Palm Beach historic house sells after nearly 50 years in same family

Palm Beach historic house sells after nearly 50 years in same family

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“This Old House” handyman Bob Vila and wife Diana Barrett buy the landmarked home of interior designer Leta Austin Foster and husband Ridgely on Pendleton Lane in Midtown.

Bob Vila of television’s “This Old House” fame and his wife, Diana Barrett, have paid a recorded $12.5 million for a landmarked Palm Beach home that had been in the Foster family for nearly 50 years.

Longtime Palm Beach interior designer Leta Austin Foster and her real-estate agent husband, Ridgely, sold Vila and Barrett their 1940s-era house at 345 Pendleton Lane, a private street in Palm Beach. The Fosters bought the house for $180,000 in 1975 and sold it through trusts in both of their names, according to courthouse documents. 

Vila and Barrett, meanwhile, have their longtime lakefront home across town on Everglades Island listed for sale at $52.9 million, as previously reported by the Palm Beach Daily News.

The Georgian Revival-style house the couple just bought has five bedrooms and 5,340 square feet of living space, inside and out. It was built in 1940 to a design by the late John L. Volk, a prolific Palm Beach architect who drew the plans for all of the original houses on Pendleton Lane. Only one of those houses has been demolished and replaced.

The Fosters at one point resided at their house but also leased out the property to tenants over the years, the multiple listing service shows. Their main residence in Palm Beach today is an apartment over the Leta Austin Foster home-furnishings, apparel and gift boutique in a building they own in the Via Mizner off Worth Avenue. 

Vila, a former chairman of the Palm Beach Architectural Commission, starred in the home-improvement shows “This Old House” and “Restore America with Bob Vila.”

The sale on Pendleton Lane closed Dec. 7, according to the multiple listing service, but the deed was not recorded until a few days later by the Palm Beach County Clerk’s office.

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Photographs of the house in the MLS show it has many of the architectural signatures of Volk houses of its era, including a gracefully curved staircase, generously proportioned rooms and French doors. In the rear, a covered patio overlooks the swimming pool, which is set into an informal landscape. 

Pendleton Lane is a short cul-de-sac lined with vintage houses between the Intracoastal Waterway and Cocoanut Row, several streets north of Royal Palm Way. It is among a handful of private streets in town and is owned by the homeowners, who also maintain it.

Nearby Pendleton Avenue, a public street, picks up on the other side of Coconut Row and runs to South County Road, bordering The Breakers’ golf course.

The former Foster residence stands on a quarter-acre lot on the north side Pendleton Lane’s terminus, one house east of the lake. 

Leta Foster decorated the house in the eclectic style she is known for, with a mix of traditional but comfortable furnishings, muted colors and painted finishes. 

Agent Jeff Cloninger of Sotheby’s International Realty listed the house Sept. 1 at $15 million, the MLS shows. It landed under contract about five weeks later. Citing a confidentiality agreement, Cloninger declined to comment about the transaction or the parties involved.

Leta Foster also declined to discuss the sale, and Bob Vila, his wife and son could not be reached immediately for comment.

One of Vila and Barrett’s children, real estate agent Chris Vila of PB Realty Advisors, is said be have acted for his parents in the sale, according a source familiar with the transaction. Chris Vila could not be immediately reached Friday.

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Town officials named the house a landmark in 2022. The designation means that the exterior can’t be significantly altered without the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

“In keeping with the Georgian Revival style, the focal point of the main façade is the center entry,” said a report on the house prepared as part of the landmarking process. “This decorative entry features a distinctive screen door with slanted wood elements in front of the wood paneled door (that) is topped by a charming transom.” 

The walkway to the front door is flanked by lily ponds.

At one point in the late 1990s, the town considered creating a historic district that would encompass Pendleton Lane and Pendleton Avenue, but the Town Council did not end up endorsing that plan.

The former Foster house’s unassuming, small-scale architecture is typical of the pared-down look of many homes in Palm Beach during the 1930s and ’40s. They contrast with the fanciful Mediterranean-style homes and rambling mansions built during the Roaring ’20s, which ended in Florida with the bust of the real estate boom and the advent of the Great Depression. 

The sale price was first reported Monday in the MLS.

Bob Vila, Diana Barrett listed Everglades Island house for sale in November

The seven-bedroom house that Vila and Barrett have listed for sale on Everglades island stands at 690 Island Drive and entered the MLS in early November.

Built in 1949 but remodeled and expanded by Vila and Barrett, the house has about 7,621 square feet of living space, inside and out. Its interior space totals about 6,300 square feet.

On the east side of Everglades Island, the lot measures four-fifths of an acre with about 175 feet of frontage on the Intracoastal Waterway. The rear of the house looks directly across the Lake Worth Lagoon to the rest of Palm Beach. The property has a dock with a boat lift.

The house has not been on the market in nearly 50 years, according to its sales listing. It had been in Barrett’s family before she bought it from the estate of her late mother, Gioconda King, for $6.5 million in 2005, property records show. King, who died in 2004, was the widow of investment banker Joseph King and had owned the house since 1975. 

Barrett previously taught business and public health at Harvard University. She owns the house in her name and has it listed as her primary home in Palm Beach County property records.

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Bob Vila, Diana Barrett are only the fourth owners of the house on Pendleton Lane

Including Vila and Barrett, the house on Pendleton Lane has been owned by just four families since its construction.

The house was built by Arnold Construction Co. for jeweler Milton A. Ellen Fuller and his wife, Ellen. Milton Fuller had an eponymous shop on Worth Avenue.

In 1965, the house was sold Richard Collier, “grandson of the pioneer south Florida developer Barron G. Collierwho accumulated and later developed over a million acres of southwest Florida land and was the namesake of Collier County,” the landmarks report says.

After 10 years of ownership, Collier sold the house to the Fosters.

With offices in Palm Beach and New York, Leta Foster founded her eponymous interior-design firm more than 40 years ago. Her award-winning work, which has been published in leading design magazines, was the subject of a 2015 book, “Traditional Interiors: Leta Austin Foster, India Foster and Sallie Giordano.” 

Her husband is an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty

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This story was updated Dec. 12 — the day the deed recorded for the sale of345 Pendleton Lane — to include the identity of the buyers. Portions of this story appeared previously in the Palm Beach Daily News. This is a developing story. Check back for any updates.

Darrell Hofheinz is a USA TODAY Network of Florida journalist who writes about Palm Beach real estate in his weekly “Beyond the Hedges” column. He welcomes tips about real estate news on the island. Email dhofheinz@pbdailynews.com, call 561-820-3831 or tweet @PBDN_Hofheinz. 

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