Limited Sells Landmark: 78th Street Offices Bought for $32 Million

Leslie Wexner, the 62-year-old chief executive of the Limited Inc., has sold the approximately 18,000-square-foot townhouse at 25 East 78th Street, on the northwest corner of Madison and 78th Street, that the company used as offices.

A spokeswoman for the Limited confirmed the sale, which sources said was for about $32 million. She would not confirm the price or identify the buyer–who one broker claimed was an Internet executive. Mr. Wexner did not return calls.

According to Robert Najdek, a Limited employee who manages 25 East 78th Street, the deal was done very quickly. “The final walk-through is the week of [June 12],” he said. Limited employees began moving out of the office right after Memorial Day, said Mr. Najdek.

The Italian Renaissance five-story limestone-and-brick building, which was built by McKim, Mead and White for railroad executive Stuyvesant Fish, the son of Hamilton Fish, is considered a gem. Mr. Wexner’s company purchased it in 1985 for $13.25 million for use as office space; the building now has an ultramodern interior. The Limited Inc. owns the clothing stores Express, the Limited, Structure, Henri Bendel and Lane Bryant, as well as an 84 percent interest in Intimate Brands, which operates Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works and White Barn Candle Company.

“He’s toyed with the idea of selling it for a long time,” said Anne Snee of the Corcoran Group. “The property has been through every brokerage office.”

One broker said she remembered the price being as high as $35 million around 1989. Then, in 1992, Mr. Wexner wanted $22.5 million for the home, but couldn’t get that much. In the mid-90’s, the house came back on the market for $18 million, but brokers’ records say that it was taken off the market in June 1998 and has not been listed for sale since.

“If, in fact, they did pay $32 million, that is truly idiotic,” said Jed Garfield of Leslie J. Garfield and Co. “If they had any kind of market knowledge at all they would never pay that number for that piece of property. It has no bearing in reality.”

“It doesn’t sound that out of whack to me,” said another broker. “The building is enormous and it is on the best corner.” The second floor is a “C.E.O. floor,” according to brokers’ description, and there are offices and conference rooms on every floor.

It is not the first time that Mr. Wexner has bought and sold property at remarkably high prices in Manhattan. In 1991, shortly after East and West Germany had reunited, the German government was looking for an impressive place for its ambassador and chose Mr. Wexner’s townhouse at 5 East 74th Street, for which it paid $12 million.

In 1989, Mr. Wexner bought 9 East 71st Street, the former Birch Wathen School, for an estimated $13.2 million and lavishly renovated it with heated sidewalk, guest suites on the fourth floor, and an oval-shaped, two-story reception room. Mr. Wexner never actually lived in the townhouse, because he got married in 1993 and his wife, Abigail, wanted to raise their two young children in Columbus, Ohio.

WAR OF THE WINSTONS: WILL $27 MILLION SALE OF HARRY’S HOME SPARK ANOTHER BATTLE? In 1940, Harry Winston traded a necklace for what was then a 32-acre sprawl in Scarsdale, a half an hour north of the city off the brand-new Hutchinson Parkway. The 1911 estate had a pool, clay tennis courts and a house with four master bedrooms and three guest rooms, and its own well. Winston, who resided at 927 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, named it Stonwin Farm (note the inversion of syllables) and commenced throwing elaborate weekend parties.

“I remember lots of maharajahs,” his son Ronald Winston told The Observer . “The president of the Ivory Coast came in the early days of independence, and captains of industry came.”

Officials of the Village of Scarsdale claim that Harry Winston wanted Stonwin Farm to be donated to the village of Scarsdale after he and his wife passed away, and for the land to be called Winston Park. But that never happened. On May 24, Ronald Winston, 59, president and chief executive of Harry Winston, Inc., put Stonwin Farm on the market for $27 million. And work is about to begin to turn half of the property into a luxury home development.

