The Biggest McMansion of Them All

Mogul Planned 90,000-Sq. Ft. Faux Versailles in Florida

Hall of Mirrors, Fla.: David Siegel wanted to build an opulent palace for his young wife, Jackie, and their growing family. Then the real estate bubble burst.
lauren greenfield
Hall of Mirrors, Fla.: David Siegel wanted to build an opulent palace for his young wife, Jackie, and their growing family. Then the real estate bubble burst.

By Curt Schleier

Published July 16, 2012, issue of July 20, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In an on-camera interview, David Siegel crows that he got George W. Bush elected president. When asked how he did that, the Florida resident declines to give particulars, claiming his actions “might not have been legal.” His wife, Jackie, brags that she’s spent as much as $1 million a year on clothing, including $17,000 on a pair of Gucci crocodile boots.

The two big spenders are at the center of “The Queen of Versailles,” a brilliant and infuriating documentary that begins as a film about the American dream and ends as one about the American nightmare. It earned its director, Lauren Greenfield, a best director nod at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

David Siegel, 76, is the billionaire founder of Westgate Resorts, which he claims is “the largest privately owned time-share company in the world.” Jackie, 31 years his junior, is David’s surgically enhanced wife, and mother to seven of his 13 children. They live in a 26,000-square-foot home in Orlando, Fla., with a household staff of 19. They believe the house is too small.

So, in 2004, the couple set out to build another home, based on the palace of Louis XIV at Versailles and the Paris hotel in Las Vegas; at 90,000 square feet, if completed, it will be the largest in America. The house will have 10 kitchens — though Jackie doesn’t cook — 30 bathrooms, a bowling alley and a roller rink. The couple spent $5 million on marble alone. On a filmed tour of the construction site, Greenfield asks Jackie if a large area is her bedroom. Jackie replies, “That’s not my room. That’s my closet.”

All went well until the credit crunch of 2008. The Siegels’ problems weren’t caused by the house — though it did become a burden. Rather, David’s company ran into trouble as lending dried up. Typically, Westgate customers borrowed money from the company to pay for their vacation time-shares. The company, in turn, borrowed from the banks at lower interest rates. When the banks stopped lending, the bottom fell out.

Added to that difficulty was the burden of the PH Towers Westgate, a new 52-story high-rise luxury resort in Las Vegas, which drained Siegel’s corporate resources as well as $400 million of his own money. Finally, in November of 2011, Siegel was forced to sell.

“I didn’t think people like them would be affected by the economic crisis,” Greenfield, 46, told the Forward in a recent telephone interview. “I assumed that people with this kind of wealth would have a lot of money on the side — a cushion, some protection. It wasn’t until later that David told me he had signed personally for all the loans.”

At the end of the film, Greenfield captures the moment when the lights go out at the top of the building and the PH Towers Westgate becomes just the PH Towers.

“The Queen of Versailles” got its start in happier days, in 2007, when Greenfield was photographing Donatella Versace on assignment for Elle magazine. Jackie was there as one of the designer’s best customers. The two women took an immediate liking to one another.

“I was intrigued by her because of her wealth,” Greenfield said. “She showed me pictures of her seven kids on the steps of their private jet. She didn’t have the veil of privacy a lot of rich people have.”

Originally, the project was going to be a look at how the wealthy live and, of course, at the Siegel’s house-in-progress. It was very much in line with Greenfield’s previous work as a documentarian and photographer.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.