July 22, 2014

Condo Confidential

While neighboring buildings might be newer and more luxurious, none has the cachet of the Enclave. (Michael Witte)Ah, the rich.They’re different from you and me. That is unless you’re rich. (If that’s the case, we encourage you to stop reading this right now.) The difference is that the poor tend to handle problems on their own, in wife-beaters and in their underwear, with a can of beer that strengthens their resolve. The rich are, at the very least, better dressed, prefer scotch, and don’t have the physical stamina to run the great distances necessary for an episode of Cops. That’s why they have lawyers, frankly. And we expect to hear from a few of them any minute now. Why? Because we’ve decided to look at life in one of the most exclusive high-rise condominiums in Naples—the Enclave at Gulf Shore.

Don’t kid yourself, your choice of housing says a lot about you. For example, if you live in a mobile home—you’re mobile (just not upwardly). If you live in a single-family residence—you know, with a yard and a garage and neighbors who wander over every time they see you outside—you’ve bought into the American dream. But if you live at 4601 Gulf Shore Blvd. N. in Naples—oh brother and/or sister—you’re living the American dream.

Checking in at a whopping 29 stories (it was completed in 1991, just before lower height restrictions kicked in), it features a mere 28 units, meaning each resident of the beachfront condo has an entire 7,500-square-feet floor to themselves—giving every owner spectacular 360-degree views of Naples and the surrounding area. And while some other neighboring buildings might be newer, and more luxurious, none has the cachet of the Enclave.

You see, not only is it home to a fascinatingly eclectic collection of one percenters, it might also be the murder scene of one of the world’s most famous mystery writers. Then again, it might not. (Our attorneys feel that last sentence is important.) But more on that later.

In case you’re wondering, the impetus for this story was to look for the coolest condominium in Southwest Florida based in large part on who lives there now or had lived there in the past. (Think The Dakota or 740 Park Ave. in NYC.) And after months of research, what we can say for sure about the residents of the Enclave—both past and present—is that they’re rich, accomplished and tight-lipped. In fact, one of the reasons best-selling author Robin Cook (Coma, Outbreak, Contagion to name a few) bought his magnificent penthouse was the privacy.

“The benefits of condos are that they’re turnkey and it’s easy to get your FedEx packages,” says Cook, laughing. “The disadvantage is (usually) the lack of privacy. You have interaction with strangers. You always have people who stare at you a little … The beauty of the Enclave is that it’s a very high-end condo and there aren’t a lot of people. Even in the height of the season, there are as little as half of the units occupied at any given time. The other benefit is that you don’t have to pass anyone in the hallways—because there are no hallways. The elevator just drops you off right in your unit.”

That exchange might make Cook seem a little antisocial (or a lot), but if you’d written 28 international best-sellers—many of which make Big Pharma look like the anti-Christ—you’d probably be a little skittish, too. Since moving in, his equally bashful neighbors have included the likes of Allen Jacobson, former CEO of 3M; Paul Corddry, retired co-president of Ore-Ida Foods and a former director of Albertson’s and H.J. Heinz Co.; Jay Baker, former president of Kohl’s; Raymond Mueller, co-founder of Comair airlines; Robert Springborn of Springborn Laboratories, and his wife, artist Carolyn Springborn; world travelers Herb and Ann Rowe; and the late novelist, Robert Ludlum—best known for creating the character Jason Bourne—and his equally late wife, Karen. All appreciated the level of security afforded by life at the Enclave. But it should come as no surprise that there are stories of how top-notch security is a double-edged sword.

Cook fondly recalls Ludlum’s only hobbies as “drinking and smoking.” (TESSA TILDEN-SMITH)Someone who prefers to remain anonymous (which was pretty much everyone we talked to, honestly) tells the story of a former resident bachelor who, after a vicious divorce, enjoyed entertaining young women in his unit. That, in and of itself, is not a big deal, but the elevators contained security cameras—which were reviewed each morning. It turns out that security had to ask him to please delay the really entertaining parts of his evening until he actually got into his unit. It seems the elevator wasn’t the only thing willing to go down with the touch of a button.

“He had quite the bachelor pad,” recalls one resident. “He was particularly proud of his bedroom—he had a remote control for everything in that room.” A former employee of the Enclave recalls that every time our bachelor would throw a party, he’d go to the area’s best galleries and get art on consignment, only to return the art after the party, saying it just didn’t suit his taste. Sadly, he later fell on hard times, had to move and eventually committed suicide by leaping off the roof of his new residence. I guess he thought the elevator would have been too intrusive.

For those wondering what life is like at the top (literally), one needs only to smile for the camera, push P4 and keep your hands to yourself. After a surprisingly fast ride, the elevator doors will open to Cook’s spectacular penthouse where you’ll feel as though you’ve just stepped into a Greek temple: White marble floors flow under white furniture set against white walls lined by white Greek statues, white columns and white curtains. And though it is one of Cook’s main residences, you have to wonder if he sublets to Zeus. Based on the height alone, it does have a Mount Olympus vibe to it. (If you hear thunder, now you know where to look.)

Not surprisingly, Cook does have some pretty powerful friends. A few years ago he had former President George H.W. Bush, the First Lady and Jeb over for lunch. The Secret Service spent three days on site making arrangements for the visit.

Another resident claims to have experienced an even more eye-raising visitor: the ghost of a recently dead neighbor (not the elevator paramour). “He lived above me,” recalls John Scot Mueller, who used to call unit 16 “home.” “He had this glass table that would seat 24—it was so big they had to bring it up the side of the building with a crane. Anyway, he dies, and she (the wife) moves out. Sold the unit. We had these two fire escape stairwells, and I was living by myself. One night I heard the door in the back stairwell open. I still get goose bumps just thinking about it…” Mueller ran down the hall and caught the flash of a figure—it was the neighbor. Mueller walked back to where he saw the ghost, but no one was there. “The door was ajar,” says Mueller. “That was an automatic locking door. There is no reason for that door to ever be ajar. I never used it.”

