Real Estate: NYC's 10 Most Expensive Listings
by c. j. hughes
785 Fifth Avenue, where songstress Denise Rich built a private recording studio
Something’s happening at the high end. After the sluggish post-recession period when trophy homes with eight-figure price tags seemed to linger on the market for years—if they were even listed at all—there’s movement in this rarefied segment.
In the last few months, a handful of these pricey properties, which are invariably located on the Upper East or West Sides, have traded hands: a $40 million spread at 2 East 70th Street; a $31.5 million apartment at 1030 Fifth Avenue; and a $52 million pair of duplex co-ops at 740 Park Avenue, to name a few. And the stunner—the $88 million sale of ex-Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill’s penthouse at 15 Central Park West to a Russian fertilizer magnate.
Buyers are now nosing around others in the $30 million-plus category with an intensity not seen in years, say brokers, who explain that the renewed interest is due to an uptick in inventory as well as a change in buyers’ attitudes. “People weren’t listing these types of homes for years because they were worried about dropped value,” says Bonnie Pfeifer Evans, a salesperson at the Corcoran Group, adding that “uncertainty” about the markets in Europe has made New York real estate seem like a safe long-term investment.
Resurgent American stock markets are also playing a role, says Lauren Muss, a Corcoran broker, though an end-of-the-waiting-game mentality is also driving buyers. “There are people out there with money,” she says, “and they want something special.”
Below are the 10 priciest listings in Manhattan of the past few months.
1. Denise Rich's Sound Investment
If sheer space is what you’re after, and if for some reason you need the convenience of your own recording studio, consider songstress Denise Rich’s duplex penthouse at 785 Fifth Avenue at East 60th Street. Now listed at $65 million, penthouse 17–18 offers both. The apartment encompasses the entire 17th and 18th floors and offers a leg-stretching 12,000 square feet, including seven bedrooms and 11 full baths, plus approximately 5,000 square feet of terraces and roof decks, as well as that studio, which features a keyboard, mixing board, and adjacent soundproof voice booth.
Only a few people have been able to sing the praises of this aerie, located in the Emery Roth-designed Park V, a postwar limestone co-op. When first introduced in 1963, the penthouse was purchased by Daniel K. Ludwig, a shipping billionaire so fiercely private and independent that he often eschewed the help of a secretary and “used to make and receive many telephone calls himself,” according to his New York Times obituary; Ludwig paid $250,000.
The year after he died in 1992, it was purchased by Rich, who has penned songs for Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, and Mary J. Blige, but is perhaps best known for the pardon President Clinton issued to her financier ex-husband, Marc Rich. She bought it, along with two adjacent units, and turned them into a single sprawling home, albeit one whose three kitchens attest to its consolidated status. Listed by Bonnie Pfeifer Evans, Noble Black, and Chazz Levi, Corcoran Group, 212-444-7929
2. Mansion on Fifth
In the 19th century, before New York’s wealthy warmed to the idea of high-rise living, they preferred stand-alone mansions. Foreign buyers have snapped up many of them over the years, but holdouts remain, like 973 Fifth Avenue, facing Central Park between East 78th and 79th Streets.
Designed by legendary architect Stanford White, the Renaissance-style limestone edifice boasts 15,225 square feet across seven levels, with spaces that evoke the Gilded Age, like a drawing room, grand entry foyer, and library. Beamed ceilings, fireplaces that look big enough to host galas, and a sinuous staircase are other highlights of the 22-room house, which is priced at $49 million.
Completed in 1907, number 973 was commissioned by Henry Cook, a railroad tycoon from the Finger Lakes who died before it was done. (Cook once owned the entire Fifth Avenue block and established the height restrictions for personal residences that exist to the present.) In recent years, it was home to real estate entrepreneur Victor Shafferman, who bought it in 1977 for a bargain $600,000, according to news reports. Shafferman, who got around by Rolls Royce, passed away in 2009, but he appears to have preserved many vintage details, like the lion head knockers on the wooden front doors. Taxes are about $150,000 a year. Listed by Paula Del Nunzio, Brown Harris Stevens, 212-906-9207
3. On the Mark
An ambitious plan to offer condos in The Mark hotel, an elegant 1927 brick-and-limestone landmark on the Upper East Side, at 25 East 77th Street, has been scaled back since the boom years, but a few choice new-to-the-market units remain. Among them is the 16th- and 17th-floor duplex penthouse, priced at $60 million, which offers six bedrooms, seven full and two half baths, and nearly 10,000 square feet, plus 2,400 square feet of outdoor space.