The dissolution of Harry Winston’s empire–he died in 1978, and his wife, Edna, died in 1986–has embattled the two Winston boys. Harry Winston split his estate equally between his two sons, but he gave his elder son Ronald his half outright, while Bruce’s share was to be left in the form of a trust. According to Ronald, Bruce drew a salary but never really worked for Harry Winston, Inc.

The brothers have been fighting since 1990–when Bruce and his lawyer, Edward H. Wohl, went to court demanding to see an accounting of Harry’s estate. In 1991, Bruce started demanding that his brother be removed as a trustee of Harry Winston Inc. And in 1998, Bruce forced Ronald to put part of the company on the market. Ronald did, but he insists that he intends to be the buyer.

Stonwin Farm is now on only about 15 private acres. The rest, according to the New York Law Journal , was successfully given by Harry Winston to Scarsdale in three parcels before he died: 8 acres in 1972; 4.6 acres in 1974; and 3.9 acres in 1975. In the final years of Edna Winston’s life, her sons were made her conservators. Using that power, they purchased the farm from their mother’s estate for a reported $775,000. According to Ronald, the two brothers lived there together for approximately six years. Then, around 1986, Ronald bought Bruce’s share of the Stonwin estate for $1.8 million. “He forced me to buy him out,” said Ronald. “It was his call. I wanted it to stay in the family as two brothers co-owning it.”

The brothers teamed up in a lawsuit against Scarsdale after the village put its 16 acres of Stonwin up for sale. The Glickenhaus-Judelson Real Estate Partnership, a developer that primarily builds luxury homes in Westchester, signed a contract with the village to buy the property for $3.7 million with the intent to build 13 large homes. In court appeals that have extended over the past 13 years, the Winston boys have asserted that under the terms of their father’s gift, the property was limited to park, recreational or educational purposes. The courts have disagreed. Although the brothers claim that their father left the property to the village because he wanted to do something good for a village he had lived in for almost 40 years, he left the land in unrestricted deeds, meaning essentially that the land was given with no strings attached. In this way, he got the maximum tax write-offs.

According to Mark Bench, the mayor of Scarsdale, if the village had been given the entire 32-acre estate it would have used it as a park. “We’ve never lost any appeal on this,” he said, “virtually all of the courts have agreed with us.” Mayor Bench said the land is only now beginning to be developed by Glickenhaus-Judelson. “And, of course, it was purchased for $3.7 million 13 years ago,” he said. “Imagine how much more it would be worth now.”

In spite of the conflict, Mayor Bench said that he is very grateful to Harry Winston. Scarsdale has already purchased playing fields in the center of town with the sale money from the Winston estate. “We wanted to call them the Harry Winston Diamonds,” the mayor said. But they have instead been named the Harry Winston Fields, because not all are baseball fields.

Ronald said he is selling the home mostly because expansion in Asia and Europe has kept him out of the country. Harry Winston is about to open a 6,000-square-foot store in Tokyo, next to Tiffany’s. “When I’m here I use it all the time on weekends,” said Ronald, who also has a townhouse on 74th Street that he bought for $1.06 million in the mid-80’s, in a deal brokered by Patricia Burnham of P.S. Burnham Inc., who will also handle the Stonwin deal. “But last year I was gone 200 days of the year.”

“That’s news to me,” said Ed Wohl, Bruce’s lawyer for over 20 years, when told that Ronald had put the Stonwin Farm on the market. But not necessarily the good kind. “Bruce doesn’t have any interest in it.”

On the other hand, according to Ronald, his brother “has sued me for everything under the sun.”

150 East 69th Street (Imperial House)

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,756-square-foot co-op.

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

Charges: $1,623; 60 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: 17 weeks.

