Versace's mansion up for new chapter

By Sanchez Manning

Photo / AP
Photo / AP

Gianni Versace's luxurious Miami Beach mansion stands as a monument to the late Italian designer's love of flamboyance and kitsch.

Once famed for features such as a gold-lined pool, the outrageously opulent property has now been put on the market with an equally spectacular US$125 million ($162 million) price tag.

But any prospective buyer should be aware that the 10-bedroom, 11-bathroom art deco palace has a history as colourful as Versace himself.

Known as Casa Casuarina, it was built in 1930 by the architect Alden Freeman and modelled on the Alcazar de Colon in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic - a residence erected in 1510 by the son of Christopher Columbus.

It was bought by Versace in 1992 for US$2.9 million and transformed with a staggering $33 million makeover.

The result was an interior that many have ridiculed as an extremely costly homage to bad taste.

It includes walls and ceilings adorned with museum-style frescos, a golden-tiled kitchen, a 16.4m long mosaic-tiled pool lined with 24-carat gold, and a huge Medusa mosaic in the courtyard.

But aside from its overblown, lurid interior, the house also gained notoriety as the scene of Versace's shocking murder.

The couturier was trying to get into the locked gates of the mansion in July 1997 when he was gunned down by Andrew Cunanan with two close-range shots to the head and neck.

In the aftermath of the crime, Versace's sister Donatella arranged for the villa, which was once her brother's pride and joy, to be put up for sale.

It was then purchased by the telecommunications billionaire Peter Loftin in 2000 for a reported US$19 million.

After living in the property for a couple of years, Loftin decided to convert it into an exclusive members-only club and boutique hotel with rooms costing around US$2500 a night.

But, this being the old Versace place, the unexpected was almost bound to intervene.

According to the New York Post, Loftin was forced to close the shutters on Casa Casuarina in 2009 after one of his major investors, Scott Rothstein, was arrested on charges of running a US$1 billion ponzi scheme.

The sprawling residence reopened after a makeover by the restaurateur Barton G Weiss, and was relaunched as a hotel under the name "The Villa by Barton G".

The next chapter in the story of the Versace mansion is that it is up for sale once again.

Jill Eber and Jill Hertzberg, of the estate agent Coldwell Banker, are representing Loftin in the sale.

And Eber doesn't think it will be hard to sell.

She told the Wall Street Journal: "Miami is now seeing prices like it's never seen before, with an influx of international buyers, so it's the perfect time to sell this trophy property."

So, as ever in such enclaves, the world economy may be subsiding like an old balloon, but the super-rich carry on regardless.Independent

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