David and Jackie Siegel's dream house is 67 feet tall and the design includes French balconies, balustrades and columns.  (© John Raoux/AP)

David and Jackie Siegel's dream house is 67 feet tall and the design includes French balconies, balustrades and columns. // © John Raoux/AP

Torn apart by a home
As his business was prospering, Siegel and his second wife, Bettie, began construction in 1990 on a 63,000-square-foot neoclassical house in the town of Windermere. (The appraiser puts it at 36,000 square feet, and Siegel says he never had any reason to dispute that.) When they brought in an architect to carry out the plans, the architect warned there could be trouble. As Siegel tells it, "He said that every large home he has designed, the couple divorced. As the house went up, the marriage went down." Siegel wasn't worried: His second wife was the love of his life, someone he had dated in high school and reunited with 17 years later. They had already been married for two decades and together owned Westgate and its parent company, Central Florida Investments.

As the work proceeded, the price increased from $3 million to $8 million and then beyond, and the Siegels began to bicker. She made decisions against his wishes, which to him was the ultimate deception. "So I washed my hands of the house, which was the worst thing I could do," he says. "I would criticize the house. She would criticize the business. It was never really about the money. It was about us."

They completed Palazzo del Lago in 1996, at a cost of $35 million. Siegel, who had lived there during the final two years of construction, moved out that summer. The couple split in 1997, and she eventually won a settlement of $200 million. He bought out her share of the company, and she kept the house. "Bettie wasn't criticizing the way he was running the company," says her divorce lawyer, Mayanne Downs. "She wanted to pull cash out of the company for them rather than pushing it all to the center of the table. There wasn't a contingency plan. For him, it's an exhilarating way of life. She was ready for a little less exhilaration."

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As Siegel drives by the Palazzo del Lago on the way to his present home, he says: "The house is gorgeous, unbelievable. She did a great job." The mansion is a couple of miles from where he and Jackie Siegel now live; Versailles is a couple of miles in the other direction. 

Just a few months into bachelorhood, David Siegel met Jackie at a party in Orlando. It was love at first sight. She was 30 and in the middle of a divorce. He was 60. She had grown up in Binghamton, N.Y., earned a bachelor's degree in computer engineering technology, worked at Citigroup and briefly dated Donald Trump. She had also been a model and was crowned Mrs. Florida in 1993. The moved into an 8,000-square-foot house in the gated community of Isleworth, a suburb of Orlando, had two children together and wed in 2000. They would go on to have seven kids in nine years. "My wife is a psycho, but a lovable psycho," David Siegel says. "She does everything to the extreme."

His fruitful home life coincided with a productive time at Westgate. He opened his first resorts outside Florida, in Gatlinburg, Tenn.; Park City, Utah; Branson, Mo.; Williamsburg, Va.; and Las Vegas. He also developed a reputation for suing vendors, partners and even former employees. His divorce from Bettie began amicably and ended up in court. In 2007, after a six-year legal fight, he lost a sexual-harassment case brought by a former employee and paid her $610,000 in damages. Siegel says he did nothing wrong. "If you're wealthy, going in front of a jury is the worst thing you can do."

"It's one thing to be tough, it's another to use lawsuits as a weapon," says Alan Rainey, who was Westgate's chief financial officer in the 1990s. Rainey gave unfavorable testimony in Siegel's divorce case, was fired in 1998, and subsequently was sued by Siegel for breach of duty not to compete. They settled that case. "David embodies everything right and wrong about greed and capitalism," Rainey says. "I don't admire him, but I am proud I was part of the group that built up the company. It's like with George Steinbrenner and the Yankees: No matter what you thought about Steinbrenner, you had to respect the team he put on the field."

By 2007, Siegel had 28 resorts around the country, with 11,000 villas and 500,000 owners. His company had grown 20% every year and, according to Vacation Ownership World, had sales of $875 million. By 2008, Westgate's profits were about $175 million, according to CFO Dugan. Siegel employs his brother and two sons from his first marriage, but he retains 100% ownership. "I was making more money than I could ever spend in my life," he says of those years.

