UM president’s house sells for $9 million


The Gables Estates home that has housed every University of Miami president since 1974 has been sold for $9 million, while the school puts the finishing touches on a new Pinecrest presidential residence.

The waterfront Coral Gables estate that has housed University of Miami presidents for more than a generation — hosting everyone from world leaders to bright-eyed college freshmen — has been sold.

The price: a cool $9 million. The buyer: New Yorker Maria Montalva, who listed a posh Upper East Side Fifth Avenue address on county sales records.

Montalva could not be reached for comment, while UM President Donna Shalala declined comment.

A local real estate blog written by Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtor Alexandra Restivo described the home, built in 1965, as boasting a “tropical ambiance,” 4.6 acres of lush gardens, and a prestigious Gables Estates address.

“Here’s a chance to own a rare piece of South Florida history,” wrote Restivo, whose firm, EWM, represented both buyer and seller in the transaction.

Among the home’s more-unique features is a guest room created specifically to host the Dalai Lama during His Holiness’ visits to South Florida. University freshmen were also famously hosted by Shalala during a barbeque that welcomed them into the UM fold — a tradition expected to continue at Shalala’s new digs.

UM has been designing and building a new presidential home in Pinecrest — the crown jewel of a 30-home gated community known as Smathers Four Fillies Farm.

The 32-acre Pinecrest development, built on land donated to the university by UM law grad-turned-philanthropist Frank Smathers Jr., exclusively houses UM faculty. Shalala will now join their ranks as both boss and neighbor.

Decades ago, the grounds were home to Smathers’ Arabian horses and world-renowned mango collection. The UM-built homes are clustered in the center one-third of the acreage “to safeguard the botanical integrity of the estate,” according to the university’s website. The remaining land is dominated by lush plants and fruit groves, and is maintained by Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens.

Living amongst such natural environs can have its complications, however. In 2010, the Pinecrest Village Council donated $1,200 to help the Smathers Four Fillies Farm Home Association relocate a disruptive and fast-growing peacock population — birds that the association complained were producing droppings at an “astounding volume.”

Shalala’s new, modern-style, two-story home is still being finished, according to interior designer Phyllis Taylor, who is spearheading the decor of the house, just as she did with Shalala’s previous residence. Shalala plans to move in at the beginning of the fall semester.

“It’s a very bold house,” Taylor said of Shalala’s new digs. “It’s a dominant house in the neighborhood.”

Taylor said the all-white exterior of the new home is a noticeable contrast to the more-earthy tones of other houses nearby. The university is calling it the “Ibis House” after UM’s beloved (and also all-white) mascot.

Shalala’s new home will sit on a quarter-acre of land — dramatically less property than she enjoyed before. On the plus side, Shalala, just as in her old home, will enjoy about 9,000 or so square feet of interior space, and an in-home elevator connecting the first and second floors.

The new home is also situated in a unique gated community that offers a community clubhouse, tennis courts and pool, and meticulously landscaped gardens. Because the house is not yet complete, its market value has yet to be determined by Miami-Dade County.

Inside, some of the Ibis House’s environmental sensibilities become apparent — it was built with the goal of being a certified environmentally-friendly Green Building. For example, the black, white and grey floor materials are made out of Florida sand and seashells.

In one of the “powder rooms,” the wallpaper is recycled newsprint. Chandeliers in the form of metal sculptures (resembling branches) are designed for low energy consumption.

“What was tricky here is we didn’t want it to look granola,” Taylor said. “It was really important that this had the polish.”

Taylor said neutral colors were used for flooring and other parts of the home that are permanent, while colorful walls and upholstery added a more-lively touch that could easily be replaced by a future UM president who preferred a different hue. Taylor declined to reveal too many details about the new home, saying it “should be a surprise” for those lucky enough to be invited for a visit.

If the use of Shalala’s former home is any indication, that list of invitees is likely to include high school counselors, donors, and a fair share of dignitaries.

“I have strong views about what a president’s house should be,” Shalala told The New York Times in 2006. “It should be elegant and warm. It should reflect the taste of the occupant. Most of all, it should be accessible. In this house you can put your feet up on anything.”

Because the home was donated to UM in 1974, the $9 million sales price is largely all profit.

The proceeds, according to UM, will go to much-needed academic initiatives, such as five distinguished professorships — four in the College of Arts & Sciences and one in the School of Architecture.

Once the home was placed on the selling block, UM welcomed any and all serious buyers, be they University of Miami Hurricanes, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, or none of the above. The overarching principle: steering as much money as possible into university coffers.

“They’re like any seller,” said EWM Realtors President Ron Shuffield. “They just want the highest and best price.”

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