The weird thing is that it happened twice. The same experience—door ajar—but this time, the figure stopped in the hallway and looked directly at Mueller so he could positively identify the ghost as the former neighbor from upstairs.

“I feel like his spirit was in limbo after he died,” says Mueller, who is quick to add he doesn’t drink enough to make any of this seem reasonable. “The people who bought his old unit gutted it, and I think that when he went into his old unit he didn’t recognize it and so he kept walking around looking for it.”

It seems plausible to us, but we do drink, plenty.

Other residents also reported experiencing supernatural events. Occupants of floors 23 and 24 watched dumbfounded as their drapes opened and closed before their very eyes. And those ready for slumber in their adjustable beds on floors 11 and 12 probably thought there was need for an exorcist as their beds would rise and lower at will. One can only imagine the sheer terror as this continued night after night until they realized they all had remote controls that were operating each other’s furnishings.

And as weird as any of that sounds, it pales in comparison to the fact that in 2010 a group of wild monkeys made their way to the lobby area of the Enclave. The ground floor of the building features a breezeway where residents can drop people off at the lobby door, out of the weather. Someone had parked a Rolls Royce in that area unattended with the windows down. And, as is so often the case, a pack of wild monkeys came through and climbed into the car—pushing buttons and playing on the dash. Now, before you begin your eye roll (OK, before you finish your eye roll), we’ll have you know that we got this information straight from the lips of a witness who shooed them out of the car. We can only assume these were part of the group that is rumored to have escaped from the zoo years ago. Clearly, their tastes have improved.

Even the rich and famous have neighbors who irk them, and the Enclave is no different. And while there’s no arguing that the views are amazing, there were plenty of days in the ’90s when that view included a guy impatiently waiting for his dog to do its business.

“Robert (Ludlum) was given a dog by someone—and he didn’t particularly want the dog, as I remember,” says Norma Wright, who lives in the unit below the former Ludlum residence. “He would take (the dog) outside, but would never clean up after it, and it got to the point where we had to say something. He gave us this look like, ‘I’m Robert Ludlum, I’m not going to pick up dog (excrement).’ Eventually, he got a shiny, new pooper-scooper and he would take that for a walk, too. If he ever saw anyone looking in his direction, he’d hold it up in the air and kind of wave it … It became a running joke, because we all knew that he never actually used that thing. It was the cleanest pooper-scooper on the planet.”

Sadly, dog (poo) was the least of Ludlum’s worries from the time he moved into the Enclave. His wife of 40 years, Mary, succumbed to cancer in their unit. By all accounts, she was his rock. Unaccustomed to being alone, he promptly fell for a local dental hygienist we’ll call Karen (because that was her name). She refused to marry him if there was a prenup—and he acquiesced. It would be his second marriage, her fifth. The relationship quickly soured, and Ludlum’s health declined. According to Wright, when Ludlum required quadruple bypass surgery in the Northeast, Karen declined to accompany him, staying in Naples to get liposuction. Sources say Mr. Ludlum’s health required him to have a nurse to dispense his medication, as Karen couldn’t be trusted with the key to the medicine cabinet. She tended to help herself to the more entertaining drugs and, sources say, “ODed at least once” during the marriage.

Best-seller list: Two literary titans, Robin Cook and Robert Ludlum, have called the Enclave home.And while there are conflicting reports about just what happened in the Ludlum’s condo on the night of Feb. 10, 2001, one thing’s for certain: The best-selling author was in the hot seat. At 10 p.m. the fire alarm went off in the Ludlum’s residence and an immediate call went out to the Naples Fire–Rescue Department. It seems Mr. Ludlum’s easy chair—the one he was sitting in—was on fire. At 10:06 p.m., fire and rescue workers arrived on the scene and found Ludlum, for lack of a better word, smoldering, and the chair still on fire. The fire marshal’s report lists Karen as “uncooperative.” Eyewitness accounts would deem that terminology diplomatic. According to people in the know—and the new book The Ludlum Identity, written by Ludlum’s nephew, Dr. Kenneth Kearns—Karen refused to help the first responders and instead told them to “Leave me the f*** alone” before heading to the kitchen to make herself a drink. Kearns believes an accelerant may have been used. Of course, Ludlum was a notorious drinker and smoker—having scotch delivered to the Enclave by the case via handcart—so he was, for the last 40 years of his life, basically an accelerant. Cook fondly recalls Ludlum’s only hobbies as “drinking and smoking.” “It didn’t matter if he started drinking at 8 or 9 in the morning,” says Kearns.

Regardless of the truth, the facts remain that arguably the world’s greatest mystery writer was on fire in his multi-million dollar high-rise condo while his wife of four years stood by, hurling expletives in the general direction of the rescuers and making herself a cocktail. There can be an argument that she could do little, not being a trained fireman. Then again, she wasn’t a bartender either. Mr. Ludlum was taken to the hospital to be treated for severe burns. Within a month he was dead of an apparent heart attack at the age of 73. His body was cremated before an autopsy could be done.

According to Kearns, Karen had demanded that Ludlum change his will, which he did—without an attorney present—one month prior to finding himself ablaze in his living room. “I’m not alleging that Karen killed Robert. I’m not accusing anyone,” says Kearns.

Yeah, OK. Us either.

Karen Ludlum died in 2008. Accounts indicate it may have been suicide.

So where do you live? And how about those monkeys? That’s crazy.

By the way, at press time there was one unit available for purchase at Enclave at Gulf Shore for $7.5 million. You might want to jump on it as there’s very little turnover.

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