The World’s Worst Investor

My grandfather was an immigrant from Sicily who joined the army during WWI to attain US citizenship, lost an eye when he was mustard gassed on the Western Front, and settled down in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn after the war.

He bought a three bedroom brick home on 76th street for $3,000, eventually raising four kids. Back then, there was a dairy farm across the street, and horse drawn wagons delivered ice blocks door to door. During the roaring twenties an assortment of relatives chided him for avoiding the stock boom where easy fortunes were made trading on margin. When the 1929 crash came, all of them lost their homes. Grandpa finished off the basement, creating space for two entire families to move in. He never bought a stock in his entire life.

Because dad contracted malaria with the Marines on Guadalcanal during WWII, the old man moved the family to Los Angeles in 1947 for the dry, sunny weather. Unfortunately, the train stopped long enough in Las Vegas for a flim flam man to sell him five acres of land for $500. Ten years later my dad drove out to check out the investment. It was a tumbleweed blown, jack rabbit and rattlesnake ridden piece of land so far out of town that it was worthless. You couldn’t see downtown, even if you stood on the rusted out model “T” that occupied the land. After that, the parcel became the family joke, and grandpa was ridiculed as the world’s worst investor.

Grandpa died of emphysema in 1977 at the age of 78. Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood finally caught up with him. What German shrapnel and gas failed to accomplish, 60 years of smoking two packs a day of Marlboro’s did. His estate executor put the long despised plot in Sin City up for sale. Although the final price was never disclosed, it was thought to be well into eight figures. In the intervening 30 years the city of Las Vegas had marched steadily Southward towards Los Angeles, eventually encompassing it, sending its value through the roof. The deal triggered a big fight among the heirs, those claiming he was the stupidest demanding the greatest share of the proceeds, the bad blood generated continuing to this day. It turns out the world’s worst investor was really the best, we just didn’t know it.

What was the address of this fabled piece of real estate? Why, it is 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. South, the site today of the Venetian and Palazzo Hotels, home to the Dal Toro restaurant, the venue for the Mad Hedge Fund Trader’s last Las Vegas strategy luncheon. I’m sure grandpa is laughing in his grave.


Bought for $500 in 1947