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Megayachts and Starter Castles

    Not to get too Bolshevik all of a sudden, but I'm thinking it's time we turned on the rich and punished them for their hubris. By "the rich" I mean anyone who makes appreciably more than I do, and isn't one of my affluent friends who lets me freeload in his or her vacation home.

    There ought to be a point where ostentatious displays of wealth aren't just irritating but actually criminal. Like, if someone attempts to cruise around in a 300-foot yacht, that should be a first-degree felony. And we could then seize the yacht, and park it in a playground, so that kids could scramble all over it and gradually turn the monstrosity to rubble.

  The Times reports:

     "Many megayachts have grown so big - sometimes as long as a football field - that their very size rules out docking at most marinas, which don't have large enough slips to accommodate them....

   "From Miami to St. Thomas, new marinas with names like Super Yacht Harbor and Yacht Haven are being developed with berths for boats as long as 450 feet, roughly half the length of a 2,000-passenger cruise ship....

  "...a 155-foot yacht can guzzle 16,000 gallons of gas at one fill up...

   "In 2002, the average expenditure of a megayacht visit to boatyards in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach Counties in Florida was $140,000..."

    The Ostentation Epidemic has roots deep in American culture (i.e., the cottages of Newport), but nowadays there are armies of newly rich people on the loose. They are rapacious consumers, mall rats all grown up, still lacking taste but flush with cash. Entrepreneurs cater to these folks, stroke them, coddle them, and make them believe they really do need a floating castle, just to fit in with others of their ilk.

     Plus they need a house that's bigger than Mount Vernon and Monticello combined. Last month The Boston Globe carried a story by Douglas Belkin that led with a tale of a new house under construction:

   "In the second-floor bathroom of Bob Davoli's new house in Lincoln, the walls that aren't sheathed in mottled purple Vermont slate are colored with a textured beige paint imported from Belgium. The toilet was flown in from Germany. The bathtub came from California. And the sliding bamboo cabinet that holds the toilet paper? It costs more than the car you're driving ... The 2-by-3-foot cabinet, like everything else in the 14,500-square-foot mansion, is custom crafted. As is the lead-coated copper roof, the cantilevered staircase, the pizza oven, the 6,000-pound granite kitchen island, and the levitating, cast-iron-sided fireplace."

    [A levitating fireplace? If you get rich enough, do the laws of physics no longer apply?]

    A couple of months ago, The Post's Stephanie McCrummen vividly detailed the rather ordinary people who have purchased sprawling surburban homes, replete with never-used formal dining rooms, 3-story domed foyers, and enough garage space to operate a UPS business. As she writes of one Prince William County resident, "Instead of going out into the world, she preferred to contain the world inside her 5,300-square-foot home." And that's practically a shack compared to some of the houses out there:

  "... a client recently requested a 23,000-square-foot rambler, a size approaching that of the Taj Mahal, which is about 35,000 square feet."

    The people living in these homes have no idea why they want or need so much space. They're just doing what the culture seems to want them to do. Spend money. Buy a huge house. Upsize everything.

    "Bigger bigger, better better," one homeowner says. "It's just a part of life."

    Now in development, the New American Dream Home:

    It will be 9,506 square feet, a place Alex Hannigan, the builder, calls "an all-about-me home."

    It has a guest wing, five fireplaces, three laundries, a hobby room, an elevator, a spa, a home theater, a summer kitchen, a chandelier lift ...

    " ... [W]e figured we'd make this home in keeping with where our country's going."

  Do we really want to go there? Or shouldn't the rabble, armed with torches and pitchforks, take direct action to stop this sort of thing? We've already got law enforcement, now we need modesty enforcement.

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 17, 2006; 9:36 AM ET
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