WHERE KIDS COVET A KEY TO THE PLAYGROUND This Fisher Brothers building, called the Imperial House, has a large circular driveway. Nonetheless, the kids “were really cramped,” said Pamela Belsky of the Corcoran Group, who relocated the family that sold this three-bedroom apartment, with a large, formal dining room and a balcony, on the south corner of the building. Ms. Belsky and her partner, Eileen Foy, shipped them off to private-school-laden Carnegie Hill. Their new building even has a private playground. “The kids were really excited about their new home,” said Ms. Belsky. “They couldn’t wait to play on all that stuff.” Then, the broker duo ushered an older couple into the family’s former apartment, for a bit of a bargain: Most of the three-bedroom apartments in this building go for at least several hundred-thousand more.

229 West 71st Street

Asking: $1.8 million. Selling: $1.8 million.

Four-story, approximately 4,000-square-foot townhouse.

Time on the market: two months.

MUSICAL HIGHCHAIRS “They’ll be back,” said Jeannette Bernstein, a broker with Fenwick-Keats Realty, about the couple who sold this 18-foot-wide townhouse. Though they own another piece of property in Manhattan, the couple is leaving the city, partially because of business and partially because of the city’s sketchy public school system. “They love the city,” emphasized the broker. The townhouse, between West End Avenue and Broadway, is not much to look at from the street. “It is a Federal-style townhouse that is sort of lost in the middle of the block, surrounded by all these brownstones,” said Ms. Bernstein. But inside, there’s a center staircase, six bedrooms, six and a half baths; out back, there’s a well-maintained garden. The new owners, a young couple with two kids, took ownership on May 25. They have a fighting chance.

MIDTOWN WEST

2 Columbus Avenue

Three-bed, 2.5-bath, 1,740-square-foot condo.

Asking: $1.295 million. Selling: $1.175 million.

Charges: $1,121. Taxes: $73.

Time on the market: three months.

ADIOS, AMIGO; HELLO, BABY GRAND It took a Mexican aristocrat less than a year of living just west of Columbus Circle (in this brand-new, perk-heavy building on the corner of 59th Street) to decide that the old country wasn’t so bad. He put this three-bedroom apartment with marble bathrooms and a washer and dryer on the market and moved back to his family’s hacienda. At the same time, a couple–a dot-commer and a dentist–decided it was time to jump the Hudson River from New Jersey. They wanted a condo (who wants to deal with a co-op board?) on the Upper West Side (the dentist, who will keep his practice in Jersey, wanted to be near the bridge for the commute). Their broker, Ruben Mercado of DG Neary Realty, showed them about 15 apartments. This one could accommodate their baby grand.

TURTLE BAY

860 U.N. Plaza

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,850-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $850,000. Selling: $800,000.

Charges: $1,921; 41 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: 2.5 months.

CAUTION: DATED DECOR MAY BE HARMFUL TO YOUR WALLET This apartment near 48th Street, with views of the gardens at the United Nations and the East River–and soon Trump World Tower to the south–was just sold by the estate of Dr. Ernst Wynder, who, in 1953, was one of the first people to link smoking to cancer. Four years later, the Surgeon General’s office issued its first warning that excessive smoking may cause lung cancer. And about 10 years after that, he moved into this apartment right after the building went up. Wynder, who was also the founder and former president of the American Health Foundation, whose research is focused on the prevention of chronic diseases, died last July at the age of 77. His widow, Sandra, has moved to Greenwich Village, said Joanna Simon, a broker with Fox Residential Group who is representing the Wynder estate. But the apartment was holding onto its past. “The decorating was very heavy and dramatic,” said one broker, trying to explain why many apartment shoppers were turned off by the place. “It wasn’t the furniture so much but the paneling they had installed. A number of people were interested, but they felt it would cost too much to redecorate.” Diane Dickenson, also of Fox Residential Group, who represented the buyers, agreed. “I’m sure it was great at the time, but it made the space seem much smaller and heavier then it really was.” The buyers were not deterred. According to Ms. Dickenson, they have stripped the paneling, redone the floors and painted the apartment in bright shades.