In the early 1900s, the country’s wealthiest businessmen including
William Randolph Hearst
and John D. Rockefeller built sprawling, gilded estates. Living at that kind of boundless scale fell out of favor with subsequent generations, however, and these kinds of estates were either subdivided or turned over to the state or to preservationists.
Now, hedge-fund multibillionaire
appears to be mounting a single-handed campaign to bring that level of extravagance back into vogue. Over the past five years or so, Mr. Griffin, an ambitious 51-year-old businessman who started his initial trading business from his Harvard University dorm room as a freshman, has developed a reputation among real-estate insiders as the luxury market’s whale, racking up a string of purchases that tally up to over $1 billion.
The deals often have a few things in common: Mr. Griffin typically buys the most expensive properties in the most expensive buildings and neighborhoods around the world. He often assembles numerous apartments or sites to expand his footprint, and typically breaks a price record in the process.
Some of his buys include a $238 million apartment at 220 Central Park South, the ultraexpensive tower on New York’s Billionaires’ Row, which set a record last year for the most expensive home ever sold in the United States. Mr. Griffin has also spent roughly $350 million assembling a massive waterfront site in Palm Beach, Fla., $84 million on a Hamptons compound, and he has set records for the most expensive apartments ever sold in Miami and Chicago.
In London, he purchased a $122 million mansion near Buckingham Palace last year. He has also had talks about purchasing an apartment at the Peninsula London, an under-construction condo project widely considered to be one of the city’s most luxurious, according to people familiar with the market.
In Los Angeles, luxury real-estate agents said Mr. Griffin has eyed several properties, including a $125 million Bel-Air mansion owned by plastic surgeon and rhinoplasty specialist Dr. Raj Kanodia and Owlwood, a historic Holmby Hills estate once owned by Sonny and Cher and listed for $115 million.
The coronavirus didn’t slow him down. In August, Mr. Griffin spent a combined $69.5 million to purchase three sites on Miami’s Star Island, a tiny enclave of roughly 30 homes and whose residents have included Rosie O’Donnell and Gloria Estefan, according to a person familiar with the deal. The sites included one that had been in contract to be sold to entertainer Jennifer Lopez and former New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, that person said.
Mr. Griffin also owns an oceanfront home at the Four Seasons Hualalai resort in Hawaii, which he bought for just under $17 million in 2011. The property includes a roughly 5,600-square-foot Balinese style home with four bedrooms. He also owns an additional 4-acre site on the resort, which he bought for $11.38 million in 2009.
During the early months of the pandemic, Mr. Griffin remained mostly at his home in Chicago, while some of his traders holed up at the Four Seasons hotel in Palm Beach, where they were guarded by off-duty police officers from the Palm Beach Police Department hired by one of Mr. Griffin’s companies, Citadel Securities. No one other than employees of the company or the hotel were allowed inside the entire hotel, and the traders worked and slept there.
Real-estate industry veterans view the spate of deals—which dwarfs purchases by even prolific spenders like tech titans Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg—with a combination of wonder and bafflement. Why pay record-breaking sums for all these homes at a time when many speculate that the market was at its peak? Some said his individual spending has been so extreme that it may have actually served as a wide-ranging boon to the luxury market across the country, setting a new benchmark for values.
“When you add it up, for one person in this era it seems somewhat unprecedented,” said appraiser
of Miller Samuel. “I think many people are scratching their heads, like we’re not sure what the plan is here.”
Mr. Griffin, who lives primarily in Chicago and is divorced with three children, declined an interview request. A person familiar with Mr. Griffin’s search said he often buys properties near his companies’ offices or family, and said his recent purchase on Star Island came in advance of Citadel opening an office in Miami in the next year or two. He isn’t investing for the short term or looking for quick returns, that person said.
Mr. Griffin’s spending has occurred amid a backdrop of success for his company. In recent years, his hedge fund Citadel has grown its assets under management to roughly $35 billion. Last year, its primary fund posted returns of 19.4%, beating industry rivals.
A spokesman for Mr. Griffin pointed to his philanthropy, noting that he recently donated $40 million to Covid-19 relief, specifically for personal protective equipment, humanitarian aid and funding for scientific initiatives. Mr. Griffin’s net worth is pegged at about $15.4 billion by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
“I don’t manufacture cars,” Mr. Griffin told The Wall Street Journal in 2015, “but we do manufacture money.”
