5511 Park Lane new exteriorThis story about one of the biggest scams in sport history may have been my first reckoning that when I write about homes, I write, really, about dreams and aspirations…  homes today have become statements of personal success, trophies, our financial statements on display. Eight thousand square feet is not enough – I want 15,000 and a room of animal heads. Or I want a waterpark for my kids.

Reading over the Spano story I wrote for D in 1998, I am laughing like a woman looking at herself dressed in 1980′s-era padded shoulders and big earrings. What the hell was I thinking? 

“Late November 1997. Our Preston Hollow home had been on the market for almost a year and was probably overpriced. We had shown it to so many people I was dizzy. The neighborhood was overwhelmed with tear-down fever, but our home-a stately, traditional two-story listed for S 1.05 million-was moving like Geritol in molasses. By November, my husband and I had dropped the price to $990,000, eager to move on.”

ONLY $990,000 for an effing 1.20 acres corner of Park and Hollow Way in the honey pot?

Park Lane tear down

It’s funny how we look at real estate during different time periods. In 1997, I thought a million dollars for a home was jackpot. Unattainable, almost.  But as I wrote just this week, lately a million looks almost paltry compared to the double-digit homes out there that are bigger and more complicated than any of us could ever imagine! In fact, no one can imagine all the media rooms morning rooms panic rooms security safes barre ballet studio Zen garden enhanced putting greens bedroom basketball courts multiple fireplaced triple master bedroom separate master baths with sauna bidet and Toto rainfall showers gourmet kitchens (so 2006) butlers’ kitchen butlers’ kitchens’ kitchen pastry kitchen pantry wine cellar underground garage parking for 18 and — how can I forget — waterpark in the back-yard that are going into these trophy homes today. Remember Kelly Ford’s home in Highland Park with the Turkish Bath?

My point is this: what I thought was hot stuff in 1997 is like, well, not so hot today to put it mildly, including my 1990′s wardrobe.

I write this because Hot Shot is showing at this weekend’s USA Film Festival, Sunday night at 7:30 at The Angelika.  It’s an ESPN 30 for 30 production focusing on one of the biggest scams in sports history, the scandal surrounding former New York Islanders owner John Spano. It debuted in New York mid-April. The documentary will air in October on ESPN. It explains and examines how the New York-born, Ohio-raised John Spano agreed to purchase the New York Islanders in October of 1996 from then-owner John Pickett for $165 million. Here’s the problem: Spano turned out to be a fraud, his net worth barely more than $2 million when he claimed $200 million. But for four months, from when the NHL approved him as owner in February until July when New York’s Newsday published a story and blew his financial bs wide open, John Spano actually owned the Islanders, all without paying very much at all. Spano also had some fun in Dallas.

Reading this now, I almost feel like I am back into Michael Lewis’ The Big Short. News for you: people were faking it ’till they made it all over the place in the mid-2000′s. Likely they just didn’t lie on their financial statements, which is what John did allegedly, along with sending out phoney letters of recommendation and bank statements.

“Big Shot” thus “is a twisted look at the sometimes corrosive power of the American dream.” Big houses are always, always included in that dream, preferably five of them. Kevin Connolly, an actor who plays (played?) Eric Murphy (a.k.a. “E”) on “Entourage,” is the documentary filmmaker who made this film and traced Spano’s rise and fall. He interviewed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, former Islanders business managers and even Spano himself to tell the true story of a man who managed to con so many into believing he was incredibly wealthy. I’m told Spano sat in the audience for one of the premieres.

What did John Spano do in Dallas? Oh, just try to buy the Dallas Stars in 1995, this before he tried to buy the Islanders.  Maybe he was warming up.  As I wrote back then, and forgive me because I have slept a little since 1997,

“…in a complex financial maze spanning more than two years, this guy had managed to con some pretty savvy people in his quest to buy Dallas’ hockey team — Stars president Jim Lites, investment banker Robert Innamorati, then Staubach Company president Jim Leslie. (The Staubach Company was acquired by Jones Lang LaSalle) (He also took down a banker who believed him at Comerica Bank.) In nearly every case, Spano displayed wealth, promised to wire money, and produced phony bank letters assuring funds that never materialized.”

The Dallas Observer had a long story on John Spano, great piece. It details his background, though his family did not return phone calls. It explains the detailed nuances of what he was trying to do with these teams, how he did it, and reminded me that we all used to use fax machines before we could scan and email. I saw John Spano’s fax machine in his home on University, and I remember thinking like the typical dramatic writer/woman I am, this is the machine – this right here is where it all happened.

And I almost got stuck in the home elevator, too.

But if you read the Observer piece, tell me if you feel a little like I did, that perhaps what Spano was doing foreshadowed the games played on Wall Street just a few years later. The games that brought down our economy for a good five years, maybe more. Sure, Spano may have been more blatant, and you certainly don’t lie about your ability to pay for something when you seek financing. That’s fraud. But also, isn’t it every big shot’s dream to take $2 million and turn it into $200 million or more, buy a home in the Park Cities, a couple ski homes and at least a private jet membership, then give it all to charity like George Soros?

