Saturday, May 11, 2013

Scorpios: Sold

An era came to an end a few weeks ago for the private island of Scorpios (or Skorpios), the former retreat of Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.  His grand-daughter Athina Onassis Roussel, who inherited it after the 1988 death of her mother, sold the 74 acre island in the Ionian Sea to Russian fertilizer billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev via a foundation in the name of his 24 year old daughter Ekaterina Rybolovlev.

Ekaterina Rybolovlev.
Photo via New York Social Diary.
The sale, which also included the adjacent island of Sparti, was reportedly in excess of US $150 million.  When Aristotle bought Scorpios in 1962 (or 1963 according to some sources) for the equivalent of US $15,000 (or $20,000 as some sources said), it was barren of vegetation and unoccupied.  Onassis built roads, a heliport and eventually a small villa and other auxiliary buildings in addition to planting over 200 varieties of trees.

The island of Scorpios.
Photo via New York Social Diary.
The most important improvement to the island was the dock for the famous Onassis yacht "Christina", named in honor of his daughter, born in 1950. (Christina's mother was Athina 'Tina' Livanos who divorced the womanizing Onassis [having an affair with Maria Callas and others] and married twice more, first to John Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford, and later to multi-billionaire Stavros Niarchos, widower of her older sister Eugenia and Onassis's rival). Originally a WWII Canadian anti-submarine frigate, it was bought for the scrap value of US $34,000 and overhauled at an expense reported to be US $4 million. 

A recent view of the yacht "Christina" and tender.
Photo via Wikipedia.
At a length of 325 feet, the "Christina" has 18 passenger staterooms in addition to a master suite, accommodating as many as 34 passengers served by a crew of 39.  Guests included the most famous names of the day in politics and entertainment.

Plans of the yacht "Christina".
The bottom surface of the swimming pool
on "Christina" is decorated with a mosaic
Minotaur pattern and can be raised at the
touch of a button to become a dance floor.
Photo via
Mrs. Onassis at the shipboard reception
following her wedding.  In the main saloon,
a portrait of step-daughter Christina can be
seen over the fireplace in the background.
Photo via Bunky Cushing blog.
The island was in international news in 1968 when the little chapel on Scorpios became the site of the wedding of Onassis to the former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.  Said to be the most famous woman in the world at the time, she became known in the headlines as Jackie O. from then on.

The bride in a white lace dress by Valentino
is led by the groom through the crush of
photographers following the wedding as
Caroline stays close to her mother.
Photos via HOLA magazine.
The ultimate trophy wife, Mrs. Onassis immediately brought in her decorator, which by that time was Billy Baldwin.  Although first in contact with Jacqueline Kennedy in 1963 by way of their mutual friend Mrs. Paul "Bunny" Mellon for a weekend house in Upperville, Virginia, Baldwin was called in after the assassination to pull together the house in Georgetown using their personal furnishings taken from the White House.  That project, too, was cancelled when Jacqueline Kennedy moved to New York City instead.

Jacqueline Kennedy (left) and her sister
Lee Radziwill (right) leaving the Georgetown
house on December 18, 1963 with
Billy Baldwin carrying what appears to be
a roll of renderings, accompanied by a
Secret Service agent.
In his book, BILLY BALDWIN REMEMBERS, his recollections jump to October, 1968, and receiving a call from the yacht "Christina", again asking to meet right away.  Baldwin was in Athens as soon as possible, just three days after the wedding, to be taken to Scorpios to discuss decorating the new house.

Jacqueline Onassis and Billy Baldwin
in the helicopter to depart for Scorpios, 1968.
The project, to be completed in less than two months, was to have a comfortable house on the island so her children would not have to stay on the yacht when they came at Christmas.  Additions were being built to an existing structure that became known as the Pink House.  It was near the sea but away from the harbor.  A big room that was to serve as both a living and dining room was constructed and the existing long building with a cloister served as the bedroom wing.

