Lucky Pierre! Lady Fairfax’s Penthouse Finds a Buyer for Almost $25 Million

Upper East Side

Consider the scales tipped. After being up for sale practically since Lady Fairfax bought it for $12 million in 1989, the 20-room triplex atop the Pierre hotel on Fifth Avenue and 61st Street has found a buyer for just under $25 million, according to real estate sources.

Brokers said that the buyer is private security magnate Thomas O’Gara, vice chairman of the Kroll-O’Gara Company, a Fairfield, Ohio-based conglomerate that armors the limos of rich folks and Humvees for the military, and does all manner of snooping for major corporations all over the world. The company recently was hired by CNN to pooh-pooh its own Operation Tailwind story. Sources said that Mr. O’Gara, whose company had a public offering of shares in May, and his wife, Victoria, who is the bombshell widow of the British billionaire Lord Gordon White, had been shopping at the fantasy-apartment end of the market for some time, but had had some co-op board trouble. A call to Mr. O’Gara’s office was not returned by press time.

“It will go down in the annals as the highest price ever paid for a co-op,” said Barbara Corcoran of the deal. The apartment was listed exclusively with Leila Stone of Sotheby’s International Realty; Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales represented the buyer. Ms. Stone had no comment. The 12,000-square-foot penthouse was on the market for $27 million, and maintenance is approximately $30,000 a month.

Another broker said if the sale goes through it would mean “there’s nothing left on a fantasy level anymore” in Manhattan real estate. Up until the groaningly formal former Vanderbilt mansion at 11 East 62nd Street had a $30 million price tag slapped on it this year, the Fairfax penthouse was the most expensive thing you could buy in town. “Frankly, I’ve seen it and it’s worth it, if you’re into that kind of thing,” attested one broker.

Comprising what was at one time the rooftop ballroom of the Pierre, the mammoth apartment sprawls over the 41st, 42nd and part of the 43rd floors of the building. You enter on the 41st floor, pass the five bedrooms (all reportedly modestly sized) and two kitchens and walk up a dramatic flight of stairs to the ballroom, which is approximately 50 feet by 85 feet and is described as a “Sistine Chapel-type space”–with windows on Central Park on one side and mirrors on the other–by one witness. On the 42nd floor, there are also two “really small” triangular terraces overlooking the park where the top three floors cut in on the building’s corners. In other words, the place is perfect for entertaining, although not much more.

Which Lady Fairfax was wont to do. Her ladyship hails from the Lord Fairfax newspaper clan, which has been duking it out with Rupert Murdoch for Australian readers for many years. When she bought the ballroom for $12 million in 1989, it really hadn’t been used since the early 1970’s. That is because the top 20 or so floors of the hotel were sold off as co-ops in the late 1950’s. (Former Gov. Hugh Carey owned there, and Dodi al-Fayed’s dad, Mohammed al-Fayed, recently expanded his holdings in the building to take over almost the entire 22nd floor.) The fancy-pants owners didn’t want the rent-a-ballroom wedding parties tramping around in their elevators, so they made the Pierre close the ballroom, and it spent the next 15 years as a storage room for hotel furniture. Employees would take their lunch breaks there.

Lady Fairfax put $5 million into renovation, which brokers describe as “extraordinary.” Only it’s a bit on the unwieldy size for most buyers, and the maintenance would sort of add up, even though it does include twice-a-day maid service (they make up and turn down your bed), general cleaning once a month, and discounts on the hotel’s restaurant, laundry and dry cleaning services. Sources say that Lady Fairfax once hatched the scheme of carving out a four-room apartment in the building that she’d rent for $30,000 a month, offsetting the maintenance, but the co-op board put a stop to that. In any case, sources said that her children had pressured her to sell the place, and it went on the market in 1993, originally for $50 million.

Brokers always dismissed the apartment, saying there was simply no market for it. But since the building requires that you pay all-cash, it’s hard to imagine that that would matter.

Upper East Side

East End Avenue in the 80’s

Three-bed, three-bath, 2,000-square-foot postwar co-op.

Asking: $1.2 million. Selling: $1.035 million.

Charges: $2,400; 50 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: one day.

THE DOWN PAYMENT SWAP. The woman who had this apartment on the market for $1.2 million was so strapped for cash–she was trying to scrape together a down payment of her own–that she slashed the asking price for the second person who walked in the door. He was a single guy whose pockets weren’t quite deep enough to pony up the $1.2 million asking price. The deal they made went something like this: He would pay a portion of the down payment in cash, instead of putting it in an escrow account, and she would let him have the apartment for just $1.035 million. Never mind the other interested parties who might have paid the full asking price; time is money. Broker: William B. May Company (Sue Marcus).

13 East 75th Street

Five-floor, 6,500-square-foot town house.

Asking: $5.2 million. Selling: $4.875 million.

Time on the market: five months.