That’s what the movie is all about.

And houses are a major part of any Big Shot’s ambitions. This story may have been my first reckoning that when I write about homes, I write, really, about dreams and aspirations. Homes are the way we nurture and protect ourselves, our families, but let’s face it: that can be done in 2500 square feet. No sir, homes have become statements of personal success, trophies, our financial statements on display. Eight thousand square feet is not enough – I want 15,000 and a room of animal heads. Or I want a waterpark for my kids.

Homes, it turns out, are really about the people inside them. That is why I am so obsessed with House Porn.

Our home on Park Lane is shown above. It was torn down in 2010, a 9882 square foot stone construction trophy home with basement re-constructed in it’s place with bird-houses built into the stone fence like turrets, a six-car motor court, the pool and tennis court we enjoyed ripped out and replaced with stunning new landscaping. They took down trees, but many of them had to go. Every time I drive by, the lot speaks to me and kind of winks, almost saying, you won’t believe what they are putting in this place!

 

Elliot Gould. Sigh.

Thought you saw some celebs zipping around town this weekend? It was movie week in Dallas, and film lovers enjoyed great screenings at the Angelika from the 42nd annual USA Film Festival, the city’s oldest festival, notably a restored digital print of Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise, the original True Grit (with Kim Darby in attendance), and a screening of the beloved The Princess Bride, part of a tribute to Rob Reiner, also in attendance.

My signature, of course, was The Queen of Versailles, the story of a billionaire family and their financial challenges in the wake of the housing bust in Florida (imagine that!) and their construction of the largest house in America, the 90,000 square foot “Versailles”. To give you a perspective, the house would be about two Champ d’Or’s put together, or three of what Dr. Malouf is confabulating over on Strait Lane. (I did not yet screen the movie because I hosted the after party, but a copy is en route and I will review for you toote suite!)

With Realtor Ben Jones

Last night, I really enjoyed  Dorfman, starring Elliot Gould, a festival honoree who I had the pleasure of meeting. Have always thought he rocked! His performance in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is one of my all-time faves. DORFMAN, Gould’s newest, is a must-see. It’s a charming romantic yarn centering on Deb (Deborah) Dorfman, played by Sara Rue, who is looking for love while living with her Jewish family in the Valley (San Fernando). Am trying to draw parallels to a comparable Dallas neighborhood — Plano? North Dallas?  Her father is a depressed widower played brilliantly by Gould. Her brother is the typical golden boy of the family, head of their family CPA firm. The script chronicles Deb’s moving out of the family house literally and figuratively, as she discovers herself and love in the process. The characters are rich and the lines will keep you laughing. I came away with ALMOST a “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” feel, almost. I hope this movie makes it to theaters soon and when it does, please go see it.

With Realtor Scott Carlson

Met the writer Wendy Kout as well as the producer, Leonard Hill and his lovely wife at the stunning home of Reagan and Feaff Fearon. (It is a tradition of the USA FF that after-screening parties are held in private homes to honor film makers, writers, actors and guests.) When they learned of my blog and obsession with real estate, Leonard and Elliot both commented on Dallas housing and said they totally get my sickness:

“You have so many beautiful varieties of housing here, each more beautiful than the next,” said Leonard. “And how wonderful that you host us in your homes!”

The 2012 festival is now history, and if you thought this year’s schedule was awesome, well, in the words of Al Jolson, ”you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Would you like to know more about The Queen of Versailles? Attention all readers: CandysDirt.com is proud to be a sponsor of Opening Night of the 42nd Annual USA Film Festival in Dallas. We are so pumped we are offering you guys a freebie exclusive for CandysDirt readers: sign up for FREE tickets to “The Queen of Versailles” on Wednesday, April 25th, 7:00pm at the Angelika Film Center Dallas.

That is this Wednesday! And you will even get to be my guest at the fabu post-party Chez Evans.

Readers can sign up for a FREE PAIR OF TICKETS to join me for the Opening Night screening of the new film, “The Queen of Versailles”, the incredible true (and controversial) story of the colorful Florida couple (he was the billionaire “Timeshare King” and she was a former Mrs. America) and their rags-to-riches story — which included their triumphant plans to construct the largest private residence in America – a 90,000 sq. ft. palace! However, due to the economic crisis, their sprawling empire, fueled by the real estate bubble and cheap mortgage money, falters and plops, bringing about major changes in their plans and lifestyle. Fascinating, funny and tragic, their story is unforgettable and may remind us of a few properties in Dallas. Hmmm.

To request tickets and join me for the film, just email the following information to the USA Film Festival at usafilmfest@aol.com

-your name

-daytime telephone number (so they can confirm you tickets)

Tickets are limited. Get your fingers clicking right now…