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Late-night pasta and caviar dinners, grand soirées attended by the rich and famous and extravagant fundraisers — all held in the the lavish setting of a glass-enclosed, air-conditioned, swimming pool lit by numerous chandeliers — were all in a day's (and night's) play for the former host and owner of an opulent River Oaks mansion.
The palace-like manse, previously the home to the late Baron Ricky di Portanova and Baroness Alessandra di Portanova, is being sold privately for an undisclosed amount. The current owners are not publishing the address. Rather, that information may be secured through the listing agent, Moni Bohnisch, by serious buyers only.
A bit of background
Few couples in Houston social history have entertained like the di Portanovas, who hosted lavish parties that longtime Houstonians still remember for an over-the-top atmosphere where everyone always had a good time.
Di Portanova left Rome and came to Houston in the early 1960s to claim his inheritance as the grandson of Hugh Roy Cullen, the Texas oil magnate known as the King of the Wildcatters. His mother, Lillie, was Cullen’s daughter, and his father was Baron Paolo di Portanova of Italy. In one of the biggest estate legal cases in U.S. history, the amount he received each month was increased from $5,000 to $1.2 million a month.
Friends recall one party in particular in which Sir Roger Moore, then starring as James Bond, arrived by helicopter while models in cat suits rappelled down the side of the house, klieg lights lighting up the scene.
In 1973 Di Portanova married his second wife, Sandra Hovas of Houston, who transformed herself into the Baroness Alessandra di Portanova. Shortly after, they moved into the then-stately home on this most prestigious street in River Oaks.
When a deal to buy the fabled 21 Club in New York as birthday gift for his wife fell through, di Portanova concentrated on revamping the River Oaks mansion, enclosing the entire backyard in a sleek, yet massive structure, creating an indoor garden and pool area where the couple entertained lavishly for many years. Friends recall one party in particular in which Sir Roger Moore, then starring as James Bond, arrived by helicopter while models in cat suits rappelled down the side of the house, klieg lights lighting up the scene.
The baron's obituary, published in the New York Times, noted that he once listed the best things in life as ''sun, sex and spaghetti." The obituary went on to note that jet-setting di Portanova referred to his Lear jet as his taxi and had so much luggage that it had to be sent on commercial airlines with the servants.
The di Portanovas also had homes in Rome and Acapulco, where their spectacular villa named Arabesque became a vacation destination for many of the world's leading entertainment and political figures. The first party at the villa was for Henry Kissinger and his wife, Nancy. The house was also used as a backdrop for the James Bond movie, License to Kill.
New owners purchased the home in 2006 and conducted a major facelift of the property.
The River Oaks mansion
The Neo-Classical estate is situated on more than an acre of manicured grounds. The reception hall with spiraling marble staircase opens to multiple entertaining areas surrounding the 12,000-square-foot indoor party space with salt-water swimming pool.
Lavish details such as marble floors, Venetian plaster walls and elaborate moldings with gold accents are found throughout the mansion. Other features include a mahogany-paneled library, gourmet kitchen, gym with spa and home theater.
The master suite includes a private balcony overlooking the interior party space and is one of the seven bedrooms in the house. The three-car garage is attached.
When enclosing the back of the house, the di Portanovas added a luxe two-bedroom guest suite where a parade of Hollywood stars bunked during Houston visits.
Square footage: 21,500
Listing agent: Moni Bohnisch