 said...

Oh Mama, I used to live in Highgate as did many family members. All I can say is this is tragic....

Anonymous said...

Please, for those of us in New Mexico, explain why tragic?

FonHom said...

Hope they can spare a few euros for some fab poopers on the first floor - the main public space. I found one next to the "estate office" and another tiny WC at the dead end of a hallway parallel to the entrance hall. Dinner guests would be well advised to carry a copy of the floor plan for guidance.

Or maybe it's true that the rich don't go...

Anonymous said...

Just..insane. Seriously, sometimes I imagine these boggling billionaire boondoggle buildings aren't just for a family and retinue. Stuff like this makes me think it's going to be headquarters for some nefarious James Bond Villain sort of organization..

Too much is too much. Madness.

Anonymous said...

That subterranean complex will come in handy when the zombie war breaks out!

StPaulSnowman said...

Mama; while I always especially appreciate your essays on UK properties, in this case you might as well have been reviewing the Mall of America. This probably once impressive home has been remuddled and juiced into souless extravagance. And more is planned! No one loves the magnificent patina and grandeur of a great English mansion more than I do and thank God there are many at the Knight Frank website to drool over. I bit like a walleye after seeing the photo of the grand staircase......I am sure a pricey Siemens custom escalator will be installed here. No wonder the rich Russian dolly was offended people thought she was the buyer!

Anonymous said...

the vulgarity of the nouveau riche...I suppose we should be grateful they haven't hung a big old disco ball between those two columns in the stair hall.

Anonymous said...

The revolution cannot come soon enough.

angie said...

Good grief. The vulgar displays of wealth by some of these new billionaires is getting harder and harder to discuss without cringing on the one hand, or falling into fits of laughter on the other. Without doubt though, they make for riveting reading material.

Thanks much Mama!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I echo the thought... hasten the revolution.

The Aussie

Anonymous said...

Wait. I thought this was the property that was getting knocked down & a huge replacement was being built & the entire neighborhood were up in arms & taking the developers/owners to court. Must be another huge house in the area, maybe even in Hampstead rather than Highgate. I'll do some googling.

Anonymous said...

Where the hell is the god damn bowling alley ???

Anonymous said...

It looks like the only buyers that are left outside of the normal industry titans are the slimey wall street execs and banks, so the question is how many more estates can the industry titans purchase ?

we all know that the banks and wall street execs are about to ask our governments of the world for another bail out as they again will run out of money

and by that time will real estate finally drop 90% ?

Swami Rama said...

These unfortunate rich people have so much more to lose when they die. One should feel profoundly sorry for them all and not call for the guillotine.

Anonymous said...

It's positively sickening that in a world where children go hungry, a single family can require such in your face ostentation.

People will say it's their money and they are entitled to spend it however they choose BUT most of these noveau riche Oligarchs are nothing more than thieves who have stolen from their respective countries.

Anonymous said...

This is a Grade 2 listed property and planning permission for the vulgar extensions mentioned in your article have already been rejected by the local council a while ago.

Unless they have bribed their way around this decision I seriously doubt this monstrosity will be allowed.

One can only hope that common sense prevails and only a sympathetic restoration of the property is allowed to take place.

Barber said...

What a bunch of cry babies.

I find it all a bit ridiculous myself but the fact of the matter is that this project will generate a lot of jobs in a down economy and restore an important property at risk.

If you want your own $300m. monstrosity than you better well... get to work.

Madame DeFarge said...

I'm taking names!

Anonymous said...

This is what democracy looks like!

Wait, never mind. Wrong party.

Lady J

ps - what do the haves do to ensure that their basements won't flood like those of the plebes?

Anonymous said...

Anyone else thinking its a batcave?

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