The villa on Scorpios known as the Pink House.
Photo via NYSD.
 Baldwin writes that as each piece of furnish was completed it was sent to Athens on the nightly jet of Olympic Airways which Onassis founded.  Baldwin never saw the finished house but received a cable just after Christmas. "Happy New Year, and congratulations on the Erectheum of Billy, which we are now enjoying.  Love, Ari, Jackie."

Jackie and Ari.
Image via NYSD.
Sand was brought in from other islands to create some small beaches, one of which was given a hut-sized cottage in the traditional Greek style.  But even this isolation did not allow privacy from the paparazzi who caused international outrage when telephoto lens shots of Mrs. Onassis sunbathing nude were published.  Both of Onassis's children, Alexander and Christina, are buried on the island.  Mrs. Onassis was given a cash settlement (undisclosed but widely reported to be around US $20 million) after Ari's death in Paris and Christina inherited the bulk of her billionaire father's estate.  After Christina's early death, ownership of the island passed to her only child Athina, who has visited Scorpios only twice in her 28 years.

The beach cottage in the traditional Greek style.
Photo:  Hello magazine.
Ekaterina Rybolovlev is no stranger to high-priced real estate.  Her father has a house in Hawaii that he bought from actor Will Smith in 2011, and a residence in Paris with his full-time home being a duplex penthouse in Monaco.  (The house in Geneva was demolished to be rebuilt in a royal French style, but the site has just been just a hole for several years).  Located atop the exclusive La Belle Epoque, news reports state he paid US $300 million (or $308 according to some) for the rebuilt apartment that had been the site of a devastating fire started by an employee hoping to win his rich boss' favor by saving his life.  (The scheme did not work).

The duplex penthouse at La Belle Epoque, Monaco,
was bought from the widow of billionaire Edmund Safra,
after the fire intentionally started by a male nurse
using a Slakin candle, and renovated
on speculation by the Candy brothers (inset).
Dmitry Rybolovlev made news in 2008 when he bought the Palm Beach, Florida estate Maison de L'Amitie from Donald Trump for $95 million (or $100 million as there was a $5 million allowance).  First listed at $125 million, it was the most expensive house in the country at the time.  Located at 315 North County Road, it was built on the site of the famous Bythedunes estate, razed by Leslie Wexner.  (My former project, Montsorrel, is next door and the post about that notable house may be read here).  After studying the benefits of various divorce venues, Ekaterina's mother Elena filed for divorce in Palm Beach in 2009, asking for Maison de L'Amitie and half of Dmitry's fortune, estimated by Forbes in March, 2013, to be $9.1 billion.  Despite the high price of the house, it was bought as a 'tear down' and deemed in 'unlivable' condition at the time of purchase.  Ekaterina has visited twice and stayed in the pool house, but no one has spent the night in the main house which has been maintained but not improved because of the pending litigation. 

A birds eye view of Maison de L'Amitie, Palm Beach,
with part of Montsorrel seen in the foreground.
Photo via
In December, 2011, Ekaterina's father bought her a Manhattan apartment via a trust in her name for her residence while in school.  Located at 15 Central Park West, it is an $88 million penthouse designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern.  The seller was Joan Weill, whose husband Sandy was formerly chief executive and chairman of Citigroup.  Decorated by Mica Ertegun, it was featured in the April, 2010, issue of Architectural Digest.  The furniture did not come with the sale of the apartment, however.

The floor plan of the penthouse apartment
at 15 Central Park West, New York City.
It serves as 'student housing' for Ekaterina Rybolovlev.
Private island retreats have increased in popularity among rich celebrities such as actor Johnny Depp, illusionist David Copperfield, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, and British business magnate Richard Branson.  There is speculation that Scorpios could be developed as a resort, but the chances are just as likely that it could remain private.


  1. After her father's death, Christina Onassis gave the yacht to the Greek government. Now privately owned, it is available for charter.

  2. OH, DEAR.


    There are tragedies occurring!!! The Villa Fiorentina! "What?? They didn't buy the contents??!

