By Erika Webb
If walls talked, DeLand's Putnam Hotel could spin an endless yarn of history, mystery and even sociology with a sprinkling of depravity.
Throughout time, a cast of characters, a variety of uses and amenities saw to it that life in and around the Putnam was never dull or un-newsworthy.
Now the 60,000-square-foot landmark, built in the early 1920s, has sold, and there is a potential for further intrigue.
Soly Halabi, a New York real estate broker, is listed as manager of Putnam DeLand LLC, which registered with the state on June 13 and purchased the hotel on June 27.
Mr. Halabi is not just any real estate broker. According to Forbes, the 29-year-old Venture Capital Properties senior managing director represents investors in "off market" listings perhaps most notably the world's richest man, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu.
The two were involved in a well-publicized New York Supreme Court lawsuit over the regal Duke Semons mansion on Fifth Avenue across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Following the expiration of an exclusive listing on the property, a contract for purchase was executed between Mr. Slim and the mansion's owner, "Soviet immigrant cabbie-turned-real estate mogul" Tampir Sapir, for $44 million. Two agents stood to lose out on an $880,000 commission, according to the New York Post.
Upscale brokerage firm Brown Harris Stevens brokers alleged Mr. Sapir held off until their exclusive agreement ended before signing the deal with Mr. Slim, the Post reported.
Ultimately, the court awarded Brown Harris Stevens an undisclosed amount for compensation.
Mr. Halabi brokered another of Mr. Slim's high-profile purchases: an 11-story office building also on Fifth Avenue, according to Wall Street Oasis.
In a phone interview, Mr. Halabi said he and a private investor are looking at several options while deciding what they'll do with the DeLand hotel.
"The truth ... we don't know yet. We have a lot of ideas," Mr. Halabi said. "We're thinking hotel, residential ... there is a lot of potential and we're still speaking to everyone to figure out what's the highest and best use."
Mr. Halabi, who learned English after moving to New York from Syria in the early 1990s, also made offers on Mr. Slim's behalf for the Takashimaya building in midtown Manhattan, Pfizer's skyscraper on Third Avenue and for 1412 Broadway near Times Square, according to wallstreetoasis.com.
"None of these bids was accepted, but Mr. Slim's management team apparently liked what it saw of the young broker," the article stated.
In April 2008, Mr. Halabi joined Venture Capital Properties, a New York City based real estate brokerage firm.
"He focuses on scouring the market to match his clients with ideal properties that fit their criteria. His dedication, passion, diverse experience and his ability to speak Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish adds to Venture Capital Properties' well known reputation in the market," Venture Capital Properties' website states. "Mr. Halabi is married, lives in Brooklyn and is an active volunteer with several local charities."
The Putnam Hotel property was sold to a Miami real estate enterprise for $2.72 million in 2005. In a 2009 foreclosure action, it was sold for $100 to former owner Jerry Rocco, who was involved with the property for more than three decades.
The Putnam Hotel was established in the late 1800s. First known as Grove House, a small guest house nestled in an orange grove, it was owned by Alfred Putnam, according to Volusia County's Economic Development Quarterly.
In the fall of 1888, the property was sold to Gardner D. Gould. He changed the name to the Putnam Inn and managed it until 1906 when it was sold to B.E. Brown.
Northern guests enjoyed the warm hospitable atmosphere, returning year after year.
In 1921, an explosion and fire destroyed the structure, crafted from virgin timber, and shortly thereafter a company was organized to rebuild the Putnam Inn.
"The new Putnam Inn was a grand successor to the former structure. It was promoted far and wide as a delightful host in a delightful community," Economic Development Quarterly reported. "It also was touted as the first fireproof hotel in DeLand."
During WW II, before the Naval Air Base officers' quarters were completed, it housed many naval officers. The hotel's Cypress Room was DeLand's "first and finest cocktail lounge" and was patronized by locals long after its heyday ended.
Former owner Jayne Rocco closed the hotel's two nightclubs earlier this month. She did not respond for comment by press time.