Monaco’s two-bedroom apartment for sale

House Hunting in … Monaco


Set in Monaco’s quiet garden district, this two-bedroom apartment on the fourth and top floor of an elevator building is on the market for $2.2 million. The building, dating to the early 1900s, has corbeled balconies and elaborate wrought iron accents.

With 750 square feet of space, the unit has been renovated in a traditional style incorporating modern elements like automated lighting and stereo systems.

The large foyer doubles as a kitchen/dining area, with appliances hidden behind elegant wardrobe-style doors. The kitchen island, which accommodates stools for dining, is adorned with mosaic tiles. Beyond is a wainscoted salon with an ornate coffered ceiling and a floor in a large red-and-white checkered pattern. The walls are plastered in Venetian stucco. French doors open to a decorative Juliet balcony.

On either side of the salon are the bedrooms, which have similarly elaborate ceiling moldings and Venetian stucco walls. The bath has old-style brass fixtures by the English company Heritage Bathrooms and a glass-enclosed shower with a rain showerhead. LED lighting in the shower can be reset in different colors. A clamshell sink of ceramic on a stone base was handmade in Naples.

The building is on the main avenue in the district, the Boulevard du Jardin Exotique, but the apartment faces a quiet street at the rear, said Bernard Koning, the principal owner of ABK Real Estate, which has the listing. The unit comes with an on-street parking space and a 22-square-foot lower-level storage space.

The Jardin Exotique district, which is on the border with France, has small shops for necessities, but the apartment is a 15- to 20-minute walk from the Carré d’Or, Monaco’s center in Monte Carlo, where casinos, luxury shops, hotels, restaurants and the priciest real estate are found, Mr. Koning said. The Jardin Exotique district is the site of Monaco’s new train station, and buses run frequently along the boulevard, taking about eight minutes to arrive in the Carré d’Or. The closest airport is Nice International in France, which is about a 25-minute drive with no traffic, Mr. Koning said.

Until the real estate bubble burst in 2008 there was a steep increase in real estate values in Monaco; some homes doubled in price, Mr. Koning said. The global financial crisis cut the number of transactions by more than half, and prices fell 15 to 35 percent.

Values appear to have stabilized, but homes are taking time to sell. “Business is slow at the moment,” said Julie Alejo, the owner of EIP Agency. “Potential clients are showing interest only in high- or low-end products.”

Yet the market did get a lift as of last June, when a new law reduced closing costs by about 40 percent, said Émilie Mazza, a co-owner of Mazza Immobilier. In the long run, said Tim Swannie, a director of Home Hunts Luxury Property Specialists, the lack of a personal income tax in Monaco will help maintain a climate favorable to real estate. “Monaco’s tax-haven status ensures the market remains buoyant and prices stable,” he said, “so investment in Monaco real estate continues to be attractive.”

This apartment, priced at about 23,500 euros per square meter, would cost at least 60 percent more if it were in the Carré d’Or, Mr. Koning said. The apartment has been listed for three months and is priced lower than the average apartment in the Jardin Exotique, which is about 25,000 euros per square meter. “It’s an older building, which some people like due to the character, but other people don’t care for,” Mr. Koning said.

Only 20 percent of Monaco’s 35,000 residents are Monégasque, so the market sees many foreign buyers, most typically seeking modern apartments close to the Carré d’Or, the beach area of Larvotto, and in Fontvieille, a district reclaimed from the Mediterranean in 1981. Many older residents are French, as the French government did not collect income tax from its citizens residing in Monaco before 1963, Mr. Koning said. A stricter policy since then has discouraged French buyers, and today there are more from elsewhere in Europe, particularly Britain and the northern countries, he said.

Mr. Swannie says Monaco also has buyers from Italy, the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa and the Middle East. Russians have been major buyers over the past five years, Ms. Alejo said.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers, though background checks are required, Mr. Koning said. Most buyers hire agents, who typically charge about 3 percent of the purchase price, agents said. The listing agent gets 5 percent, which is paid by the seller. The transaction itself is handled by a notary, who typically charges about 1 percent.

