A 1920s landmark with a yard layout lists for $29 million
“We updated it, but kept the character,” homeowner Jack Cohen says of the historic 1920s home near the ocean in the estate section of 137 El Vedado Road.
When the 1926-era Palm Beach home known as Villa Vera Maria, located at 137 El Vedado Road, was designated a Palm Beach Landmark in 1990, a report prepared for the Landmarks Preservation Commission contained a nugget that captured the essence of the property in Real estate department.
The report noted a “fantastic Mediterranean revival house” characterized by “a powerful crowd, a sumptuous use of arcades, and, in general, a great deal of convincing beauty.”
The owners of the house at the time of appointment were – and still are – retired businessman Jack Cohen and his wife, Françoise. They purchased the oceanfront property in April 1987 and embarked on a historically sensitive renovation and restoration project. Because the house is so iconic, many of its exterior walls are protected from any major changes unless the project is approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
“We updated it but kept its personality,” says Jack Cohen, who co-founded Prestige Cosmetics.
The Cohen family maintains another residence in St. Helena, California, and has made plans to find a smaller home in Palm Beach. As such, their five-bedroom, 6-1/2-bath home and guesthouse — with a combined 7,402 square feet of living space, inside and out — is for sale. William Raveis’ South Florida agents, Jack Elkins and Shirley Weiner, have co-listed the property for $29 million.
Running a cosmetics company is how Jack makes his living, but his knowledge of beauty is much more than just in-depth knowledge, especially when it comes to architecture.
He says Villa Vera Maria seemed immediately familiar to him when he first encountered it. He grew up in the same type of architectural environment in Casablanca, Morocco, where his family home was built around a courtyard similar to that of Villa Vera Maria.
His family later moved to Canada and he attended university in Montreal and studied engineering.
“With all the work we’ve done, this house is easier to maintain,” he says. “I’m not a handyman, but I can do things. But here, there’s nothing to do.”
He remains impressed by the home’s interior and exterior beauty: “This is a quintessential Palm Beach home, built for living outside while still living inside,” he points out. “It has such a unique architecture. Everything is open.”
He explains that moving from one room to another often means going out into open corridors in the open air.
“It’s clearly covered — and we like that kind of environment,” he says.
The front courtyard provides access to several parts of the Palm Beach home
The house is located at the northeast corner of South County Road and El Vedado Road, and is the third house from the beach.
El Vedado Road has long been considered one of the city’s main addresses, along with the two other adjacent “El” streets – El Brillo Road and El Bravo Road. El Vedado’s historic and stately homes are spread out, stretching between the Atlantic Ocean and a secluded lagoon on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Among their improvements, the Cohens renovated the plumbing and electrical systems; Air conditioning installed; Equipping windows and doors with impact-resistant glass; Bathroom renovation. Merging small rooms to create larger spaces.
Bob Vila lists his Palm Beach home: The Palm Beach home of “This Old House” star Bob Vila is on the market for $52.9 million
The main house has a generalized H-shaped floor plan. A wraparound metal gate leads visitors to the outdoor front courtyard, where a door opens directly into the living room to the west. On the north side of the courtyard is a covered portico, with doorways leading to the foyer and stair hall. On the east side of the “H” are the kitchen and dining room, and north of the living room are the study wing and guest bedroom.
“The (front) courtyard is really special. It has original tiles imported from Cuba, and all the gates are original. In the courtyard there is a wheel (mounted on the wall) with six ‘hands’ (clock style) attached to different sized bells. You turn the wheel,” he says. The bells ring – this is our entrance bell.”
He adds that in the covered area of the courtyard, there is a rectangle of architectural floor tiles written in Arabic.
The second floor features a covered cloister with a terrace and an outdoor tower room
At the center of the second floor design is a covered cloister that opens onto a balcony. A staircase leads to an open-air tower “room” where columns support the roof beams.
“It’s very quiet in the tower, and you have a beautiful view of the pool,” says Jack.
The master bedroom suite is located in the east wing on the second floor, while the two bedroom suite is located in the west wing.
The guest house and porte-cochere are separate from the main residence.
Palm Beach Properties: Tommy Hilfiger and his wife have relisted one of their Palm Beach homes for nearly $36 million
Original features in the main house’s living room include the soaring ceiling covered in pine cypress beams. working fireplace with carved fireplace mantel; The original marble floors.
Leading to the western gardens, an arched door into the living room is framed by carved decoration.
Another original door that opens into the foyer is also noteworthy, Jack says.
“It’s amazing, an old, hand-painted church door from Venice. I wish I could take it with me,” he says.
In the foyer itself, a massive cypress arched door leads to the first-floor bedroom and pool area, and the main staircase features original Cuban tiles.
The Cohens installed a contemporary-style kitchen during their renovation
During the renovation, the Cohens combined the original dining room and kitchen.
“There used to be a wall between them. Now it’s an open, flowing space. “We like a crisp, clean (look) without the clutter,” he explains. “We put in a ceramic tile floor, updated cabinets, tables and new lighting.”
The space has a working fireplace with a carved marble mantel. French doors open to the patio.
In the master bedroom suite, more French doors open to a Juliette-style balcony with a treetop view. The Cohens installed limestone floors in the bathrooms and bedroom and set aside space for closets.
They also completely rebuilt the guest house, which can also become a staff quarters. With cypress roofs, it has a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen.
At the market in Palm Beach: Historic lakeside Palm Beach home is listed for $30 million, more than double what it sold for in 2021.
The lot is approximately seven-tenths of an acre in size and is extensively landscaped.
“The previous owner was a horticulturist, and he planted some interesting trees. We just cleaned everything up, maintained the grounds, and added the pool,” Jack says.
The statues surrounding the pool are original to the house, as are the fountains.
He says being separated from their home will be difficult.
“I’m so used to this house, it’s going to be so hard to get out of here. We’ve lived in this house for 35 years. This is a testament to how much we love it.”
“We are the fourth family to live in this house, so everyone has stayed for about 25 years on average,” he adds.
To see more photos of 137 El Vedado Road in Palm Beach, click through the photo gallery at the top of this page.