Priciest Co-op Ever, Fit for King-Size Ego, Gets Over $35 Million

On the morning of Feb. 25, Edward Lee Cave and Barbara Corcoran, the owners of two real estate brokerages, ran into each other on the Upper East Side on their way to work. As the old friends and sometime competitors stopped to greet each other, Mr. Cave blurted out some amazing news: He told Ms. Corcoran that his firm had just sold the most expensive apartment in Manhattan history. Of course, he was referring to the Park Avenue triplex of Saul Steinberg, 61, which the insurance mogul had indiscreetly put up for sale earlier this year by floating the idea that he had set his price: $40 million. In celebration, Ms. Corcoran treated Mr. Cave to a carrot juice. Then the two went their separate ways.

The brief, random encounter seemed a suitable way for the new record price for a Manhattan co-op to be announced. Since Mr. Steinberg’s brokers leaked his magic number in January, the entire enterprise has seemed like a lark. Until the apartment actually sold. According to real estate sources, Mr. Steinberg has signed a contract to sell his 34-room penthouse, which occupies the 15th through 17th floors of 740 Park Avenue, to Stephen Schwarzman, the 53-year-old president and chief executive of the Blackstone Group L.P., one of the world’s largest private equity groups. The price was said to be somewhere between $35 million and $40 million-a record for a Manhattan co-op either way. Neither party returned a call for comment.

The apartment has been Mr. Steinberg’s social trump card since he purchased it for a reported $285,000 in 1971 from the estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s second wife, Mary, despite the fact that he is chairman of the board of Reliance Group Holdings Inc., an insurance company. The 20,000-square-foot mansion-only part of the original 90-room home Rockefeller designed for his family in a building he had erected in 1931-includes a 60-foot-long entrance gallery; a library with 1760 English pine paneling; a dining room that seats 48; an enormous kitchen; a drawing room leading onto a terrace guarded by a Romanesque lion; five master bedrooms; a study; two sitting rooms; a governess’ suite with two bedrooms and a small kitchen; servants quarters that include a dining room, three bedrooms and two bathrooms; a steam room; a gym; a sauna; and a billiards room and a screening room that were added more recently.

The parties thrown by Mr. Steinberg and his wife Gayfryd are legendary. So are their decorators: first Sister Parrish and then Stuart Greet, who gave the billiards room bright red vinyl walls.

“I’m surprised that Saul sold,” said one source. “I never thought he would.”

As word that the apartment was on the market was simultaneously confirmed and denied in the press, brokers never formally added it to their inventories. “It was never discussed or entered in a computer,” said one.

But it still represented a contest. Ms. Corcoran told The Observer that she thought $40 million was “a fair price” for the triplex. “It’s a good deal for three floors,” she said.

Sources said financier Leon Black offered approximately $35 million. “He did look at the apartment, but it wasn’t for him,” said a spokesman for Mr. Black. A friend of the couple’s, however, described Mr. Black’s feeling about the apartment this way: “Leon was in heat.”

Gary Winnick, the billionaire chief executive of Global Crossing Ltd., was also rumored to be a potential buyer-perhaps in an ego-affirming retaliation for being turned down on his bid for a $16 million apartment, also owned by the Rockefellers, at 810 Fifth Avenue. One broker suggested that Mr. Winnick planned to buy only part of Mr. Steinberg’s apartment. “He’s never even been in the apartment!” insisted Mr. Winnick’s publicist, George Sard.

In December, the New York Post’ s Page Six reported that among the potential buyers were investment banker Martin Gruss and his socialite wife Audrey. Then, on Feb. 26, a loyal Sotheby’s broker said: “I know who bought it, but I’ll never tell!”

Affirming the reports of Mr. Schwarzman as the purchaser was the fact that his current apartment went on the market through Edward Lee Cave during the week of Feb. 28. The duplex apartment, on the 10th and 11th floors of 950 Fifth Avenue, was listed for $18 million.

Said a broker who has worked with Mr. Schwarzman in the past, “He would never sell his apartment without buying a new one.”

Mr. Schwarzman graduated from Yale University and received his M.B.A. from Harvard University. He founded the Blackstone Group in 1985 with Peter Peterson, who had been chairman of Lehman Brothers and also served as President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Commerce. The firm’s annual revenues are about $15 billion.

Purchasing the place for himself and his wife to live in is quite a statement for Mr. Schwarzman. Said one source familiar with the deal: “I think he bought the Steinberg apartment more for status than for space.”

UPPER EAST SIDE

ALSO MOVING IN AT 740 PARK: THOMAS TISCH BUYS EISENHOWER APARTMENT As the suspense was building surrounding the selling of the 34-room apartment of Saul Steinberg at 740 Park Avenue, for which the financier set a price of $40 million earlier this year , another sale took place just downstairs earlier this month. A duplex apartment on the eighth and ninth floors, formerly owned by Anne Eisenhower, was purchased by Thomas Tisch for approximately $15 million in early February.

Mr. Tisch, is the youngest son of the former chief executive of CBS Corporation, Laurence Tisch, whose family’s holdings include the Loews hotel chain, Lorillard Tobacco Company and CNA Financial. He presides over Four Partners (nicknamed Four Lucky Fellows), the investment fund he runs with his three brothers, Andrew, Daniel and James, and he was the finance chairman of Al Gore’s 1988 Presidential campaign.