The June 2011 law reduced to 4.5 percent the registration tax charged on a typical property sale, according to Rosemont International, a financial consulting company with a branch in Monaco.

Most buyers pay in cash, but it is possible to cover as much as 70 percent of the purchase price with a mortgage, Mr. Swannie said.


San Juan

Budget Travel: Discovering San Juan
San Juan offers up a European flair, with wrought-iron balconies and Easter egg-colored houses.

By Lisa Rogak

San Juan often gets overlooked by people looking for a warm-weather getaway, which is unfortunate because it makes for an easy jaunt from most of the United States. And if you’re one of the majority of Americans who doesn’t carry a current passport, the good news is that you don’t need one to fly to Puerto Rico.

San Juan – particularly Viejo San Juan, the part of the city that was settled first – offers up a European flair, with wrought-iron balconies and Easter egg-colored houses, where residents call to one another above the cobblestoned streets.

Wander around to browse the shops, soak in the history of a 500-year-old fort or 17th-century cathedral, or just sit on a bench to take in the sights of the city and enjoy the energy that radiates from the people.

If you need a dose of the ocean, here’s San Juan’s bonus: no matter where you are in the city, the beach is never far away.

In recent years, the culinary scene in San Juan has started to gain some serious traction, and chefs and foodies from around the world are taking note of the native cuisine, with its Latin and Caribbean influences. If you’re in town for one of several food festivals – the South Fortaleza Culinary Festival in June and September, or the Condado Culinary Festival in May or October – make sure to swing by.

If you have some time to explore another part of the island, perhaps taking a quick hop via plane or ferry to reach one of the islands like Vieques or Culebra, it’s easy to get there from San Juan.

And if you need a dose of the ocean, here’s San Juan’s bonus: no matter where you are in the city, the beach is never far away.


Belmont’s ornate wrought iron railing repair

Belmont’s railing needs repair


If you’ll pardon the metaphor, the smile on Belmont’s face needs some dental work. Which is to say that the ornate wrought-iron railing of the entrance stairs to Gari Melchers Home and Studio requires some TLC.

That’s why Scott Kreilick, a nationally known expert in the conservation of metals and masonry, was inspecting the staircase Monday. He was asked to consult with the Falmouth site after the antebellum ironwork was named among the state’s top 10 most endangered artifacts by the Virginia Association of Museums this winter.

Kreilick, whose company has conserved wrought-iron pieces in Savannah,  New Orleans and Charleston, and monuments at  many sites, admired Belmont’s tall, double-curved Aquia sandstone stairs crowned with a railing decorated with  iron curlicues and white-metal rosettes, topped by brass finials.
“It’s a well-made piece,” he said. “But it may not have been made for this location.”

That doubt is raised by the way the railing   attaches to the stone blocks of the stairs. Finding an answer will require more research, Kreilick said.

Belmont’s immediate concern is stabilizing the stairs, which have shifted over time, and properly protecting the railing against weathering, said David Berreth, the director of the national historic landmark.

The stairs and railing are solid now, but if the stairs continue settling, that could make them dangerous to use, he said.

Getting expert advice will help Belmont estimate the cost of repairs and determine “how far we can go” in conserving the staircase, Berreth said.

Down the road, he hopes that the railing’s inclusion on the Virginia Association of Museum’s  at-risk artifacts list will help Belmont raise  money to get the project done.

Such work lies beyond the scope of its yearly operating budget, he said. The historic house and museum is administered by the University of Mary Washington, but it raises about 45 percent of its funds from admissions, memberships, special events and private donations.

The VAM listing should “draw attention to the need for preservation of these precious artifacts, not only among private donors, but among state legislators, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and other state agencies,” he said.

“We hope it shows them that there are needs out there that are not being met, and that museums have things well worth preserving in which  there is  broad interest  among the public.”

Most museums don’t have funds dedicated to conservation and preservation, Berreth said.
Belmont and its supporters established a small conservation fund   a few years ago, but with seven historic buildings on the property, “that doesn’t begin to cover our needs,” he said.

Conserving a couple of Melchers’ paintings or frames per year, or tackling one building  repair, exhausts the fund.

Kreilick said he looks forward to investigating the  railing’s design, materials and creator.

“Iron’s a funny thing,” he said, noting that it’s very difficult to date, unlike other metals.

He doubted   Belmont’s railing will bear a maker’s mark. But its style and construction methods may provide clues, Kreilick said.

“It would be nice to know more about this piece’s origin, to connect it with a blacksmithing center such as Philadelphia or Charleston,” he said.
Beate Jensen—Belmont’s supervisor of building and grounds preservation—believes the railing dates to the 1840s. That’s when the  house’s owner, Joseph B. Ficklen, married his second wife, A.E. Fitzhugh.

About that time, Ficklen enlarged the Federal-style house, giving it the center-hall layout that visitors see today, adding porches, creating a boxwood walk with rose arbors and sculpting its high earthen terrace, Jensen said.

Those improvements may have pleased his bride, and were a  way of signifying their status and wealth to the community, she said. In those days, Berreth noted, visitors approached Falmouth’s hilltop mansions from the Rappahannock River, and Belmont’s terracing and stone stairs would have impressed those seeing them from  below.

Ficklen, born in Culpeper, owned several mills in the area as well as the Falmouth bridge across the river. His son, William Ficklen, inherited the house and it was his wife, Julibelle, who sold it to the Melcherses.


Jewish culture in New York museum

N.Y. museum explores diversity of Jewish culture

Sheldon Kirshner

Housed in an imposing French Gothic chateau-style building on New York’s Fifth Avenue, the Jewish Museum is doubtless one of the great museums in the United States.

Its permanent collection of 26,000 pieces, ranging from paintings and sculptures to archeological artifacts and ceremonial objects, constitutes a veritable treasure-trove. And its temporary exhibitions are no less interesting.

Dedicated to exploring the diversity and scope of Jewish culture and history from antiquity to the present, the museum, adjacent to Central Park, is in a mansion that once belonged to the financier and philanthropist Felix Warburg. His wife, Frieda, donated the building in 1944, seven years after her husband’s death.

The permanent collection, one of the world’s most important, is on the top third and fourth floors, artfully displayed in connecting well-lit galleries.

I started my tour on the fourth floor and worked my way down to the ground level, which has a wonderful gift shop.

The first object I saw was an impressive replica of a third- or fourth-century CE marble burial plaque adorned with a menorah.

Moving on, I stopped to admire photographs of an Israelite female figurine, a 16th-century Iranian synagogue mosaic wall from Isfahan and a series of rare objects: an 18th-century gilt silver Chanukah lamp from Frankfurt, Germany; Israelite cast bronze and wrought iron-spearheads (1000-586 BCE); terra cotta wine and oil storage jars (800-586 BCE); a late 19th-century Torah scroll from Ioannina, Greece.

A wheel-ground glass bowl from the eastern Mediterranean basin (second to third centuries) led me to the remarkably preserved mosaic floor of an Israelite synagogue (fourth to fifth centuries CE).

Five ceiling tiles from the fabled Dura Europos synagogue, discovered in Syria in 1932, were riveting, as was a silver Viennese decorative tray, circa 1925, with scenes of the Exodus.

A Statue of Liberty Chanukah lamp, hewn of wood and fabric and featuring moulded plastic figures, struck my fancy, as did a glazed terra cotta figurine of a Semitic merchant in mid-18th-century China.

Menorahs from all corners of Europe, plus an engraved silver sugar bowl presented to a rabbi from his grateful congregation in Baltimore (1861), rounded out the collection on the fourth floor.

The objects on the third floor were also showstoppers, starting with a 19th-century Tunisian Torah scroll, a 16th-century Italian Torah made of linen and embroidered with silk thread, and a carved and painted 18th-century Bavarian Torah Ark fashioned from pine.

A mid-19th-century Austrian Empire  burial comb and a nail pick were interesting enough, but an upholstered wedding sofa of birch, pine and linden, manufactured in Danzig in 1838, was downright intriguing.

Still more amazing was a Torah Ark from 16th-century Italy, its teal blue and gold hues complemented by fluted pilasters and gilded inscriptions.

A Moritz Oppenheim (1800-1882) oil painting, The Return of the Volunteer, portrayed a wounded German Jewish soldier back home after fighting against Napoleon’s army in the Wars of Liberation.

More poignant still was a memorial plaque from a synagogue in Danzig commemorating 56 Jewish soldiers who laid down their lives for Germany in World War I. The inscription read: “These dead will live.”

Another Oppenheim work, from the year 1842, was a prim portrait of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, the sister of Felix – the famous German composer – and a composer in her own right.

Solomon Nunes Carvalho’s oil painting of David Camden de Leon (1815-1897), the Confederate’s first surgeon-general, brought to mind the U.S. Civil War, whose 150th anniversary was recently observed.

Grotesque antisemitic masks from 18th- and 19th-century Germany and Austria were displayed in another gallery.

The 20th century was represented by exhibits on, among other topics, Nazi concentration camps, Lodz ghetto currency and displaced persons camps in postwar Germany.

The Holocaust as an event was depicted by George Segal’s stark and eerie tableau of white plaster figurines.

A video presentation charts the formation of the Zionist movement and the emergence of the State of Israel.

The museum’s temporary exhibits, located on the first and second floors, explore worthy ideas and subjects.

A current exhibit on the illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (Katz) runs until Jan. 29, and an exhibition on Chanukah lamps ends on Jan. 29.

An exhibit on the Dreyfus Affair was mounted in 1987, and exhibits on court Jews in Europe and Berlin Jews in Weimar Germany took place in 1996 and 1999.

The museum, situated at 1109 Fifth Ave., is open almost every day from 11 a.m. It is closed on Wednesdays and major Jewish holidays.


Totowa’s Ottilio Building

Bank wins control of Totowa’s Ottilio Building


A Spring Lake real estate investor’s bankruptcy filing concluded last week, giving creditor Valley National Bank the ability to sell the Ottilio Building, a well-known architectural oddity in Totowa.

The four-story hillside office building at 555 Preakness Ave. was erected in the 1960s by demolition contractor Carmen Ottilio, who adorned the lobby with stone fixtures from the old Paramount Theater in Manhattan and installed at the entrance a 20-foot-high wrought-iron gate, salvaged from the Vatican pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

What will become of the building — which is occupied by Ironworkers Local 483, the New Jersey State Organization of Cystic Fibrosis, and other tenants — is unclear.

Valley National and the bank’s attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment and representatives of the real estate firm that owns the property, Ottilio Properties LLC, also could not be reached.

In a motion seeking dismissal, Valley had argued to U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Morris Stern in Newark that Ottilio Properties’ August bankruptcy filing was made in “bad faith,” and was not a legitimate effort to reorganize the company, but rather “a desperate effort to delay a foreclosure sale.”

The ruling in Valley’s favor also gave the Wayne-based lender the ability to proceed with foreclosures of three other Ottilio Properties holdings: a small Totowa office building known as Ottilio Terrace, an undeveloped residential property on Forest Avenue in Totowa, and a retail and office building at 217 Morris Ave. in Spring Lake.

According to legal documents, Ottilio Properties had taken several loans from Valley that were backed by the properties, dating back as far as 2002. The bank said the firm stopped making payments on the loans at the end of 2009 and in early 2010. A state court granted the lender a $4.4 million judgment against Ottilio Properties in July 2010, and Ottilio contested the bank’s collection efforts in state court while trying to find alternative financing to satisfy the debt.

At one point, Valley National’s lawyers complained to state Superior Court Judge Margaret Mary McVeigh in Passaic County that Ottilio was continuing to collect rent from tenants at one of the properties in violation of her order to turn the rent over to a receiver. At Valley’s request, she ruled Ottilio was in contempt of court for intentionally violating the order.


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