Other highlights are a double-sided fireplace in the master bedroom, solid white-oak floors, and cathedral ceilings that soar 26 feet in the living room, high into the hotel’s cupola. The kitchen is by Boffi, although residents can order room service from the hotel’s Mark Restaurant, whose chef is Jean-Georges Vongerichten. They can also request an in-house trim of their locks, courtesy of the on-site Frédéric Fekkai salon. Giving another reason not to stray too far is the second floor’s Punch Fitness Center, open 24 hours, which offers kickboxing classes.
And because the 10 owned units in the 140-room hotel are considered a “cond-op”—think co-op-style ownership, with condo-style rules—buyers can rent out their homes when they’re, say, away skiing in Aspen. The Mark sales office, 212-772-1600
4. Sunset Views
One sign of how the high-end real estate market may be improving is the increasing confidence of some sellers. Take Steven Feder and his partner, Lou Thomas Trosclair, who listed their four-bedroom penthouse condo at the Time Warner Center in 2010 at $45 million, and despite not finding any takers, relisted the same place last fall at $60 million, or $15,000 per square foot.
And even though the unit, Apartment 75CE in the south tower, offers many compelling features—nearly 14-foot ceilings (versus 10 feet in most of the building), and a mahogany paneled library—its look did not really change between the first and second listings.
Feder made his money through the Psychic Readers Network, which was known a decade ago for its call-in TV spots with an alleged clairvoyant called Miss Cleo. But in 2002, the Federal Trade Commission didn’t buy her crystal ball musings and filed a complaint against the network for allegedly bilking its customers. Feder was required to pay a $5 million fine, according to reports. Still, he stands to gain impressively with this sale: In 2008, he paid $25.7 million for the apartment. Listed by Brenda Powers and Elizabeth Sample, Sotheby’s International Realty, 212-606-7653
5. Chateau Style
Retail king Frank Woolworth sure knew how to give a gift. For his daughter Helena and her husband, lawyer Charles McCann, Woolworth constructed a 35-foot-wide mansion at 4 East 80th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, next to homes for his other daughters. With dormers graced with finials atop its limestone facade, Helena’s mansion, completed in 1916, could have been transplanted from France’s chateaux-rich Loire Valley.
But after Helena died in 1938, the home began a decades-long run with institutional owners, including the Young Men’s Philanthropic League, which seems to have hosted bridge games at the residence, according to reports.
Lucille Roberts, the fitness center mogul, picked up the home in 1995 for $6 million, records show, before undertaking the heavy lift of a fiveyear renovation to re-create its Belle Epoque splendor. Today, the 20,000-square-foot gem is bedazzled with chandeliers, built-in mirrors framed in garland motifs, and a few well-placed busts. Casting colorful hues over the seven-story stairwell is a stained-glass skylight. The home also features a fifth-floor gym, naturally.
Roberts, who died in 2003, had only a few years to savor her investment. Still, her family may greatly benefit; it’s priced today at $90 million. Listed by Paula Del Nunzio, Brown Harris Stevens, 212-906-9207
6. Putting on the Ritz
The unit that a developer hangs onto in his building is usually the best of the lot. And so it goes with the duplex condo that Christopher Jeffries kept at the Ritz-Carlton condo-hotel, which was acquired in 2002 by his Millennium Partners at 50 Central Park South.
Occupying the 30th and 31st floors of a 35-story high-rise that was previously the St. Moritz Hotel, the four-bedroom apartment offers sweeping views of Central Park from its northern and western exposures. There are also five and a half baths, nearly 10,900 square feet, and ample terraces, as well as an art gallery off a library. Its centerpiece, though, is the living room, which was carved out of the St. Moritz’s ballroom. Totaling 900 square feet with beamed 15-foot ceilings, facing fireplaces, and thick gold drapes across its five large park-facing windows, the space almost seems to beg a passer-through to break into a waltz.
But Jeffries, who also developed the residences at the Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park City, is apparently looking to quit the dance floor. After paying $20 million for the unit a decade ago, he listed it for $77.5 million, then sold it in May to Steve Wynn for $70 million. Listed by Kyle Blackmon, Brown Harris Stevens, 212-588-5648
7. Central Park Views
The Time Warner Center condominium has been a game changer. Not only did it essentially create the Columbus Circle neighborhood when it opened in 2004, its 198 units, spread across two towers, also quickly set records for prices, despite that one-time cumbersome “AOL” inclusion. Apartment 75A, a three-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath, 3,900-square-foot unit in the south tower, sold eight years ago for nearly $10 million, or roughly $2,600 per square foot; today, it’s listed for $50 million, or about $12,800 per square foot. To put things in perspective, the Manhattan average is approximately $1,000 per square foot.