WHERE’S THE KEG GONNA GO? Imagine the meeting to close the sale of this town house: A British investor who has just liquidized his empire of pubs sits across the table from the Wall Street fat cat who bought this house five years ago for a mere $1.6 million. One smirk and there could be a brawl. The Englishman is a drinking-establishment magnate of sorts who recently sold the thousands of pubs he owned in Britain. He decided to test the waters of the real estate tsunami that’s hit Manhattan in the last year. So far, he’s bought three town houses on the Upper East Side: two to renovate into single family homes and then sell–one in the 60’s and one in the 70’s. And this one to live in himself. He just sold a 22-bedroom estate in England, so there’ll be more than enough furniture and tchotchkes to fill the place. He is in his late 40’s, and is married but has no children. “There were other people bidding,” said broker Richard Steinberg, “but he literally walked in the house and said, ‘I want it, whatever it costs.'” Lucky for the seller, he’s relocating across the park to Central Park West. Broker: Ashforth Warburg Associates (Richard Steinberg); Stribling & Associates Ltd. (Cornelia Eland).

230 East 71st Street

Two-bed, one-bath, 1,100-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $325,000. Selling: $325,000.

Charges: $991; 50 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: two days.

MAYBE HE CAN BUY THE AMERICAN FLAG, BUT RALPH LAUREN CAN’T HAVE THIS GUY’S LIVING ROOM ANYMORE. How’s an executive at Calvin Klein Inc. to get ahead with an apartment whose major selling point is that it’s “very Ralph Lauren”? At least that’s what the broker has been pointing out to any and all parties interested in this third-floor apartment, previously owned by a guy on Calvin Klein’s business side and an interior designer. “It’s on a beautiful tree-lined street,” said broker Deanne Esses, who sold the totally renovated apartment to a couple with a little boy. These folks loved the peach, beige and green color palette of the apartment’s interior, and they were eager to be near the touted elementary school P.S. 183, since their son is classroom-bound this fall. The sellers, however, preferred the schools of Montclair, N.J., where, for this fellow’s sake, we can only hope Mr. Lauren’s look is frowned upon. Broker: Bellmarc Realty (Deanne Esses); Halstead Property Company (Victoria Matus).

343 East 74th Street

Two-bed, 2.5-bath, 1,250-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $395,000. Selling: $395,000.

Charges: $1,850; 56 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: one month.

OWN TO RENT. This building boasts a health club with sauna and steam room (but no pool) and a happenin’ sun roof. The apartment’s kitchen comes equipped with a washer and dryer, there’s an unusually large dining area, and there are two and a half marble bathrooms. Best of all, there’s a 34-square-foot balcony for entertaining or private sun-worshipping, and the 12th-floor view is swell. So how’d you like to fork over several thousand dollars to its proud, but unashamed to be greedy, new owner? The single woman who just bought this co-op likes the ring of the title “landlord” and plans to rent it out for a year before moving in. Get in line. Broker: Bellmarc (Randi Good).

Upper West Side

146 West 80th Street

Two-bed, two-bath, 900-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $339,000. Selling: $326,500.

Charges: $575; 58 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: four months.

TWO TERRACES: IS THAT JUSTICE? Broker Tony Miller found this duplex apartment for a recent graduate of University of Chicago Law School just weeks after getting the buyer’s brother, also an attorney, settled in the city. The apartment occupies the fourth and fifth floors of an 1890’s brownstone, but the interior has been drastically modernized, according to Mr. Miller. It’s the only two-story unit in the building, and the only one with two outdoor spaces: a north-facing terrace with city views on the fifth floor, and a south-facing terrace on the fourth. The place is decorated in earth tones: hardwood floors in light maple, forest-green walls. The large master bedroom accesses the upper terrace; the second bedroom doubles as an office or den. The seller relocated back to Melbourne, Australia. Broker: Bellmarc (Anthony Miller); Corcoran Group (Nancy Teague).

Midtown

444 East 52nd Street

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,375-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $630,000. Selling: $610,000.

Charges: $1,704; 50 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: three months.

HONEY, PUT ON THE MONICA CD AGAIN. The sellers of this apartment took off to London with everything but the kitchen sink and the eight sets of Bose stereo speakers they’d installed. The buyers–an older couple leaving a humongous apartment in Carnegie Hill–might not appreciate the sound system, but then there’s the granite kitchen, the wood-burning fireplace, the 14-foot ceilings and 10-foot-high kitchen windows. The building is nestled between First Avenue and the East River. Watch out for sinkholes. Broker: Bellmarc (Jeff Bua); Douglas Elliman.

SoHo

15 Cleveland Place

Three-floor prewar building.

Asking: $895,000. Selling: $880,000.

Time on the market: six months.

BELLINI TRIANGLE. Cleveland Place branches off Lafayette Street–briefly–south of Broome Street, and peters off two blocks later at Spring Street. But if you didn’t know that, you don’t really deserve to be in tottering-on-your-Blahniks range of Pravda, Balthazar and the other SoHo model-lairs, anyway. The buyer of this triangular building, on the corner of Kenmare Street, recognized a good thing before any cool-hunter or club owner, though. The building is 19 feet wide and 100 feet deep. It has 10 big south-facing bay windows and a roof garden with a trellis and an arbor. Right now, it’s divided into two lofts that technically are set up as condos, so the new owner could sell off one or combine them. Downstairs, there’s an art gallery whose rent the buyer can now raise at will. Broker: Prudential/M.L.B. Kaye International Realty.