Villa La Leopolda in its current incarnation was designed and built from 1929 to 1931 by an American architect, Ogden Codman, Jr., on an estate once owned by King Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold had made the previous estate a present for his mistress Blanche Zélia Joséphine Delacroix, also known as Caroline Lacroix, and it derives its name from him. After Leopold's death, Blanche Delacroix was evicted, and his nephew, King Albert I, became its owner. During World War I it was used as a military hospital.
In 1919, Thérèse Vitali, comtesse de Beauchamp, acquired the property and commissioned modifications. The American architect Ogden Codman, Jr. purchased the dozen existing structures that made up the property including two peasant cottages, and began his architectural magnum opus in 1929. It was complete by 1931, however financial difficulties (and his lavish expenditures) precluded his being able to live in it, so he rented it out to various well-heeled tenants. One famous English couple tried to lease it, but insisted on making changes that were contrary to Codman's aesthetic objectives and strict list of protective clauses. Negotiations in a Paris Hotel room broke down over the many restrictions Codman imposed, and Ogden's response was: "I regret that the House of Codman is unable to do business with the House of Windsor." Codman's extensive designs and construction gave the estate, once a series of unrelated buildings, its current appearance. His neo-Palladian vision, coupled with his in-depth knowledge of historical precedent, resulted in the construction of a spectacular villa with extensive gardens and landscaping. Floor plans, letters, records, and stereo glass-plate views of the newly completed property still exist in the collections of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (aka "Historic New England") At Codman's death in 1951 the estate was sold to Izaak Walton Killam whose wife inherited the place after his death. In the later 1950s she sold it to Fiat president Gianni Agnelli (1921–2003) and Marella Agnelli. Their renovations to the property, obliterated such features as the varied-hued scagliola walls in the "Italian Salon" under buckets of white paint.
By 1988 La Leopolda had become one of the domiciles of the banker Edmond Safra. The Safras commissioned Renzo Mongiardino as interior designer, while the second-floor bedrooms were decorated by Mica Ertegün.
The villa appeared in the news in the summer of 2008 with reports of the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov having purchased the home at a price of approximately €500 million ($736m / £397m). However, the price reported at the occasion of a lawsuit in February 2010 was € 370 million, which still would have made it probably the world's most expensive villa.
However, Prokhorov's spokesman denied that he was the purchaser, and said he refuses to do business in France until he receives an apology for being investigated in a prostitution probe.
In February 2010, a Nice court decided that Prokhorov could not demand back the €39 million down payment made to Lily Safra in 2008 and had to pay an additional €1.5 million interest. Lily Safra announced that she would donate the entire sum to a number of institutions focused on medical research, patient care, education, and other important humanitarian causes around the world.
In popular culture
The villa was used as the location of Lermontov's villa in 1948 film The Red Shoes. The heroine climbs the steps to the villa thinking that she's been invited to dinner. Instead she would be given the starring role in the new ballet.
- "Anzahlung für Luxusvilla - Russischer Milliardär verzockt 39 Millionen Euro" (in German). SPIEGEL online. 2010-03-01. Retrieved 2010-03-01.
- "Those Things Money Can Buy" Time. Retrieved March 16, 2010.
- Isabel Vincent (2010). Gilded Lily. Lily Safra: The Making of One of the World's Wealthiest Widows. HarperCollins. p. 189f. ISBN 978-0-06-113393-0.
- How, Douglas (1986). Canada's Mystery Man of High Finance: The Story of Izaak Walton Killam and his Glittering Wife Dorothy. Hantsport, N.S.: Lancelot Press. ISBN 088999305X.
- Anthony, Andrew (2000-10-29). "The strange case of Edmond Safra". The Guardian (London).
- Earlier sources falsely named Roman Abramovich as the buyer.
- "Record 500m euros for Riviera pad". BBC News Website. 2008-08-15. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
- "Russian denies buying luxury home". BBC News website. 2008-08-19. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
- "Nice : les 39 M€ d'arrhes de la villa Leopolda restent acquis à Lily Safra". Webstimemedias website.
- French classification as a historical monument
- lalibre.be news article (French)