He and his wife and their four children have been living in a duplex at 730 Park Avenue since 1992, when they bought it for $2.9 million. On Feb. 24, the couple sold the 5,000-square-foot, 15-room apartment after being approved by the co-op board at 740 Park.

“730 is a great family building,” said Mrs. Tisch of the address of their current apartment, which used to belong to S.I. and Mitzi Newhouse. “740 has a different feeling, but it’s also going to be great.” Mr. Tisch said more families “are coming.”

The new space will be more accommodating to their family, they said. Their new address, at the northwest corner of 71st Street, has been home over the years to John D. Rockefeller Jr., Edgar Bronfman, Ronald Lauder, Henry Kravis, Marshall Field, Faith Golding (the first Mrs. Ronald Perelman), Steve Ross’ widow Courtney Sales Ross, Ann and Keith Barish, and Jan and Gardner Cowles. Boasting the highest ceilings and widest halls on Park Avenue, the 17-story building was designed in 1930 by the Sicilian-born Rosario Candela. To live there, tenants also must have the pocketbook and the inclination to help preserve it: When the building’s limestone was refaced in the early 1990′s, each tenant was assessed about $250,000.

UPPER WEST SIDE

330 West 87th Street

Four-story, 5,000-square-foot town house.

Asking: $1.995 million. Selling: $1.85 million.

Time on the market: three months.

FOUR WOMEN AND A TOWN HOUSE A woman wanted to sell this town house, which was split into six apartments. Her broker, Michele Gedes Peck of Gumley Haft Kleier, found a female buyer who had a female lawyer, and the ladies got down to business. “Of course this deal was easy-it was all women!” said the broker. “There were no problems with this deal whatsoever.” Even the issue of tenants, which the buyer wanted none of since she planned to restore the town house, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, to a single home. All of the tenants agreed to move out within three months. The red brick house, which is on a 20-foot-wide lot, was built in 1890, and all three upper floors have bay windows with some stained glass. It has a 20-by-20-foot south-facing garden, a private fenced terrace on the third floor, six bedrooms, seven fireplaces, five bathrooms and two entrances. The deal closed in mid-February.

50 East 89th Street

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

Asking price: $699,000. Selling: $675,000.

Charges: $1,001; 50 percent tax-deductible.

Time on market: nine months.

TRADING PLACES (AND TAX RETURNS) A recently divorced doctor sold this co-op between Madison and Park avenues to a couple expecting a baby. The ample closet space was a major selling point, said the broker, William C. Blind Jr., a vice president at the William B. May Company, but the couple was most interested in being in the P.S. 6 school district. Built in 1974, the 32-story building features a concierge and doorman. The apartment “faces south and is very sunny,” said the broker. “You can see a peak of the reservoir, and the park from the kitchen and the second bedroom.” The couple signed the contract in October and went before the co-op board in November, but the deal didn’t close until early January. “The owner wanted to delay the closing for tax reasons-until next year,” said Mr. Blind. Now, he’s “found a rental for the moment.”

WEST VILLAGE

541 Hudson Street

Four-story, two-bed, two-bath town house.

Asking: $1.995 million. Selling: $1.920 million.

Time on the market: Six months.

TOM PETTY’S DAUGHTER IN WEST VILLAGE DEATH MATCH Late last year, Adria Petty, Tom’s daughter, had an appointment to tour this junior town house between Charles and Perry streets. She was late, and when she got there, Amy D’Addario, of the D’Addario family that makes guitar strings, was still looking around the loftlike three-story residence, which is above a store. Their entourages of architects and engineers collided. Both were very interested and both made offers. And since the seller, architect Greg Bonsignore, wanted a deal made immediately, he sent both women contracts. When Ms. Petty signed her contract just one day after her rival, she lost the house; the sale was final on Feb. 10. “There are no houses in the West Village for under $2 million,” said Wilbur Gonzalez, a broker with Douglas Elliman who represented Mr. Bonsignore, in an effort to explain the heated competition. Plus, “it’s a house geared towards a very young person; it’s not a traditional West Village town house.” The 20-foot-wide and 73-foot-deep town house was built around 1870 and has exposed bricks, beamed ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces, 23-foot ceilings in the living room, a 120-square-foot terrace off the second-floor dining room and a 600-square-foot landscaped garden. The third floor houses the master bedroom, a bathroom and a deck. Mr. Bonsignore and his wife, who works for Marvel Comics, had lived in the town house for about three years. They’re expecting a baby and wanted to move to a bigger, more accommodating place. “He’s an architect and spent three years gutting the house and renovating it from top to bottom. It doesn’t need anything,” said Mr. Gonzalez. He said Ms. D’Addario has probably already moved in. She will rent the first floor out to a store called Spirit World that sells things from Thailand, Laos and Burma. “The rent covers a lot of expenses of the house,” said Mr. Gonzalez. In the past, so has renting out to Hollywood studios. Scenes from Sex and the City , various MTV shows and movies have been shot here, some productions paying as much as $10,000 a day, said Mr. Gonzalez. Recently, the crew from Richard Gere and Winona Ryder’s new movie, Autumn in New York , took some pictures to consider it for a shoot. Sometimes the producers even throw in a free paint job.