A big idea
In 2004, Siegel designed Versailles on the back of an envelope during a flight to Las Vegas aboard his Gulfstream jet. "I didn't set out to design a 90,000-square-foot house," he says. "I wasn't looking to build the biggest house in America. I just drew my picture too big." Since then, he has made one change: The ice rink is now for roller skating. "Once they started talking to me about Zambonis and special air, I figured the kids can go ice skating somewhere else," he says.

Siegel spent the first couple of years interviewing companies about building the 160 window frames and the two-story front doors, visiting Italian factories in search of the right Carrara marble and selecting a glassmaker to create the ballroom dome. He also piled up 60,000 cubic yards of dirt to make a hill and let it compress for two years so the house would never settle and the marble would never crack.

The Siegels started construction on Versailles in 2006. They had to get permission from the local homeowners association to build a house that is 22 feet higher than allowed. As the house began to loom over the neighborhood, the association asked the Siegels to landscape it in a way that would make it less noticeable. Lorraine Barrett, the Siegels' friend, real-estate broker and now company executive, says relations between the couple and the community are cordial. "I'm sure they didn't want it as big, but it is on 10 acres," she says. "And I'm sure they want it finished. But when it is, it will be beautiful."

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Siegel met with the architect and general manager every morning. His wife didn't always accompany him. "I let him do what he wanted," she says. "He built such a beautiful mansion before." And there's the ex-wife to consider, too. "That house caused their divorce. They would probably still be together otherwise. He thought the house consumed her. Maybe he was being melodramatic. I took it to heart, though."

In the meantime, the Siegels spent $7 million on a 26,000-square-foot house to live in until Versailles was complete. It's called Seagull Island. Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren lived nearby in a 6,800-square-foot home before their marriage foundered. "When he crashed his car, Jackie ran out and took photos," Siegel says. "She sold one to TMZ for $400. That was very enterprising of her, but I think she could have gotten more."

'Because I can'
At Seagull Island, there were nannies, maids, cooks, gardeners, drivers and personal assistants. "Seven kids, and neither of us ever changed a diaper," Siegel says, laughing. They also had four dogs, three white peacocks, a Vietnamese potbellied pig (until the staff objected), canaries, cats and at least one taxidermied dog in a glass case. Jackie Siegel delighted in spending money on clothes, jewelry, the kids, her friends, charity. She liked to ski, she wanted a yacht. She got a Bentley. "That's probably the only nice car I'll ever have," she says. "I had to talk him into it. But he got a great deal: One of my friends was going through a divorce and needed the money." 

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Siegel insists that he has no hobbies and no diversions, except for his family: His 14 kids range in age from 5 to 55, and he has nine grandchildren. He is solidly built, wears his shirts untucked and his shoes unpolished. He says he prefers to buy clothes on sale. "I've had suits custom-made for him, and he loved them," Jackie Siegel says. "But I had to tell him I got them from a thrift store." He asks to take the leftovers at restaurants, and sometimes bones for the dogs. He wrote "Do Not Remove" on the Styrofoam cup he drinks from at work. "I'm a wealthy guy, but I live like my customers live," he says. "I love to get bargains. The car I drive was free. I got it from Thrifty because we do so much business with them."  

Siegel does have a Rolls-Royce Phantom, given to him by his executives. He drives it to work once a week, parking it in a single-car garage he had built. "I don't want to get it nicked up," he says. "And what if I have to fire someone? They might key it."

In 2007, when Siegel estimated his net worth to be $1.8 billion — Forbes put him at $1 billion — he and his wife agreed to let documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield follow them as they built Versailles. She came for holidays, for dinners, for parties. She met family, friends and household staff. She sat in on meetings at Westgate. When Greenfield asked Siegel why he wanted to build such an immense home, he said: "Because I can."