5511 Park Lane new exterior

This 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!