Thursday, August 2, 2012

"The Queen of Versailles" (the crash through the eyes of the rich)

We visited David and Jackie Siegel March 10 in "Real Estate: American Versailles".
The story was their 90,000 square foot house touted as the largest in the U.S. and about which I had a four word comment:
Bigger than Biltmore? Hardly.
(Mr. Vanderbilt's home is 175,000 square feet on 8000 acres, thanks dad)

Here's the latest from Barron's Penta blog:
Nightmare for the Royal Family of Timeshares
An American dream, a French Chateau, and a Greek tragedy all whirl together to form the backdrop for the documentary The Queen of Versailles. The movie, now playing in select theaters nationwide, begins as a portrait of David and Jackie Siegel, the billionaire couple behind the world’s largest privately owned timeshare company in the world, Westgate Resorts. It’s 2007 and business is booming. A new building has just gone up in Las Vegas, 52 stories of blue glass topped with the brightest sign on the strip. There’s no hint of the collapse to come, or what it may do to the Siegels, but the movie will get to that in due course.

What began as part of a photo project on wealth and consumerism (director Lauren Greenfield is primarily a documentary photographer) evolved into a full-length film, with the Siegels allowing Greenfield and her crew to set up shop in the mansion every few months into 2011. As you may gather, the couple was not lacking for vanity. As time passes and the financial crisis hits, we get a clear view of the damage that often comes when great wealth meets serious overreaching. By turns appalling and amusing, the adventures of the Siegels offer useful insights for any family accumulating a fortune.

Greenfield’s camera is a distant eye that scans and assesses the Siegel family’s wealth and what they’ve spent it on, from a painting of the oiled up, muscular couple riding a white steed to a presidential campaign—David, 74 at the movie’s start, claims to have “single-handedly” (and he hints, illegally) gotten George W. Bush elected in 2000. The title’s queen, Jackie, who is 31 years younger than her husband, is categorically unpretentious, if a bit batty, taking a limo to a McDonald’s drive-thru, for instance. Coming from small town upstate New York, career-bouncing from IBM engineer to Miss Florida to cleaning dead bodies in morgue for $3.35 an hour, she’s happy just to be here.

In a 26,000 square foot mansion, Jackie laments the family is bursting at the seams. But she never would have had so many kids if she couldn’t have a nanny, she admits. When a pet lizard dies of hunger and dehydration, one of her sons shrugs, “I didn’t even know we had a lizard.” Selling time-shares, a slice of luxury for working-class families who usually can’t afford it, is a perfect parallel to both the Siegel story and the American story of spending beyond means. But the business was doing so well, the billionaires never thought to set anything aside....MORE
Here's one view of the house: