Asking price for Vero Beach grand mansion shatters county record
When real estate prices began to climb over the last few years, oceanfront properties were no exception. Now, a home has gone on the market in Vero Beach at a record-seeking price for Indian River County.
Listed at $29.5 million, the price is not the only grand component of the house. The massive residence, at 11,600 square feet, sits on three acres, with 326 feet of direct oceanfront access. That much land on the ocean would rank the home in the top five or 10 houses in the county.
The home is listed by Cindy O’Dare of One Sotheby’s International Realty. She holds the current price record in Indian River County for a home sold in 2021 for $27 million.
Originally known as Casablanca Maria, the house is truly a Vero Beach legacy home. Built in 1992 as the private residence of Lawrence and Maria Brown, it was, at the time, one of the only mansions built along this stretch of beach. Close enough to quickly be on Ocean Drive, yet remote enough to offer complete privacy.
Down a winding driveway, and through decorative wrought iron gates, one enters the property in the Sandpointe development along Vero’s coast, as if entering the grounds of a palace. The drama only heightens from there. A circular courtyard of gray paving stones is anchored by an elegant statue in the
center and delivers guests to the grand dual staircase leading to the front doors. Arched windows, coupled with columns and balustrades, ornament the entrance.
Built in an eclectic Mediterranean style, the home’s elegance is announced by majestic bronze and iron French wall lanterns at the gates and flanking the front doors. Antiques, with an aged blue-green patina, the lanterns originated in Paris during the epoch when George-Eugène Haussmann and Napoleon III redesigned the city in the mid-19th century.
Once the double doors are opened, the entire ocean, unobstructed and magnificent, is viewed through 24-foot walls of curved glass. Vertical glass fins provide lateral strength for wind pressure. At that height, the glass would not have stood without those supports.
The drama of the room is further enhanced by the hipped ceiling that slopes up to a ridge of 32 feet.
The Browns were clearly a couple with imagination and sophisticated tastes. And they endowed their home with those qualities. Thoughtful and elegant styling is apparent throughout. Maria Brown was from Czechoslovakia and Lawrence [Larry] Brown had worked in the entertainment business in Los Angeles for years. The Brown family owned a large textbook printing and publishing business, and his parents had a winter home in Vero Beach. Consequently, that is where the couple decided to build their oceanfront dream home.
The house is a mix of traditional, ornate and modern styling. Along the ocean side of the home, the curved windows mimic the art deco style, another European influence.
The home was designed by Vero Beach architect and designer, Harry Howle. “It was an extravagant project,” he says, “way beyond the normal cost of a home at that time.” And it was designed for durability. “It was built like a bunker,” Howle says. “All concrete. The windows are missile-impact glass. They cost a fortune.”
Further exhibits of the couple’s refined tastes are reflected in the marble used throughout the house. In each area, whether floors or counters, a unique stone was used and the patterns in the marble vary in dramatic ways.
The marble flooring in the entrance hallway seems to float as it stretches the length of the house. The honey beige character of the stone is accented with deep toffee-colored veins. It is one of a variety of stunning, veined stonework in the home.
Upstairs in the couple’s luxury bathroom, a streaked and flecked pattern of pink marble has a unique history. The stone was reportedly quarried in Rome more than 3,000 years ago and was the last of that stone ever to become available.
The primary bath also has a sauna and a large jacuzzi tub perched above Atlantic views.
The primary bedroom, at nearly 600 square feet, is bilevel. A sitting room and a fireplace with a stone façade are a step down from the bed area.
And a large, oceanfront balcony, accessed through French doors, creates even more space.
But the stone is only one of many chic elements that demonstrate the craftsmanship and quality of the building materials that went into the home’s construction.
On the south side of the massive living room, the club room has a rounded mahogany bar in harmony with the rounded glass walls. A detailed mirrored ceiling over the bar and faux painted walls are playful yet dynamic.
Stepping into the next room, the library, is like stepping back in time. The entire room is mahogany and the effect is reminiscent of a grand 18th- or 19th-century royal residence. Said to be Larry Brown’s favorite room, every piece of the mahogany – moldings, carved walls, built-in bookcases, and coffered ceiling – was made offsite, numbered and then brought in and installed in the room. Howle personally did all the case work. Larry Brown had given him free license to design the woodwork, but Howle worked closely with the homeowners and received direction from them.
“Maria took a great part in the decisions and directives,” Howle says. “We worked as a team and became very good friends. Larry was the nicest person you’d ever meet.”
The vacant lot on the north side of the property was later purchased together with the neighbors to the north to create more privacy between the two properties. That acquisition increased the home’s oceanfront footage from an original 250 feet to 326.
It’s apparent that the Browns had spent time in Europe, and in the south of France. Casablanca Maria bears a resemblance to the famed Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes. The hotel has hosted luminaries of Europe and the world, such as Picasso, Matisse, John and Jackie Kennedy, and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on at least one of their honeymoons. Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald spent time there too, Fitzgerald using the hotel as the setting for his final novel Tender is the Night.
At Casablanca Maria, the oceanside pool on the north quarter of the house is built against a rock wall feature that juts above an infinity edge pool with endless Atlantic views. The hotel was culled out of the rocky shoreline and was one of the first in the world with an infinity edge. Howle, who is also a landscape architect, designed the pool area and created the rock and waterfall feature at the request of the Browns.
“They went through several different pool designs,” he says, “but they wanted that infinity edge. Having the pool in a more free form shape was a task. The geometry of the site was pinched on the southside and angled more open as it goes north,” Howle says. This design orients the cabana and the pool views toward the northeast, directly up Vero’s gently curved coastline to the Spires on Ocean Drive.
In Fitzgerald’s novel he describes the French Riviera on which the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc sits as having a dazzling beach that stretches before it. And the long portion of Vero’s coast that cocoons Casablanca Maria seems as effortlessly glamorous and romantic as any Fitzgerald novel.
The poolside cabana has some of the most dramatic marble floors. In a hopscotch pattern each tile slants at an angle to heighten the ribbons of caramel, white and brown within the stone. The room, with a full kitchen and full bath, is a mix of styles of post-modern and traditional with large, arched windows on both sides of the room, allowing full natural light. It would make a perfect writer’s retreat or artist’s studio.
Numerous other luxurious features mark the residence’s intended purpose of a home built for grandeur. A helix curved staircase on one side of the living room leads to a balcony across the top floor with a second-story view of the ocean through the glass walls.
Large crystal chandeliers of differing sizes and designs hang in numerous rooms.
Guest rooms are oversized to the extreme. One room has two queen beds and could easily accommodate two more.
The kitchen is upscaled for catered affairs and a large private dining room has deep, elegant, mirrored coffers in the ceiling.
Two guest powder rooms are unique and whimsical. One is floor-to-ceiling black marble and the other is a mirrored chamber inspired by Superman. In the Christopher Reeve versions of the superhero films, he enters the Fortress of Solitude, a cave of oddly angled crystals. “We’d all seen the movie and thought it would be neat to have a mirrored powder room, to see yourself from all angles,” Howle says. Even the ceiling is mirrored. “It goes to a point and the chandelier drops out of the top.”
Howle has always felt that Larry Brown was on a mission in building Casablanca Maria. That perhaps he was creating a romantic palace that would endure as a legacy of their marriage. He died only a couple of years after the home was completed. And Howle believes that Larry Brown created this magnificent residential piece of art, on the ocean, as a parting gift to his wife.
March 3, 2023