Curbed’s “Whale Week” highlights wealthiest landowners in the world

If you missed it, last week Curbed.com highlighted the world’s wealthiest landowners. Here were the five people featured during “Whale Week”:

At a spry 26 years of age, movie producer Megan Ellison might have been forgiven for moving back into one of her billionaire father’s many homes and whiling away her days on the beaches of his $500M private Hawaiian island or in a temple on his $100M Japanese-inspired Bay Area estate. Instead, she has carved out a professional niche as a backer of high-brow films, using—unsurprisingly—seed money from dad. While she was accumulating producer credits on films like The Master, True Grit, and Zero Dark Thirty, Ellison was also busy buying up prime property…

Brainy corporate raider John Malone might not be a household name, but he made a killing in the media industry and parlayed that fortune into his position as America’s largest landowner. Following a 2011 purchase of more than 1,000,000 acres of timberland in Maine and New Hampshire, Malone’s property portfolio now includes a whopping 2,200,000 acres. As the Daily Mail put it, “the total sum of Mr Malone’s land is nearly three Rhode Islands. Or two Delawares.” The low-profile Malone won’t say how much he paid for the latest million-acre addition, saying only that it was purchased for a “fair price,” but with a $4.5B net worth, the media mogul should have plenty of cash left over for further acquisitions…

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone turned a grassroots auto racing series into one of the world’s most watched sports, and made billions in the process. Now, when the time comes to spend some of that hard-earned wealth, he can afford some of the world’s most expensive real estate. But he doesn’t keep all the fun for himself, and has repeatedly splashed out to keep his two daughters, Petra and Tamara, ensconced in the height of luxury…

Boyish telecom mogul turned property whale Michael Hirtenstein may not be a household name, in fact, few outside of the NYC nightlife world have ever heard his name, but he has been behind more than a few high-end real estate deals. Since selling his start-up, Westcom Communications, for $270M in 2005, Hirtenstein has been linked to some of New York’s most coveted buildings, and not always positively. In October of last year, Extell Development’s Gary Barnett claimed that he had canceled Hirtenstein’s contract on a high-floor unit at the unfinished blockbuster One 57 after the Hirt paid a construction worker to snap pictures from his unfinished sky-high flat. Hirtenstein told the Post, “You want me to spend $16 million without seeing it? … All I was trying to do was be an informed, intelligent buyer. Apparently, that doesn’t sit well with Mr. Barnett. That’s not nice.”…

Of all the rich Russians to emerge from the post-Cold War turmoil, Roman Abramovich isn’t the wealthiest, but he is among the most publicly profligate. Between Chelsea F.C., the top British soccer club he acquired in 2003 for $220M, a huge art collection, a veritable fleet of yachts, and a host of luxury properties spread across the world, Abramovich is probably the ultimate whale. The 46-year-old who started off selling stolen gasoline under Soviet rule now commands a property portfolio that would make even an Ellison blush.

I’ve highlighted John Malone before but I suspect most Americans are not aware of the property held by these people. If they do know these people, it is because they cross over into other areas of life like sports or Hollywood. I propose a few reasons why we don’t hear more about the property ownership of these five:

1. Their properties are exclusive and generally out of the public eye. It is intentional that most people won’t get anywhere near some of these properties.

2. Perhaps having these kinds of properties or this much land is simply seen as obscene or excessive. With the example of Malone, what does one do with 2.2 million acres? Does anybody need this kind of land or house? McMansions are derided but they are relatively common (particularly emphasized with the Mc- prefix) and this might leave them more open for discussion.

3. Owning a lot or expensive land is simply not very interesting to people in a world of celebrity news and entertainment culture. Land is more permanent and inaccessible and lacks novelty.

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