creating one of island’s most identifiable mansions.
It is among the most recognizable houses in Palm Beach, the Maurice Fatio-designed Italian-Romanesque-style house that faces the sea at 920 S. Ocean Blvd.
That’s because when Fatio designed it for its owners — investment banker Mortimer Schiff and his wife, Adele Neustadt Schiff — the society architect gave the 1928 house its distinctive façade that mimicked the red-and-gray horizontal-banding decoration found on some Italian buildings. Instead of marble and terracotta, however, Fatio substituted red brick and coral key stone, and the arrangement resulted in the mansion’s sandwich-inspired nickname: the “ham-and-cheese house.”
It goes by another name, too, the one with which it was christened: Casa Eleda, a moniker that just happens to be “Adele” spelled backward.
Mortimer Schiff died in 1931, and Adele a year later, so the couple didn’t get to enjoy their home for very long.
More than 80 years after it was built, the house today is owned by Charles “Chuck” Becker, who says it has served as a perfect vacation home for his family, which includes his wife, Michelle, and two children still at home — Charles 14, and Elizabeth, 8.
But the family wants to travel more, so the house is listed the house for sale with the Corcoran Group. It’s priced at $22.5 million.
With 13,171 square feet of living space inside and out, the mansion has nine bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and three powder rooms. Distinctive features are much in evidence — hand-painted cypress-beamed ceilings, ornately carved stonework, five fireplaces and a 165-foot tunnel under South Ocean Boulevard that leads to the beach, to name only a few.
The Beckers are true longtime snowbirds, planning regular trips to Palm Beach from their home in Grosse Pointe, Mich.
“Before buying this house, I’d bring my boat to Admiral’s Cove in Jupiter. After I sold my business, I started looking for a house in Florida. But when we were in Jupiter, we ended up spending our time in Palm Beach, so we decided to look there,” he says.
He’d placed a couple of offers on other homes, but this one came through — and he says he is glad it did. He bought it in from owner and luxury home builder Robert Fessler, who, in turn, had purchased it from John Kent in 1991.
Before that, the mansion was owned for 10 years by James V. Sullivan, who is today serving a 2006 sentence of life without parole for his role in the murder of his wife, Lita McClinton Sullivan, killed at her suburban Atlanta home in 1987 by a hit man hired by Sullivan.
By the time that Becker bought the house, it was in pristine condition, thanks largely to Fessler’s tenure there.
“I love the house and its layout. Mr. Fessler brought the house back to its original beauty, as well as updating the plumbing and electricity.
“People always comment on the elaborate hand-painted ceilings. The rooms are large and have high ceilings, which give them a grand feeling.”
The beamed ceilings
One enters a foyer on the south side of the house by way of a distinctive front door embellished with carved stone. The foyer features a decorative painted coffered ceiling and a tile-and-coral-keystone floor. A connecting hallway, three steps up, has windows in three coral-keystone arches that offer views of the inner courtyard, pool, fountain and loggias.
To the west of the entry, the dining room features a large fireplace and a highly decorative, hand-painted pitched-and-beamed ceiling. A “breakfast porch” and a butler’s pantry connect the dining room to the kitchen, which has an area for staff dining, a staff bathroom, a pantry and laundry. In the basement below the kitchen are a game room and a temperature-controlled wine room.
To the east of the main entry is one of the home’s two main stair halls. This one has a beamed ceiling painted with geometric designs, French doors that open to the courtyard and a floor of Cuban tiles. Just beyond are two powder rooms with dressing areas as well as the doorway to the tunnel that leads to the beachfront cabana.
In the southeast corner of the house, a library is appointed with knotty-pine paneling, a fireplace and built-in bookcases. Just adjacent is the bar, which has a painted ceiling and decorative wainscoting and hand-painted tiles.
The living room can be accessed through the bar as well as through the north and south stair halls. As in the other rooms, Fatio’s love of painted beamed ceilings is in evidence, this one decorated with geometric designs. The floor is covered in wood planks, and the fireplace features a key stone mantel. On the ocean side, arched windows offer water views; and to the west, French doors — with clerestory windows above them — open to the covered dining loggia and central courtyard.
The guest suites
In the northeast corner of the house on the first floor are two guest bedroom suites and a sitting room off of the north stair hall.
Outside, running the length of the courtyard to the north, is a loggia that invites relaxation, with its bar and large fireplace.
On the second floor’s northeast corner, the master suite includes a bedroom with windows capturing water views and pairs of bathrooms and closets. There’s also a sitting room with a pitched ceiling, herringbone-patterned wood floors and a fireplace with ornate mantel.
In the opposite corner are two second-floor guest suites with fireplaces and a sitting room with a breakfast bar. A balcony connects the master-suite wing with the guest wing and is nicely positioned for sunbathing.
Back on the ground floor, the home has a gym and two offices and a three-car garage in the northwest corner. Above the garage is a staff apartment with a living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom.
Although the rooms are beautiful — the Beckers worked with Smith Architectural Group on the interiors — it’s the home’s setting that they have especially enjoyed and will remember.
“This house has been a great family home and holiday house. It’s user-friendly,” Charles Becker says. “My older three daughters and five grandkids visit, and actually, one of my daughters was married here a few years ago. We had the ceremony on the ocean, and we ended up having the party in the house and courtyard. We covered the pool with a dance floor.
“We love the pool area and the loggias. We are not really sun-worshippers, but we use the pool a lot, and my wife and her friends and family walk the beach in the mornings.”