As founder and president of Guernsey’s, Arlan Ettinger has been conducting major auctions for more than 40 years.
“Guernsey’s has been known for doing many different kinds of events, from the world’s largest auction, the SS United States, the ocean liner, to the first auction of artwork from the Soviet Union during the Cold War, to the John F. Kennedy, the Beatles and Elvis (Presley) auctions and so on,” Ettinger said. “Each auction has a life of its own.”
The New York auction house will conduct the sale of the contents of Asherwood, the massive Carmel estate donated by philanthropist Bren Simon to support the Great American Songbook Foundation. Bren Simon, who now lives in Colorado, is the widow of shopping mall magnate Mel Simon.
“Make no mistake about it, this is a spectacular setting and should be a wonderful event,” Ettinger said. “It’s a big deal. It would be a big deal if this were in Beverly Hills or outside London or outside New York City. It’s a very, very beautiful and prestigious property. This is a very important auction, so it’s an honor to be doing it.”
The public will be able to view auction items during previews scheduled for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 10, 11 and 16. The auction is set for 11 a.m. Nov. 17 and noon Nov. 18, with global online bidding taking place at liveauctioneers.com and invaluable.com. Tickets for the previews are $25, with one ticket valid for all days and events.
“Guernsey’s is not taking a dime from the tickets. It’s all going to the Songbook Foundation,” Ettinger said.
Although the sale of the contents is set, the Songbook Foundation will accept proposals from real estate brokers about the best way to market and sell the 107-acre property, which includes two golf courses. Simon estimated the donated estate at $30 million.
Approximately 1,000 lots are for sale, including hundreds of pieces of antique and custom furniture, décor items, works of art and imported rugs. Among the items is a large collection of antique books.
The green chandeliers are estimated between $60,000 to $80,000 each. A birthday cake crystal chandelier is valued between $30,000 and $50,000.
Ettinger said Asherwood includes fine antiques with handsomely crafted contemporary pieces.
“They were made for Asherwood, for the most part, by leading craftsmen,” Ettinger said. “There aren’t many pieces that someone went out to a furniture store and bought. It’s pretty remarkable that an estate of this magnitude was given outright to a nonprofit organization. I work with many nonprofits, and you always feel good when you know proceeds are going to be put to good use. I can’t recall ever hearing of such a major estate saying, ‘Here, take it and do what you want,’ knowing that the money is going to be put to good use. I think it’s quite remarkable.”
Ettinger said it took two weeks for eight people to catalogue the items in the 50,000-square foot mansion, guest house and golf clubhouse. The books are being sold as a collection.
The estate includes closets full of china sets for all occasions, to be sold in sets for dinner service.
Ettinger said this is an unreserved auction, meaning there no pre-set minimums.
“In many high-end auctions, there are items that have minimum reserve,” Ettinger said. “If the item is estimated to be worth $2,000 or $3,000, in most cases there is a confidential reserve. In that example, it would probably be $1,600 to $1,700.”
However, Ettinger said not having a reserve makes for a more exciting auction.
“I’m sure there are people that have dreamt about owning something from this (estate),” Ettinger said. “Maybe because they want something beautiful or they want something from the legendary Asherwood.”
Ettinger said potential buyers shouldn’t be scared away by estimates.
“Auctions are not predictable events,” he said. “Some go above the estimate and some go below. Some people will walk away and say, ‘I got a bargain.’ They will hopefully get enjoyment out of whatever they buy, but they should take comfort that the money is being put to good use. That’s a win-win situation.”
Foundation’s hefty decision
Songbook Foundation Executive Director Chris Lewis said there was much discussion on how the donation of Asherwood could benefit the nonprofit even before Bren Simon’s donation of the estate was announced in January.
“We did a lot of due diligence before even accepting the gift,” Lewis said. “There were no restrictions. All she said is she wanted us to use it however would advance our mission. We put an oversight committee together. We weighed dozens and dozens of ideas with business analysis, studies and data, everything from (creating) a museum to running an event center or a golf course.”
The Songbook Foundation is seeking a building for its collection of memorabilia, but studies show a museum was impractical at Asherwood.
“We brought in museum experts, and they looked at everything from parking to access roads to traffic patterns and the retrofitting,” Lewis said. “To turn this into a museum, there would have to be significant work done. It’s so beautiful and pristine and elegant, it would be a shame to gut the main floor. The finishings alone are phenomenal. There is not drywall in the house, it’s all wood walls.”
Another idea, Lewis said, was to turn it into a hotel, but it only has seven bedrooms.
“It’s been a lot of work, but we feel confident this is the right move,” Lewis said.