Since the allegations about Donald Trump’s business connections to Russia started to fly last year in the middle of his presidential campaign, the fog of political war has made it difficult to tell the real from the shadow. Except for one very visible landmark: a sprawling, rococo seaside mansion in Palm Beach that Trump himself liked to boast about as an example of his real-estate acumen.
“What do I have to do with Russia?” he replied to reporters’ questions at a press conference in Doral last summer. “You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach … for $40 million, and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million.”
That was a bland, if fairly accurate, summary of a wild and goofy tale of the Palm Beach real-estate market involving tax fraud, Russian billionaires, lurid divorce-court accusations and — at least in the opinion of some Palm Beach observers — the execrably vulgar taste of the super-rich.
It’s a tale that’s now coming to a sad end: That $100 million mansion, once the most expensive home in America, has become its most expensive tear-down. Not a single trace of the compound remains, and soon even its address will disappear: The 6.3-acre estate on which it stood has been broken into three parcels, and one of them has already sold.
“It’s an odd story, but Palm Beach real estate can be kind of strange,” said Gary Pohrer, one of the island’s real-estate agents. “People decide they want something, and they’ll pay a price that doesn’t necessarily correspond to reality.”
The story begins in March 2001, when healthcare tycoon Abraham Gosman, who had moved from Massachusetts to Palm Beach a few years earlier and reinvented himself as a philanthropist, declared bankruptcy. That financial catastrophe would eventually result in tax-fraud convictions for Gosman and his wife.
One of the casualties of the bankruptcy was the 62,000-square-foot mansion Gosman had built at 515 N. County Road and dubbed Maison de l’Amitie, the House of Friendship. A showcase for his charity events just a mile north of the vaunted Breakers hotel, it included a ballroom with a capacity of hundreds, an art gallery, underground parking for scores of cars and a 100-foot swimming pool. It was nested among a slew of outbuildings, including a barn, guest houses and a tennis cottage.