By Christine Davis
Bill and Maura Benjamin have happily downsized from their longtime historic home, Casa Alva at 1300 Lands End Road in Manalapan, but it wasn’t without its last-minute stresses. When the time came to move, for example, they had one month to do it.
Moving is a daunting challenge for most of us, but consider this: Casa Alva has 26,177 square feet of living space with eight bedrooms. Bill has owned the house for 57 years and he and Maura have lived in it for 33 years; they had one month to move out — and it was the holidays.
“When you live in a house this big, you never get rid of anything,” Maura said. “You just stuff it in another closet.”
However, move they did.
“I really had wonderful help,” Maura said in retrospect. “People say I could run a corporation. I was extraordinarily organized, and now I’m extraordinarily tired.”
The Benjamins first listed the house for sale in 2007 at $23 million, and they sold it Dec. 7 for $6.8 million, the price recorded with the deed by the Palm Beach County Clerk’s Office.
“We are now renting a townhouse in Wellington,” Maura said. “We had a terrible time squeezing everything in. We had so little time to find a place to live and we have two dogs, which made it a little harder.
“I love where we are, and I don’t know where we are going next.”
They were ready, she said, speaking a few days after the closing. “When I woke up today, I realized I didn’t have to worry about anything.
“We had parties and projects there, but we are both getting older, and we didn’t want the responsibility of the house. It was no longer fun.”
For her, Casa Alva was an amazing adventure and Bill loved the landscaping part —Farmer Bill she called him. “He even ran a Bobcat, moved earth and planted trees,” she said.
Built in 1935, designed by Maurice Fatio for Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, it is chock-full of amazing details: curved walls in the corners of the dining room, enfilade of doors in the hall, Regency boiserie in the master suite sitting room.
“The first time I saw it, I realized I’d never have an opportunity to decorate a house as beautiful as this again and I said ‘I’m going to go for it.’ It was totally insane — too big a job. There was nothing in the house when we moved in, so finding furniture was fun. Everything had a story.”
Now the house is empty again. There was no time to add clauses for furniture into the closing, Maura noted. What they didn’t keep was sold. But thankfully, the new owner, Gary W. Parr, vice chairman of the Lazard Ltd. financial advisory and asset-management firm, appreciates the house, too, she said.
Parr, who declined to comment for this story, has a home on Park Avenue in New York City, as well as a 24,000-square-foot home on more than six acres in Tuxedo Park, N.Y. He serves as chairman of Venetian Heritage and has supported a variety of restoration and preservation projects, according to published reports.
“Mr. Parr had been looking at the house for about two years. He loved it and he wants to keep the integrity, which makes us happy,” Maura said.
“He’d like to preserve the landscape and keep its wonderful tropical feel. He loved all the beautiful paneled rooms, the history of the house and all the illustrious people who have lived and visited here. He wants to maintain its historic value and restore what’s necessary.
“He’s going to repaint the entry, which we wanted to do,” she added.
Lawrence Moens of Lawrence A. Moens Associate represented both the buyer and sellers.
Five years ago, Premier Estate Properties listed Casa Alva. In 2010, Illustrated Properties acquired the listing and set the price at $13.5 million, later dropping it to $11.75 million before the listing expired. Moens acquired the listing in January 2012 and set the price at $9.85 million at that time.
“I sold this magnificent estate and property owned by the most lovely of couples to an absolutely wonderful gentleman,” Moens said. “The transaction was a terrific experience.”
Nelson Hammell of Devonshire Antiques is coordinating a garage sale of some of the Benjamins’ belongings at 233 Seville Road, West Palm Beach, from 8 a.m. to noon Jan. 12.
Also, the Benjamins’ property will be highlighted as a special section of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers’ upcoming Fine Furniture and Decorative Arts auction on Feb. 10 and 11 in its Chicago headquarters. The catalog will include detailed auction information with full descriptions for each lot including provenance, exhibition history and auction estimate as well as photographs of select highlights. An illustrated online catalog will be available four weeks prior to the auction. Some of the Benjamins’ works of fine art will be included in the auction house’s American and European Art and Modern and Contemporary Art auctions on May 12 and 13. Buyers can bid in person during the auction or they can register to telephone bid. They also can bid live online and through third-party bidding platforms. For more information, visit www.lesliehindman.com. Ú