Just one person has owned the unit, whose 455-square-foot master bedroom gazes out across Central Park’s treetops. She’s Anna Anisimova, an actress and the daughter of Vassily Anisimov, proprietor of aluminum plants in Russia. Anna is headed to Hollywood with husband Peter Schafer, a movie producer who worked with her on 2010’s The Whistleblower, about an American cop in postwar Bosnia. The apartment is rich in lavish Euro touches—Venetian plaster, Lalique inlays in the entryway powder room, and Pietra Cardosa slate countertops. It’s also being offered for rent for $60,000 a month. “There is no plain wall in that apartment,” said Corcoran’s Lauren Muss, who’s marketing it. Listed by Lauren Muss, Corcoran Group, 212-893-1455
8. Aby Rosen's Treasure
While owning a standalone house in Manhattan may seem like the ultimate luxury, the market for them in the past few years has been fickle. For instance, 22 East 71st Street, a 45-foot-wide limestone mansion designed by the favorite architect of the well-heeled, C.P.H. Gilbert (also responsible for the building on Fifth Avenue that’s now the Jewish Museum), was first listed for $75 million in 2008 and is now on for $50 million.
Its seller, Aby Rosen, a developer and noted art collector, paid $15.7 million for it in 2004, and spent many years and millions on a renovation. Today, the five-level (plus a garden level and a full basement), 21,000-square-foot mansard-roofed home features numerous striking contemporary touches, while many of its eye-catching hand-carved moldings have been preserved.
Completed in 1923, reportedly for $700,000, number 22 was built by Julius Forstmann, a woolens manufacturer whose family had rolled out fabrics in Germany since Medieval times, and who would later sail around the world on his record-setting 333-foot yacht, Orion. Forstmann’s descendants did quite well for themselves, too—his grandson, the late billionaire Teddy, ran a private equity firm and earned a profile in the book Barbarians at the Gate, about the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. Listed by Serena Boardman and Meredyth Smith, Sotheby’s International Realty, 212- 606-7611
9. Most Favorite Co-Op
The triplex penthouse coop at 990 Fifth Avenue, which is currently listed at $42 million, is in one of the Upper East Side’s most exclusive buildings, for the simple reason that the skinny 1927 limestone tower, which was designed by Rosario Candela and Grand Central Station’s Warren and Wetmore, has just six homes, and they turn over very infrequently.
With nearly 6,000 square feet, including five bedrooms and five and a half baths, the penthouse is the most spacious unit. It features a 1,200-square-foot wraparound terrace on the 14th floor, which commands sweeping views to the south, west, and east, and a fountain. Inside, you’ll find marble entryway floors, detailed crown moldings, and five wood-burning fireplaces.
Not much is known about the sellers; they bought three decades ago, before city records made it easy to retrieve such information. The listing agents also declined to discuss their names, what they originally paid, or why they were moving.
As hard as it may be to get into, number 990 relaxed its rules in 1964 for actor Peter Lawford, who was married to Patricia Kennedy, President Kennedy’s sister; other Upper East Side co-ops, not wanting any Democrats or people in show business, wouldn’t accept the couple, according to reports. For his duplex, Lawford likely paid around $150,000, and family was close by—the same year, Jackie Kennedy moved to 1040 Fifth Avenue, five blocks away. Listed by Lois Nasser and Christopher Rounick, Sotheby’s International Realty, 212-606-7706
10. Modern Limestone Luxe
Along with the Time Warner Center, the most successful condominium project of the last decade has surely been 15 Central Park West, whose 201 units have gained in price, even during the darkest days of the recession.
Indeed, apartment 15B, which is now for sale for $35 million, is a handy case in point. It traded for $15.4 million in 2008, when purchased by Beny Alagem, the Israeli founder of Packard Bell Electronics, who also scooped up the Beverly Hilton Hotel from Merv Griffin in 2003. In 2009, when the market was tanking, Alagem unloaded his home to an LLC called GBL Management for almost $20 million. Now the unit is available for nearly double that price, and the three-bedroom apartment, which has three and a half baths and 3,830 square feet, is not even located at the top of its section of the condo, which stretches to 19 stories.
The appeal of 15 CPW, as it’s known, is that architect Robert A.M. Stern managed to channel so many prewar flourishes into a postwar high-rise. Indeed, there is a library, family room, spacious library, and columns that wouldn’t be out of place in an Upper West Side brownstone. But it is most certainly modern: sleek cabinets, a separate tub and shower in the master bath, and a breakfast room with hand-cut tiles and stones qualify it as 21st century. Listed by Dolly Lenz, Prudential Douglas Elliman, 212-891-7113