Read on for a closer look at Mr. Griffin’s most impressive homes around the country and how their value has likely fluctuated.
Mr. Griffin made a major splash in London when he bought one of the city’s most expensive homes during the heat of Britain’s Brexit negotiations in January 2019, according to people familiar with the transaction.
At the time, the $122 million deal for the property, a landmark Georgian mansion overlooking St. James’s Park and the Mall, the ceremonial route leading to Buckingham Palace, was the most expensive sale to have closed in Britain since 2011. Mr. Griffin negotiated the price down from the original asking price of roughly $160 million.
The property is on Carlton Place, which has three mansions, the other two of which are home to the U.K. foreign secretary and to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. Mr. Griffin’s was formerly used by MI6, the U.K.’s intelligence service, to interview recruits and had been recently revamped by British luxury real-estate developer Mike Spink.
“It was an extraordinary deal for the times,” said Jeremy Gee, managing director of London-based real-estate firm Beauchamp Estates, who wasn’t involved in the deal. “We were in the middle of Brexit, and there was so much uncertainty.”
Mr. Griffin has also eyed an apartment at the Peninsula London, an under-construction development less than 2 miles away. Designed by the leather-clad bad-boy architect Peter Marino, the 25-unit project has a private porte cochère, a 25-meter swimming pool, a screening room and a gym and spa. Mr. Gee called it one of the most important new buildings in the city.
He could “choose depending on the mood he’s in which one he wants to stay in,” he joked of Mr. Griffin.
Mr. Gee said the London luxury market has since been hobbled by Covid-19, since the high-rolling foreign buyers who power that segment of the market aren’t traveling to the U.K. to shop for real estate.
Last year, Mr. Griffin grabbed headlines by closing on a deal he initially made in 2015 to pay about $238 million for an apartment in 220 Central Park South. It is still the priciest residential sale ever closed in the U.S., and is more than twice the record for a New York home.
Roughly 24,000 square feet across three floors, the apartment is the best in the city, many real-estate agents said, with unobstructed views of Central Park. It was delivered as a white box so Mr. Griffin could customize it to his tastes, according to people familiar with the deal.
The building, developed by
has interiors by Thierry W. Despont. The building has also drawn celebrities like the performer Sting and financial titans such as hedge funder
Real-estate experts said Mr. Griffin’s purchase helped fuel legislation that ultimately increased taxes on buyers of luxury homes in New York, and came to personify the issue of wealth inequality in the city.
“I consider that sale a watershed moment where politics and real estate intersected,” said luxury real-estate agent Donna Olshan. “It was significant not just for the price, but for the sentiment that was stirred up around it. It triggered a series of political events.”
Despite the building’s prestige, real-estate insiders believe the value of Mr. Griffin’s condo likely has suffered the effects of an oversupply of residential inventory along Billionaires’ Row, tax changes in New York that target buyers of luxury properties and the recent onslaught of Covid-19.
He decided to buy the units “at the height of the market in 2015,” Mr. Miller said. But the market “isn’t what it was.”
Mr. Griffin’s new penthouse is still under construction. Meanwhile, Mr. Griffin also still owns a full-floor apartment at 820 Fifth Avenue, a storied co-op building off Central Park, which he bought from philanthropist Lily Safra for $40 million in 2009, records show.
Also in 2015, Mr. Griffin purchased a pair of apartments at the top of Faena House, a then under-construction condominium in Miami Beach, for $60 million. Though they have not yet been combined, the resulting penthouse is often cited as the most expensive unit ever sold in Miami.
He was one of a string of financial titans to buy in the building, including Apollo Global Management’s Leon Black and former Goldman Sachs chief executive
. They earned the building the moniker “Billionaires’ Bunker.”
The building was designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning firm Foster + Partners. Mr. Griffin’s roughly 12,500-square-foot apartment has nearly 10,000 square feet of terraces and a 70-foot-long rooftop pool.
