A Great Read for Any Realtor: The Last Palace

By
Real Estate Agent with RLAH Real Estate AB95346

 

There are seven women in my book group that’s been meeting for several years.  We all live within a block of each other, and four of the six were either my clients or bought one of my listings when they came to the neighborhood.  We take turns picking the book to read, and recently Norman Eisen’s book, The Last Palace, was a recent choice.  And while I didn’t suggest it, it’s a perfect choice for anyone who is into houses and putting together complicated real estate deals. 

 

Eisen opens his book with a phone call to his mother from Air Force One.  He is headed to Prague, where she grew up, with then President Obama and has just learned he’ll be appointed the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic.  This means he will get to live  in the splendid palace that Jewish industrialist, Otto Petschek, built in the 1930’s.  It was Petschek's testament to optimism about the future – that of his family and of his faith in the endurance of Czech democracy. 

 

In The Last Palace, Eisen weaves a beautifully written story with some amazing characters.  First, there was his mother, who left her own home in Prague as a teenager with dreams of medical school -- on a train headed for Auschwitz.  Then there was the erudite Nazi general who lived in the palace during World War II, leaving behind some chilling reminders of his tenure, but managing to save Prague and the palace from German bombers.  Lawrence Steinhardt, the first US Ambassador after the war, fell in love with the house.  He must have had the real estate gene, because he did a brilliant job of brokering the sale of Petschek’s palace to the United States.  Since the late 1940’s, this amazing property has served as the United States ambassador’s residence. 

 

One of my favorite parts of the story covered Shirley Temple Black’s time as Ambassador during the Prague Spring in 1968.  She’d come a long way from The Good Ship Lollipop!  Who knew she'd grow to become such a gutsy, formidable diplomat?

 

Eisen’s research on the actual building of the home itself was thorough and had some lessons for people who are building and renovating homes today:

  

  • Petschek didn’t pay a lot of attention to the actual architects’ plans until the house was well on its way, then he made some major changes that more than doubled the already astronomical construction costs. 
  • Instead of your normal rectangular palace, this one would be curved – a decision Petschek made after he decided he didn’t like the flat front that had already been constructed.
  • Throughout the process, he totally micromanaged his contractors.
  • When the home was almost completed, he decided that a huge (and very deep) basement swimming pool would be a great amenity, with timing that made the pool almost impossible to install and extremely expensive.  
  • He didn’t pay a lot of attention to the budget for the house, and toward the end he began to run out of money, and he had a whole lot to begin with.

I finished this book wanting more, especially more of Eisen’s mother’s story.  What did it take for her to get from Prague to Auschwitz to Israel to the United States?  Did she ever make it to Prague to visit her son while he was Ambassador?  I do hope Ambassador Eisen gives us a Part 2!

Comments (26)

Carol Culkin
Diamond Partners Inc - Overland Park, KS
Overland Park Residential Real Estate

I really want to read this book now. I have a passion for this kind of history. In my short time of only 8 yrs here in Kansas, I made a very good friend who happens to be a Holocaust survivor. Her granddaughter is also a film producer and decided to turn the story into a lighthearted documentary. This little lady is amazing and has a huge heart and she's such a hoot! Look her up. Big Sonya, you'll find tons of articles. She was in three camps, including Aushwitz. She is ememorizimg, has a following, people call it the Sonya factor. 

Sep 09, 2020 08:41 PM
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Carol, thank you!  I just spent some wonderful time meeting Sonya on YouTube!  Tomorrow I'm going back for more.  We read another book written by one of the book group member's sister-in-law about her mother's experience holed up in a barn loft for two years with 14 family members in rural Poland.  They all made it out, and the story is told just beautifully.  It made me think about what's going on now, and it's nothing like what so many Jewish families - and the people who hid them - must have gone through.  And it's time for me to stop whining about having to wear a mask that steams up my glasses.  

Sep 09, 2020 09:14 PM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Pat, Diane has three book clubs she is part of, one is an international one on Good Reads, they are like the Active Rain on Goodreads.... developed friendships via the Internet.... then she is member of two local book groups and both have different likes and dislikes... with that said they used to meet at each others homes and at restaurants to discuss books now it is also virtual like the first one... Endre

Sep 09, 2020 09:18 PM
Rose King
David Tracy Real Estate - Friendswood, TX
Friendswood / Pearland / Houston Bay Area

This sounds like a fascinating book, Pat! Thanks for the recommendation!

