Mr. Chatterbox

By staff January 1, 2003

Like so many of us, I was rather startled to hear on SNN that Roy and Susan Palmer are moving into a retirement home. I had no idea they were that old. They must have a very good plastic surgeon because they both look about my age. (OK, Roy looks about my age, while Susan could pass as a daughter I acquired during a high school fling.)

Of course, as with most things you hear on SNN, the real story is a bit more complicated. So here it is, as I have been able to piece it together from rumors, unattributed sources, and outright speculation. Roy, who is in the gaming business, is putting together some sort of really big Indian casino project in California and not only does he have to be there all the time, picking out the slot machines and, hopefully, interviewing the cocktail waitresses, but he has to become a resident of California for legal purposes. So they're putting their house on the market and moving into a penthouse at the Sarasota Bay Club, our lavish new "retirement estate," which I happen to know quite well as it is where my parents live, though not in the penthouse. I personally love it there, particularly on "prime rib night."

One factor in choosing the Bay Club is undoubtedly the Palmers' close friendship with Bob and Diane Roskamp, who own the place. The Roskamps, who are also much too young and busy to be classified as "retired," have a penthouse there, too, but they are selling it-to the Palmers?-and moving to a new penthouse in an as-yet-uncompleted building on Golden Gate Point. That's a lot of penthouses, particularly if you include the one the Palmers are buying for Susan's mother Gracie. What's with these people? They're hogging all the penthouses.

The best part of the story is that the Palmers' house is now for sale. If you've never been in it, watch for an open house. In fact, if Linda Dickinson (who is handling the sale for Michael Saunders) has any sense, she'll organize public tours. In a town where the ultimate status symbol is a waterfront mansion, this is the ultimate waterfront mansion.

It didn't used to be. I remember driving by it back in the old days and thinking, gee, if that wreck ever comes on the market, I should snap it up. It was a big old decrepit place most notable for its unusual Art Deco doorway. Then the Palmers and their architect Thorning Little got hold of it. They kept the doorway, I'm glad to report, but spent the next five years transforming the rest of the place into a Spanish Med palace, a sort of updated version of the Cà d' Zan. They even gave it a similar name-Es Ca Bay, which in the Venetian dialect translates as "$13.75 million." Frankly, I was surprised that the place was going so cheaply, as I had read authoritative reports, in this very column, in fact, that they'd spent over $50 million.

Let's go on a little virtual tour. One enters through the Art Deco doorway into a large entrance hall, formerly the living room. No time to linger here, though; let's proceed into the new living room, the house's pièce de résistance, an enormous two- story space with a fireplace mantel from the old Van Antwerp mansion on St. Armands. Here everything seem very much like a Spanish monastery, only more comfortable. European paintings and tapestries hang on the walls-no modern art for the Palmers -and against one wall is an enormous bookcase that used to belong to Napoleon's sister, Suzette. (I may be wrong about the provenance, but I do remember that it did belong to somebody famous.)

In terms of the social history of Sarasota, this is a very important room, for many splendid affairs took place here. Two vivid examples: Carolyn Michel and Howard Millman's wedding. No, I lie. That wedding took place out by the pool, under a chuppa. But the Palmers' own wedding took place here, or rather the reception. It seems that several years ago Susan and Roy got married by Father Fausto down at St. Martha's and had the reception here. They had never been married in a religious ceremony and now felt it was time. And what an occasion it was. The emotion peaked when Roy got up and serenaded his bride with a medley that included I Will Always Love You, Unforgettable, and The Song of the Volga Boatmen.

By the way, not too long ago I was complaining to Roy about how he was so rich and I was so poor and how it just wasn't fair. I was hoping for the offer of a stipend or at least a small loan. Instead, Roy suggested that I could live at Es Ca Bay while he and Susan were in Sacramento. I would have total run of the place and could even drive his car. And he wouldn't charge me any rent. Well, thank God I turned down his offer. I just hate it when you're living rent-free in a $13-million mansion and then the owner ups and sells the place.

Due to a strange twist of fate, one of the few homes that could rival Es Ca Bay happens to be on the market at the exact same time. I refer, of course, to the Vick home on Lido Shores. It's listed at $16 million and seems cheap at the price-with two acres right on New Pass, it has the best location in Sarasota. And while it lacks the visceral impact of the Palmer house, it has other advantages-it's lighter, more beachy, prettier. It's vaguely Mediterranean but with a French New Orleans twist-lots of filigree and columns. There's a terrace on the roof that's perfect for sunset cocktail parties, and a disco on the lower level.

The Vicks, like the Palmers, were one of the social scene's most prominent couples. When they arrived in town people went, "wow." Mac was a dashing retired urologist who looked like a male model and Charlotte was a smart businesswoman-something to do with cell phones-who looked like a female model. Though she had grown children she looked perpetually 35. She single-handedly kept Saks in business during their first year. Her cleavage was the talk of the town.

The Vicks brightened many a party during the late '90s. They were so glamorous that they actually became controversial. It seems that the Herald-Tribune ran an article in their Sunday Style section with a photo of Charlotte reclining on a chaise, surrounded by her "support staff"-her personal trainer, nail person, various servants, etc. It was quite a crowd.

The photo provoked a reaction but not the right kind. And then the Herald-Tribune made matters worse by mentioning some of the mail the paper had received-things like perhaps it was now time for a proletariat revolution against the rich. Honestly, people can get so petty.

The Vicks are relocating to Colorado's ski country. But their house is still here. True, it doesn't have a name but it does have a marble staircase, a wrought-iron birdcage-style elevator, two trickling fountains, 50-foot ceilings in the foyer and a vanishing edge pool overlooking the Gulf. At $16,750,000 it's the most expensive house in town. That's quite a legacy in a town like Sarasota.

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