Arkansas Couple (Not the Clintons!) Buys $8 Million House on East 65th Street

In June, Warren Stephens, the 42-year-old president and chief executive of Stephens Inc., a Little Rock, Ark.-based investment firm, signed a deal to buy a five-story town house at 48 East 65th Street for $8 million. The stately, gated home, which touches the restaurant Daniel next door, will be a pied-à-terre for Mr. Stephens, his wife and three children. After they hire a staff, the couple would like to entertain there when they’re in town.

Since Mr. Stephens’ house-hunt coincides with that of another couple from Little Rock, his purchase has raised questions: Will the Clintons have a key?

“I guess [New Yorkers] assume everybody from Arkansas is related, or somehow in cahoots together or something,” said Mr. Stevens. “It really has nothing to do with the Clintons.”

Mr. Stevens describes himself and his family as mostly Republican. “I don’t believe I’m registered either way,” he said. “I certainly tend to be more Republican in my views.” The Stephens family is very active politically–everything from intellectual brainstorming sessions with candidates to multimillion-dollar campaign donations–and have several links to the Clintons. Warren Stephens’ father, Jackson Stephens, chairman of the family company, reportedly once said that Hillary Clinton would have made a better governor than her husband. Before the 1991 death of W.R. (Witt) Stephens, Warren’s uncle and the company’s founder, Mrs. Clinton was a frequent guest at his lunchtime salons at the family’s Little Rock offices. And C. Joseph Giroir Jr., the former Rose Law Firm partner who made Mrs. Clinton the firm’s first female associate in 1977, was the longtime attorney to both Stephens Inc. and Jackson Stephens.

It was a last-minute loan from Worthen National Bank, a Stephens Inc. subsidiary, that kept the 1992 Clinton Presidential campaign afloat. Personally, Warren Stephens contributed to Bill Clinton in 1990 and 1992, but he said he did not give the President any money during the last race.

Asked whether he would support Mrs. Clinton’s potential Senate campaign–and whether he would use his pied-à-terre to do that–Mr. Stephens said after a long pause, “I’m not going to be involved at all.” He said that whether or not he would contribute financially to her campaign was private.

Mr. Stephens and his wife, Harriet Stephens, launched a series of house-hunting trips to Manhattan this spring. In April, their interest was piqued when they were shown a six-story town house at 134 East 71st Street, then priced at $7.5 million, but Democratic Party fund-raiser Shelby Bryan beat them to it. The couple–sometimes represented by their broker, Michael Spodek–also considered a town house at 19 East 92nd Street, which was listed at $6.9 million, and others in the same price range. By June, after a tense bidding war with another out-of-town couple, the Stephenses had signed a contract for $7.995 million on the 65th Street house, according to real estate sources. Their deal is to become final in late October.

In the midst of the Arkansas couple’s town house tour–at a time when prices were rising through the roof–the phones at top brokerage firms in Manhattan were ringing off the hook with speculation about Hillary Clinton’s rumored New York Senate run, and where the First Lady would settle in New York, candidacy or no candidacy.

“I can’t believe all these rumors!” said a Corcoran Group broker whose client was allegedly selling Mrs. Clinton a three-bedroom apartment at 290 West End Avenue, which was on the market for $1.7 million.

“This is like one of those Princess Di rumors,” said Alan Rogers, president of the brokerage firm Douglas Elliman. “How many times did she buy an apartment in New York?” The answer, of course, is never.

By Memorial Day, the Clintons had announced their interest in Westchester as their post-White House home. Still, some Manhattan brokers had an address in mind: the five-story, Federal-style town house off Park Avenue that an Arkansan couple was, at that very point, negotiating to buy.

Contacted in July, Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Howard Wolfson, was unequivocal on the subject of 48 East 65th Street. “No, she’s not going to live there,” he told The Observer at the time. “We have nothing to do with it.”

Warren Stephens is the second-generation director of his family’s eponymous investment-banking firm, which was the 15th-largest regional investment firm in 1987 and now ranks 80th. “He basically is the scion,” said Gene Lyons, a columnist at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette . “When you meet him, he seems to be a very sophisticated and well-educated guy. [Stephens Inc.] does a lot of business up there, and there’s every reason why he’d want to have a presence in New York.”

The 65th Street house, which is on the south side of the street, was built in 1876. Recently renovated by its owners, the home’s interior is reported to be covered in marble; it has two separate entrances, a south garden and a wrought-iron gate in front. In June, singer Mariah Carey toured the house with a cadre of handlers but was turned off when, on the way out, she saw several rats run out of the trash bins, according to one real estate broker.

Speaking from his Little Rock office, Mr. Stephens was sanguine about his pending town house deal. “My family and I have enjoyed going up there [to New York],” he told The Observer , “and we just wanted to try having our own place. We’re not moving there. I mean, we live here, you know.”

However much brokers secretly wanted Mrs. Clinton’s business, they found themselves on the receiving end of complaints after there were Secret-Service sightings in the neighborhood in May. “The quality of life, in having her as a neighbor, I think would deteriorate,” said broker Michele Kleier.

When the complaining died down, the East 65th Street Secret Service sightings proved to be the security detail assigned to Vice President Al Gore, who had come to town to meet his first grandchild, Wyatt Gore Schiff.