Sep 09, 2020 09:22 PM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Sounds like a cool book to read!  I like books with real history. 

And for the mother to survive Auschwitz is a wonder in itself.  Considered the worst of the worst camps, only a small percentage survived, and most of those who entered toward the end.

Sep 10, 2020 03:47 AM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good morning Patricia Kennedy - that is certainly and very intriguing story and so much more to lean.  It leaves you wanting more.  This would be the type of book I would read.

Sep 10, 2020 04:00 AM
Nina Hollander, Broker
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Greater Charlotte Realtor

Good morning, Patricia... this sounds like a fascinating book. Thanks for the suggestion.

Sep 10, 2020 04:12 AM
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Endre, this is the third book group that I've been part of, and it's lasted for many years.  And we are temporarily virtual - even though we live less than a block from each other! And we took turns hosting and cooking a main dish that  was usually related to the book we read. Then everyone brought a dish for appetizers, side dishes, salad and dessert.  I miss the food part of it.

Sep 10, 2020 07:20 AM
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Rose, the book was full of surprises, especially the section on Shirley Temple Black's tenure as ambassador.  She was awesome.

Sep 10, 2020 07:21 AM
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Jay, it was remarkable that she survived.  It amazes me how people can go through things like Auschwitz and come out the other end functional and productive.  

Sep 10, 2020 07:23 AM
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Grant, this book was mostly about an amazing house.  I do wish that Norman Eisen would write another book about his equally amazing mother.

Sep 10, 2020 07:25 AM
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Nina, thanks for you comment.  It's a great Covid read for any Realtor with a little downtime.

Sep 10, 2020 07:26 AM
Brian England
Arizona Focus Realty - Gilbert, AZ
MBA, GRI, REALTOR® Real Estate in East Valley AZ

I have never been very fond of reading, but with the pandemic shutting everything down and the sports that I would normally watch, I have turned more to reading lately.  I think I will continue that and this is definitely a book to consider.

Sep 10, 2020 07:30 AM
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Brian, I enjoyed it because, except for the Auschwich part, it was a really pleasant read.  And the way the first post-WW II ambassador put together the real estate deal was fascinating, complete with a ton of title issue, as you might imagine.  

Sep 10, 2020 07:41 AM
Joan Cox
House to Home, Inc. - Denver Real Estate - 720-231-6373 - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate - Selling One Home at a Time

Patricia, this does sound like an intriguing book, and will check it out, thanks! 

Sep 10, 2020 07:54 AM
Ron and Alexandra Seigel
Napa Consultants - Carpinteria, CA
Luxury Real Estate Branding, Marketing & Strategy

Patricia,

We are both avid readers, and your description of this book is wonderful.  I will put it on my list.  A

Sep 10, 2020 07:54 AM
Jane Peters
Home Jane Realty - Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles real estate concierge services

Thanks for the heads up. Not only am I a Realtor but I spent the first year of my life in Prague. My father was Czech. Looks like an interesting read. And what a beautiful city.

Sep 10, 2020 03:02 PM
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
DFW FINE PROPERTIES - Flower Mound, TX
Selling Homes Changing Lives

Patricia Kennedy - I was in a book club and attended many Writer's conferences and listened to stories by great writers who have been published or  in the process of being published.  I always admired good writers . Also, I have piles of books growing taller all the time too! I really miss the camaraderie of book lovers. One of my favorite places to go is a place in Maine where Karen Feld, the prolific and award-winning columnist from Washington, D.C. was part of the group. You may know her? If so, yes! She brought her little poodle. At the time, she was writing her autobiography about her eccentric life with Ringling Bros. and Barnum Baily Circus with her parents Irving Feld and her mom who committed suicide and her estranged brother. 

I really enjoyed your book review of the Last Palace and I'm fascinated by stories of strength from the people who survived the Holocaust. This book has to go into my Bucket List for more books to read! Thank you, for sharing!

Sep 10, 2020 05:35 PM
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Jane, Prague should be my next trip to Europe.  I've never been there and think Prague and Pottsdam might be a good combo, with a stop in Paris on my trip home, of course!

Sep 10, 2020 10:17 PM
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Patricia, OK, I have to check out Karen Feld!  I know a lot of Post people, but I haven't run into her.  Her story sounds pretty amazing - I mean I thought my childhood was a circus, but she sounds for real!

Sep 10, 2020 10:20 PM