Byline: Aileen Mehle
The deal that Bill Koch of the multibillionaire oil family had going, a contract to buy choice Palm Beach oceanfront property owned by former E.F. Hutton chairman Bob Fomon and his wife, Lewis, has hit a snag. It’s not about money — he’s overloaded with that, and his down payment hasn’t bounced — it’s about the “property police,” which is how some Palm Beachers refer to the town’s Architectural and Landmark Commission. The PP have come out in force against what Koch, a celebrated sportsman and America’s Cup defender, plans to do with the landmarked, Oriental-style house on the property which stretches from ocean to lake. He and his new, young wife, Angela, want to bulldoze the house now standing on the property, a graceful edifice designed by a famed Palm Beach architect, the late John Volk. Leading the charge against this desecration is said to be the architect’s widow, Jane Volk, a longtime guardian of precious properties as an officer of the Architectural Commission, and a vociferous one.
On the other hand, just up the beach a piece, Architectural and Landmark regulations don’t apply to a huge, expensive house built in 1989, which the new owner has permission to level anytime she feels like it. Sydell Miller, the newly minted Cleveland cosmetics queen, went before the same jury of architectural mavens and got permission to tear down the existing eight-year-old structure to build “Sydell’s Dream House,” a 37,269-square-foot villa. The present house is almost ready to become bonfire fodder. As in “Sydell’s Bonfire of the Vanities,” maybe ?
You all remember Sydell. You read about her in WWD. She sold Matrix Essentials, a hair and skin care company, to Bristol-Meyers for $600 million in Bristol stock after owning the company for only 10 years! She paid $4.9 million for the tear-down and more than $11 million for the adjoining property, adding up to four acres of beachfront. That’s a lot of skin and hair.
To go back to Bill Koch’s proposed acquisition, the Fomons agreed to sell their property to Bill for $6 million after originally asking $10 million — talk about pretty pennies. Of course, it boasts a spectacular six-room beach house, where Fergie stayed when she visited Palm Beach. But come on, that’s not what made the price go down. Whether anything at all changes hands at this point is all up in the rarefied Palm Beach air. Nothing like this happened to Bill’s brother, David, when he bought Jackie Onassis’ Fifth Avenue flat. He simply outbid the world, and nobody said nay when he gutted the place.
Viscount and Viscountess Norwich are plum guests, and not everyone who sticks in a thumb can pull out a plum — but Lee Thaw can. Lee is one of New York’s notable hostesses, and anyone invited to her luxe Park Avenue duplex can expect to see the cream of the whipped cream, both local and international, a perfumed pack if there ever was one. The dinner that Lee gave for the visiting Norwiches — Mollie and John Julius to their friends — brought out the stunning Farah Pahlavi, Her Majesty the Shahbanou of Iran, in a black evening pantsuit and black satin boots with pointed toes and high heels — le dernier cri — to you. Another titled guest was Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent, dressed a la pastel to point up her blond good looks. Milling about in various degrees of splendor were such as Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera, Judy and Alfred Taubman, Marina and Francesco Galesi, Monica and Andreas von Zadora-Gerlof, Brooke Hayward Duchin and Peter Duchin, Connie and Hugh Hildesley, Pat Buckley, Dodie Rosekrans (San Francisco’s answer to the word “style”), Elli Antoniades, Aliki Perroti and Ana Cristina Alvarado. To say nothing of Larry Lovett, Alexander Apsis, John Richardson, Khalil Rizk, Kelly Simpson, Jamie Figg, Sebastian Thaw, Kenneth Jay Lane, Pierre Durand, Alexis Gregory and Ernesto Alvarez. Lee wore a narrow-as-an-arrow green and white print silk pantsuit, from Oscar de la Renta’s spring collection, which was much admired. As for Viscount Norwich, the acclaimed historian, author and lecturer, please note that his latest book, “A Short History of Byzantium,” is extremely lively, going full gallop from one crisis to another, starring heroes and criminals, saints and naughty ladies — they’re the best kind — on every page.
Move over, Fergie: Prince Michael of Kent, husband to the aforementioned Princess Michael, is pursuing a career in TV, thus becoming the newest member of the British royals to make a living in the media. He has just filmed a documentary on the romantic life of his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria — not that ghillie John Brown again? — and has two more in the works. If he goes on like this, he will completely eclipse the Duchess of York and Prince Edward, whose production company, Ardent, hasn’t made a tuppence in three years and is said to be in the hole more than 1 million pounds sterling. Somebody get that boy out. Can we start with his mummy, the Queen?
In memory of her late husband, Prentis Cobb Hale of the department store fortune, Denise Hale underwrote the San Francisco Opera’s magnificent performance of Verdi’s Requiem with the opera’s music director, Donald Runnicles, conducting — a night that had the critics raving. Afterward, Denise hosted a supper in the private room at Stars, San Francisco’s innest restaurant, for a cast of 110, among them Danielle Steel Traina of all those bestsellers; Mercedes and Sid Bass of all that everything; Ann and Gordon Getty, likewise; Don Johnson of all that sex appeal; San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown; Douglas Cramer, the TV producer and art collector; Maestro Runnicles and all the artists who sang the Requiem, and Angie Dickinson, who flew in from Los Angeles with Richard Gully. The last guest cleared out at 2:30 a.m. It’s not quite true that the management had to use a broom, but almost.
It was a glorious spring weekend in Washington, D.C., with everything pink and white and pretty and in bloom. There were lunches at the Chevy Chase Club and dinners at Lespinasse, the new restaurant at the Carleton Hotel, and Ruth Buchanan of the Washington and Newport social swim along with her beau, Ed Wheeler, gave a big dinner for Helen and John Winslow of the New York and Newport social swim. The dinner was held at Ruth’s spectacular house, Underoak, with its wonderful gardens structured around the 300-year-old oak tree from which the house takes its name. Then Betty Burton of the Washington and Newport social swim took over Washington’s exclusive F Street Club, putting up a white tent in the garden and inviting what seemed like all of Washington society to her cocktail buffet. Everywhere you looked you saw the Winslows, Arthur Gardener, the Hon. Claiborne and Nuala Pell, Victoria and Joseph Mele, Diana and Freddie Prince and 200 others just like them, having their very special brand of fun under the light of a very full moon. These are all refined people, so baying was not allowed.