The Billionaire's Club
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To be fair, people like Cohen also need lots of floor and wall space for art—not portraits of dogs on velvet sitting around a card table playing poker, but real art. Over the years, Cohen has assembled an extraordinary collection of works by Picasso, Cézanne, Warhol, Francis Bacon and Jeff Koons, among others. His most notable acquisitions include a Pollock “drip” painting for $52 million and a de Kooning landscape for $63.5 million (both purchased from music mogel David Geffen). But his biggest splash in the art world came when he purchased “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”—a very dead 14-foot shark floating in a tank of formaldehyde—for $8 million by British artist Damien Hirst (who doesn’t live in Greenwich but probably could if he wanted to). In November 2008, Cohen and his second wife, Alexandra, applied to the Greenwich Planning and Zoning Commission for a special permit to add an additional 1,145 square feet to their house—perhaps they have a larger tank and species in mind.
Meanwhile, some Greenwich billionaires are known to spend their money for more ephemeral things. Ray Dalio, who lives with his wife, Barbara, in an 1891 5,500-square-foot colonial in the gated Belle Haven section of town, once hosted a benefit party featuring the Allman Brothers and Bonnie Raitt.
Paul Tudor Jones appears less concerned with privacy than with sharing a radiant message with the public. For 10 nights every Christmas, he puts on a massive Christmas show from his Belle Haven estate, his property festooned with 15,000 lights and his own radio show broadcasting synchronized holiday tunes. Some Greenwich residents have called the display of wattage and wealth “garish.” Others, including some Belle Haven neighbors, have called to complain to the Greenwich police. Those calls may well have fallen on deaf ears, however: Most of the town’s patrolmen were no doubt doing double duty directing traffic for the public event, which is said to draw thousands of residents and out-of-towners.
As for Jones’ property itself, at first a clerk in the Greenwich assessor’s office has trouble identifying it. “It may be under a company,” she says. “The majority of wealthy homeowners have them under LLCs.” In fact, a few years ago Jones transferred the house and land to a Manhattan law firm. After digging through field cards, the clerk finally comes across another category of property: cars. Even she is astounded by what she finds.
“Holy Mother of God!,” the woman exclaims. “There’s a Honda—maybe that’s the maid’s or the nanny’s—a Mercedes, a Caddy Escalade, a Lexus, an Oldsmobile, a Plymouth, a Suburban, another Cadillac, a Chevy station wagon, another Mercedes . . .” She pauses. “Wait—oh, this must be a trailer for the boat.” The vehicles are rumored to be kept in a 25-car garage beneath the 13,153-square-foot mansion, which has been said to resemble “a cross between Tara and a national monument.” (And that’s just in Greenwich. In 2002, Jones leased 340,000 acres of the pristine Grumeti Reserves in Tanzania’s western Serengeti as part of a conservation project and luxury safari resort, minus the hunting.)
Meanwhile, life isn’t exactly shabby for members of the billionaires’ club beyond the Greenwich city limits. Richard Chilton Jr., founder of Chilton Investment, a hedge fund, lives in Darien in a 9,000-square-foot colonial built in 1927. Karen Pritzker lives with her husband and children in Branford in an 8,000-square-foot gabled and clapboard mansion, and owns some of the Thimble Islands. (Pritzker and Chilton are relatively far down on the Forbes list: They are tied at No. 308.)
In some respects, new money as represented by the Forbes 400 resembles old money. At a time when the town is seeing an influx of international moguls who want to show the world what they’ve accomplished, these home-grown billionaires are trying to keep a low profile.
“Greenwich used to be slightly more open about houses and money,” says Tamarr Lurie, a realtor with Coldwell Banker in Greenwich and one of the most successful brokers of high-end real estate in the area. “Everyone knew everything. But buyers and sellers are more guarded these days. It’s no secret that Wall Street is trying to keep a low profile—they don’t want their names all over the place.” According to Lurie, everyone involved in high-end transactions in town these days must sign confidentiality agreements not to divulge any information about the buyers or the sellers.