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From Vanderbilt Estate to Jumbolair: The Fascinating Journey of a Celebrity Fly-in Oasis

Discover the captivating transformation of Jumbolair: from Vanderbilt Estate to celebrity fly-in oasis. Explore the allure of exotic animals, star residents, and the nation's longest private runway. Unveil the secrets of luxury living and aviation passion in this thrilling article!

By: David Decker
July 27, 2023

Jumbolair landing strip - home history on HouseNovel

During the late 1960s and throughout the '70s, Muriel Vanderbilt, the great-great-granddaughter of the renowned railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, constructed and inhabited what is now known as 'The Vanderbilt Estate.' Transforming the 80-acre surrounding the mansion into a tranquil and picturesque horse farm, she specialized in breeding racehorses, with one of her most notable successes being the induction of Desert Vixen into the U.S. Riding Hall of Fame.

In 1980, the property caught the attention of successful businessman Arthur Jones and his wife, who purchased the Vanderbilt Estate. With a vision of accommodating their aircraft, they acquired an additional 450 acres and constructed an oversized runway. Alongside this, they introduced an array of exotic animals, such as hundreds of crocodiles and snakes, three white rhinos, 17 elephants, and a gorilla named Mickey.

The Joneses expanded the Vanderbilt Estate, adding a ballroom, elephant and rhino barns, a pool with a pool house, and a state-of-the-art gym equipped with the renowned Nautilus exercise equipment invented by Arthur Jones himself. This transformation turned the property into a popular celebrity hotspot and tourist destination.

Operation Elephant on 20/20

A significant moment occurred in 1984 when the couple embarked on a journey to Africa, rescuing 63 baby elephants and bringing them back to the property in an operation called 'Operation Elephant,' which was featured on ABC's 20/20.

Operation Elephant - home history on HouseNovel It was during this event that the estate was christened 'JUMBOLAIR,' with 'JUMBO' symbolizing large size and referencing the PT Barnum elephant, as well as the 'Jumbo jets' present on the property. 'LAIR,' on the other hand, represents a place where wild animals reside or take refuge, perfectly encapsulating the estate's unique identity. See the entire 20/20 segment on YouTube.

In 1989, following the couple's divorce, the animals at Jumbolair were donated to parks and zoos for their ongoing care and well-being. The property remained private until the late '90s when plans emerged to develop a portion of it into an upscale residential aviation community, giving rise to Jumbolair Aviation Estates in 2001.

In a fascinating twist, renowned actor John Travolta made history by purchasing the first lot in Jumbolair Aviation Estates in 2002, where he subsequently constructed his impressive residence. The development sold numerous lots in Phase 1, and splendid estate homes adorned the community. Meanwhile, the Vanderbilt Estate served as a charming venue for weddings, events, car shows, and fly-ins, and even functioned as a bed and breakfast for a period.

However, in 2013, due to economic reasons, the development and the Vanderbilt property changed hands. The new owner built a remarkable estate home, but further development was limited, and the remaining lots were taken off the market. As of 2019, the property returned to the market for sale once again, marking another intriguing chapter in the history of this captivating estate.

The John Travolta Jumbolair Estate

John Travolta, a certified private pilot and owner of five aircraft, has transformed his Florida home into a functional airport, complete with two runways leading directly to his front door. John Travolta home history on HouseNovel

The 60-year-old actor shared in an interview on Australia's "Today" that the house was meticulously designed to accommodate his jets and provide quick access to travel the world at a moment's notice, a goal that has been successfully achieved over the past 11 years. As a Qantas "ambassador-at-large" since 2002, Travolta has been able to seamlessly combine John Travolta home history on HouseNovel interiorbusiness and personal travel, operating out of his Florida residence, which is just a brief 10-minute flight away from Orlando.

The Florida home, shared with his wife, actress Kelly Preston, boasts a midcentury-style design, envisioned and implemented according to Travolta's specific ideas by designer Sherri Jame of the Michael James Design Team. The house project, which took about six years to plan and two years to construct, features a front-drive housing Travolta's vintage Thunderbird.

The great room with curved window walls overlooks the tarmac, where Travolta's planes are parked. The residence includes a plane pavilion accommodating various aircraft, such as his iconic Qantas Boeing 707 airliner, as well as corporate jets and airliners.

John Travolta home history on HouseNovel exteriorThe property, located within the Jumbolair Aviation Estates in Ocala, Florida, sits on Greystone Airport and is the first residence in the 550-acre community designed to cater to individuals seeking fly-in, fly-out access, allowing them to land their planes and taxi them directly to their homes.

Travolta's dream of having planes in his front yard has become a reality, enabling him to live his passion for aviation to the fullest. With the convenience of private runways and an aviation-focused community, Travolta's home provides a unique and extraordinary living experience that perfectly aligns with his love for flying and globe-trotting adventures.

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Jumbolair sold in 2021

In February 2021, the property changed hands in a $9.5 million sale. The purchase package includes an expansive 550-acre property, a remarkable 7,550-foot-long runway, nearly 90,000 square feet of warehouse space, a grand 7,696-square-foot mansion, and an impressive 9,000-square-foot banquet facility.Jumbolair home history on HouseNovel

The sale transaction was finalized on February 26 and involved Jumbo Holding LLC, Frank Merschman, and the new owner, Jumbolair Development LLC, as recorded in county property documents. Jumbolair Development is managed by Robert and Debra Bull from Melbourne, Florida according to information from the Florida Division of Corporations. Robert Bull is the owner of CMS Mechanical Services, a reputable national commercial heating and air conditioning company.

The deal encompasses 19 unsold lots in Jumbolair Aviation Estates, all of which offer convenient runway access. Notably, actor John Travolta, a skilled pilot, owns an impressive almost 20-acre property within the development, featuring a spacious 6,600-square-foot residence. Travolta's iconic Boeing 707 jet is often parked next to his home, reflecting his passion for aviation.

Bartow McDonald, the listing agent responsible for the property, mentioned that the new owners are avid aviation enthusiasts. Initially listed for $10.5 million in 2019, the estate garnered substantial attention from potential buyers worldwide, receiving multiple offers from individuals both in the United States and various other countries.

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