Since then, the Miami condo market has taken a nosedive amid a flood of new inventory, and prices at the building have suffered. Some of the big names who have tried to sell their units have taken significant losses. Art dealer Larry Gagosian sold his apartment at the building for $12 million in 2017, a loss of nearly $1 million, and Mr. Black sold his unit at the building for $12.5 million, far less than the $16.5 million he paid, records show.
Mr. Griffin tried his own luck selling his unit in 2016, listing it for $73 million, but didn’t attract a buyer. The property has since been taken off the market.
“They thought they could get in early and get out early, but these out-of-towners got snookered,” said
, a principal with real-estate consulting firm Condo Vultures. He added that Mr. Griffin’s unit has likely lost further value since then. While neighboring areas like Palm Beach have seen an enormous uptick in deal flow since the pandemic began, high-rise buildings in Miami Beach are still suffering, he said.
“This is like a worst-case scenario,” he said. “Not only did people overpay to be in that building, now you have this movement away from high-rise living.”
For roughly a decade, Mr. Griffin has been buying parcels of land in Palm Beach to assemble one of the largest private waterfront sites in the county, with plans to build a grand estate. The total price tag: $350 million before construction.
Mr. Griffin has slowly pieced the land together, most recently paying $99.1 million for a mansion on 3.6 acres owned by former Los Angeles Dodgers owner
. The land is about a quarter of a mile south of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago private club.
Local agents said Mr. Griffin’s activities in Palm Beach have lifted up the market and cemented Palm Beach as a place that can command nine-figure sums for luxury homes. That lift has been more recently compounded by the pandemic, which sent well-heeled New Yorkers fleeing to Florida in search of oceanfront homes.
“He has managed to bring more attention to Palm Beach than all the other billionaires combined,” said Gary Pohrer of Douglas Elliman, who has no connection to Mr. Griffin’s deals.
Mr. Griffin broke the record for a Chicago home sale in 2017 when he paid $58.75 million for a penthouse apartment atop the No. 9 Walton, the city’s then under-construction luxury condo tower. Residents have access to an in-house car and driver, a gym, a sauna and a wine cellar.
Mr. Griffin made a deal with the building’s developer Jim Letchinger, to design a penthouse for him, increasing its size to four full floors from two, said Nancy Tassone of Jameson Sotheby’s Realty, who headed sales at the building. It would again be delivered as a shell so that Mr. Griffin could customize.
Meanwhile, Mr. Griffin maintains his former Chicago home, a massive full floor penthouse at the Waldorf Astoria private residences across the street, which he bought for $6.884 million in 2010, records show.
Local agent Ken Dooley of Compass, who wasn’t involved in the sale, said Mr. Griffin’s new penthouse is so unusual in its scale that it is hard to know what the resale value would be.
He noted that the downtown Chicago area where the building is located has been the center of unrest in the city following the killing of George Floyd, and many of the stores and restaurants closed because of the pandemic.
“At this point in time, you would not be in a good spot,” he said. “The situation downtown is taking the air out of the market a bit.”
In February, Mr. Griffin bought a 7-acre estate on Meadow Lane, an exclusive oceanfront enclave, for $84.45 million. The seller was fashion designer Calvin Klein.
The modern oceanfront compound comprises three buildings that are connected underground: a main building, a studio wing and a guest wing.
The property is on the site of an old mansion known as Dragon Head, which had been owned by the wealthy du Pont family and later by Jane Holzer, better known as “Baby Jane” or Andy Warhol’s muse.
Since Mr. Griffin’s purchase, the Hamptons market, which had been sluggish for about two years, has picked up dramatically because of the pandemic, as New Yorkers flee to less dense locales.
In Aspen, Colo., records show Mr. Griffin owns a pair of adjacent homes with a combined 12 bedrooms on Tiehack Mountain in the Maroon Creek Club, a high-end golf course community. He pieced together the compound over several years, buying the first house for $10 million in 2013 and the second for $12.8 million in 2015, records show.
The estate has several wine rooms, two home theaters, fire pits and an outdoor pop-up screen for watching movies, according to a listing video for the property.
Values in Aspen have soared since the coronavirus pandemic, as wealthy buyers flee to the area for its vast open spaces.
In September, new signed contracts for homes priced $10 million to $19.99 million were up 800% from the previous year, while two homes sold for more than $20 million, according to a recent report by Douglas Elliman.
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