    Are they crazy??

    Well. YES. Perhaps not "certifiably insane" (my diagnosis)

    But emboldened by their wealth; they "know more" than "Billy Baldwin"!! HAA!!!! NOT!!!!

    Thank God for the auction catalogues!

    My assistant asked me two days ago......"why do you want to order that catalogue of Michael Smith's Villa Palladio? The auction is over!!"

    Because that is how to "educate the eye!!!"

    NOthing at "Skorpios will educate the eye.......(rather, it will offend my eye!!)

    But, it is a sad end to a sad , very sad tale!

    Thank you for such a wonderful post!

    1. Penelope, I am way behind in posting, but there will be more to revealed about the Malibu villa so beautifully decorated by Michael Smith in a future edition of The Devoted Classicist. I did not buy the catalogue, but it is a nice one, indeed.

  3. I find it completely astonishing that Mrs. Onassis's nose is not permanently affixed to the ceiling of the "Christina"!! STUCK!!

    Just imagine!

    Her nose "hit the ceiling " when she was first shown this tacky and horrifically overdone nightmare from hell (what do I really think?) boat.

    She was so desperate for privacy and peace (my theory, entirely) that she signed on to this ...against every single cell in her body! It breaks my heart. (She put on a brave face; and her sunglasses) I believe, to protect her children! She couldn't.
    They turned on her......(the Onassis kids) It was ugly.

    Caroline is a paragon of the Kennedy family!

    Long may she be just a little visible. As the epitome of the values her parents had!

    Good that "Skorpios" is sold.....good that it is sold to the same "type" of person!!



    What makes me happy is the vegetation on that island now encourages wildlife to land there! (birds)! ( It was completely barren.)

    I cannot find another "redeeming feature"! Move on, ATHINA!!

    1. Penelope, apparently Billy Baldwin made some improvements to the décor of the yacht Christina. But I suppose it was never photographed for the sake of privacy. Eventually, we might find some private photos come to view from one of the many guests, however. Thank you for commenting.

  4. A positive consolidating footnote regarding the island. Somehow the gods seem to have conditioned me not to take the same character of interest in the expenditures of nouveaux Russians, but possibly they do this to interrogate why I cared about bourgeois Greeks. Your entry raises a good set of questions, for any property, anywhere.

    1. Laurent, I tend to hope that the Rich buy these expensive properties to create the most beautiful homes. But maybe it's more about money than taste. I always hope for enlightenment and redemption.

  5. John! What a fascinating post. I still have not read "Princess Bianca" but intend to- those prices are crazy, for sure, but it's all relative. I love Ekaterina's college dorm-so tiny, how does she manage? It's all fascinating and freakish- love every minute of it!

  6. John, Have you read Gilded Lily, and Empress Bianca? Just ordered and looking forward to reading them, since I was inspired to do so by your illustrious posting. :)

    1. Dean, I have not read either, but I'll put them on the list. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Mr. Tackett, I "stumbled" upon your blog while researching photos of Skorpios. I have just finished reading "Nemesis," the fascinating book by award-winning journalist Peter Evans, which is his second book about Aristotle Onassis. How interesting that the island which was such an integral part of his life has so little importance to his surviving family.
    Thank you for my rediscovery of the Windsor Ruins in Claiborne County, Mississippi, where I visited as a child with my parents. I remember this structure from long ago, but I could not recall the location. I will be revisiting the ruins (and your blog site) very soon.

    1. Diane, I'm old enough to remember all the exotic mystery and glamour of this when it was happening. It was fun to do some research, supplement the facts, and share it. Thanks for your comments.


Your interest in this blog is appreciated. Other commitments might prevent an immediate response to your comments or questions. That does not lessen the value of the blog reader's input, however. Only comments relating to the current post are eligible for publication; non-relevant comments and promotional references will be deleted. Contact me at regarding other questions. Anonymous comments cannot be accepted.