One of South Florida’s iconic properties, the old Matheson estate on Key Biscayne, has sold for $47 million. That’s tied for the second-most-expensive residential sale in Miami-Dade County history.
A modern mansion now sits on the two-acre property at 775 S. Mashta Dr., Key Biscayne.
The identity of the buyer, as in so many big money Miami real estate deals, remains unknown. Even the name of the seller, a wealthy Latin American businessman, was shrouded by a network of foreign and local shell companies.
It’s all too fitting for land that once housed a mysterious Levantine mansion built by Miami pioneer W.J. Matheson during World War I, but abandoned and torn down decades later.
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The wealthy industrialist announced his arrival on Key Biscayne with the purchase of a 1,700-acre estate in 1908. Nine years later, Matheson built an opulent waterfront mansion on a man-made peninsula and called it Mashta House, which he said meant “resting place” in the Arabic dialect of Egypt.
The architecture was inspired by a Moorish-style dwelling he had spotted on a trip up the Nile. Murals and strange symbols decorated the walls. A private deep-water harbor offered the only means of access.
Mashta House was never occupied full time. Matheson lived in Coconut Grove, but he brought guests including members of the Vanderbilt, Carnegie and Mellon families over in yachts to glory in the tropical sunsets across the bay, according to an exhibit held at the Key Biscayne Community Center in 2008. (A Matheson-owned coconut plantation occupied much of Key Biscayne in those years and the island was accessible only by boat until the county government built the Rickenbacker Causeway in 1947.)
The home was badly damaged by storms in the 1930s and abandoned.
$47 millionSales price for waterfront Key Biscayne mansion
Finlay Matheson, 71, great-grandson of the family patriarch, remembers visiting the ruins by boat in the 1950s.
“There was no furniture,” Matheson said. “I do remember my father saying some of the rooms were essentially wallpapered with alternating squares of gold and copper leaf. ... It was all very mysterious for a 10-year-old boy.”
Matheson said his ancestor used the mansion to entertain on weekends.
The massive property gradually fell out of his family’s hands in the intervening decades and was broken up by developers. County records show a company controlled by Colombian businessman Fernando Caballero bought the two-acre lot where Mashta House sat in 1989 for $1.3 million.
Caballero built a six-bedroom, eight-bathroom mansion in the early 1990s. Late last year, he listed the 11,600-square-foot home for $60 million through One Sotheby’s International Realty agents Jorge Uribe and Tata Botero.
$1.3 million Price paid in 1989
The identity of the buyer is unknown, and attorneys and real estate agents involved in the deal said they were bound by non-disclosure agreements. Buyers of high-end Miami real estate often operate through shell companies to keep their identities hidden. A deed hasn’t been filed yet with the county.
The Real Deal first reported the sale.
Caballero owned the home through a Cayman Islands-registered company called Pitu, which was involved in a lengthy local court fight with insurer Lloyd’s over water damage at the mansion. A lower court awarded Pitu damages of $1.2 million after a pipe burst in 2009. But an appeals court overturned that ruling, finding that the policy was capped for water damage at just $25,000.
The sales price will more than cover the difference.
The $47 million deal equals the price paid for an Indian Creek mansion in 2012 by an unidentified Russian billionaire. The most expensive sale in Miami-Dade history remains a $60 million condo that was sold last year to Chicago hedge-fund mogul Ken Griffin.
Said Matheson: “Not too long ago $47 million would have bought you the whole island.”