In 1998, the same year she took over as co-anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America , Lisa McRee and her husband, Don Granger, an executive at Paramount Pictures, spent $1.9 million on a fixer-upper brownstone at 166 East 81st Street between Lexington and Third avenues. That price was dwarfed by the added cost of the gut renovations Ms. McRee and her husband ordered: landscaping the garden, wiring the place with phone, fax and cable lines, installing central air-conditioning and an alarm system, repainting the house’s facade and replacing the front stoop. But the bills had barely been paid when Ms. McRee was dumped from the show due to sagging ratings and replaced by another blonde, Diane Sawyer, who took the morning anchor’s chair in the spring.

Before Ms. McRee moved to Los Angeles, where she is on maternity leave from ABC, she stuck a bitter $3.95 million price tag on the house. Within a month, a family with three children in elementary school, who had been living in a rented apartment in the East 80′s and were probably oblivious to the network saga, seem to have pacified Ms. McRee with $3.7 million.

Ms. McRee, who gave birth to William Peter Granger on Aug. 12, seems to have been a victim of the heated ratings war over morning television. Her one-year stint alongside Kevin Newman–the duo were a younger version of Charles Gibson and Joan Lunden–saw the show’s ratings drop to third place during one week last fall. While NBC sits at No. 1, CBS (No. 3) is readying a studio across the street from the Plaza Hotel for Bryant Gumbel, who is being lured back to the same time slot, starting in November. For Good Morning America , Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson–who has returned temporarily, despite having been shoved out when Joan Lunden left–are holding down the fort while ABC gets its act together. A new Times Square studio for the show is supposed to be ready by Sept. 13.

Ms. Sawyer and Mr. Gibson are said to have agreed to stay on until May 2000, while their bosses try to come up with a successful, NBC-proof morning team. A publicist for ABC had no comment on Ms. McRee’s future plans.

Upper East Side

215 East 73rd Street (Eastgate)

One-bed, one-bath, 920-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $335,000. Selling: $355,000.

Charges: $1,123; 41 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: 10 days.

A 24-YEAR-OLD WHO KNOWS WHO EMERY ROTH WAS. Where this Emery Roth-designed apartment was concerned, a 24-year-old woman in advertising profited from some insider information and having an extra $20,000 at hand. She got a tip from her sister, who lives in the same building, 215 East 73rd Street, that the apartment was on the market for $335,000. She toured the tasteful, 920-square-foot place and liked everything down to the shades of paint on the walls. However, two other hard-bargaining women were also interested. After all three made offers, the 24-year-old got cold feet. She called her broker, Wanda Bailey, and withdrew her bid for all of 12 hours. Finally, she raised her offer to $355,000 and will soon be under the same roof as her sister again. Broker: Corcoran Group (Wanda Bailey).

Upper West Side

279 Central Park West

Three-bed, 2.5-bath, 2,542-square-foot condo.

Asking: $2.45 million. Selling: $2.275 million.

Charges: $2,290. Taxes: $1,022.

Time on the market: six months.

PREWAR ON C.P.W., CIRCA 1988. A young couple with three children wanted their Manhattan crash pad to be something architecturally unique–not unlike their other properties in Paris and London. They were single-minded about TriBeCa until they agreed to look at a fourth-floor condo on Central Park near 89th Street. With Central Park and the Reservoir plastered across the living room, library and all three bedroom windows, this 2,542-square-foot apartment made them forget the name Nobu. While 279 Central Park West was only built in 1988 (which will make it older than most of TriBeCa before long), it attempts to mimic the prewar details of its Art-Deco neighbors. And besides that tremendous front yard, the building also has a playroom for kids. Broker: Halstead Property Company (Kellee Buhler); Sunshine Group (Susan deFranca).

Midtown

100 West 57th Street (Carnegie House)

One-bed, one-bath, 950-square-foot postwar co-op.

Asking: $360,000. Selling: $352,000.

Charges: $1,078; 30 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: one month.

HOW TO SKIM A LITTLE OFF THE COLLEGE FUND. With two teenagers heading off to college, a couple from Jericho, L. I., took out an extra mortgage for a place in the city. The apartment they found, a 950-square-foot co-op at 100 West 57th Street with one bedroom, had been fixed up by a young married couple. They refinished the wood parquet floors, spruced up the kitchen and bathrooms and installed fixtures in the foyer. The closing prices was $352,000, within a reasonable distance of what the couple was asking. Broker: Bellmarc Realty (Robert Cuozzo).

Brooklyn Heights

152 Remsen Street

Two-bed, 2.5-bath, 1,100-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $350,000. Selling: $333,000.

Charges: $965; 48 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: six weeks.

CROSSTOWN ROMANCE LEADS LOVERS TO BROOKLYN. It sounds like the Woody-Mia story–only in a different income bracket and without the unhappy ending. A film producer and a nonprofit worker living across

Central Park from one another got sick of the frequent crosstown commute. In their case, the solution was to move in together, which for them meant Brooklyn. They found a 1,100-square-foot maisonette apartment with two bedrooms in a former church on the corner of Remsen and Clinton streets. The duplex has a private entrance on the street level and a staircase lined by stained glass windows on one side. Since the space is a little quirky, it’s been on the market for some time, and the price had already dropped from $375,000 to $350,000. They got a slight discount–to $333,000–because the place needed a few repairs. Corcoran’s Brooklyn Landmark (Nancy Giddins).