The Little House on Park Avenue Goes for $8.2 Million

HOUSE LEONARD STERN “BUILT” SNAGGED BY SWISS WATCH PREZ There’s really nothing Park Avenue about it: a four-story private house that started out as a stable, was modernized in 1976 by Robert A.M. Stern and John S. Hagmann and was rebuilt internally by the condominium king of architects, Costas Kondylis, after a fire in 1992. On the other hand, the basic requirement to own 870 Park Avenue is a lot of money, and the main reason to do so is to have a very specific address.

In a newspaper interview six years ago, Judith Stern Peck, a family therapist who has lived at 870 Park Avenue for almost 25 years, said the reason she and her then husband, Tribeca Grand Hotel owner Leonard Stern, bought the seemingly-out-of-place house was the safety of being surrounded by the avenue’s fortress-like apartment buildings. She stayed there through a divorce, a fire that caused her to move out and rebuild, and another marriage (to Stephen Peck, chairman of the board of trustees of Mt. Sinai Hospital). The departure of her three grown children was the only reason she would consider leaving, she told the interviewer.

Her youngest child now 33, Ms. Peck sold the house in late July for $8.2 million to Benny Shabtai, president of Raymond Weil-Seville Watch Corporation. The house has been on and off the market for many years: The asking price reached $10 million in April of 1998. It was marked down to $8.75 that October, and Mr. Shabtai signed a contract several months ago.

“I am very happy that she received a good price!” said Mr. Stern on July 5 at a Southampton dinner party to celebrate the birthday of former Senator Alfonse D’Amato. Mr. Stern, 62, is the chairman and chief executive of Hartz Group, which sells pet supplies and owns a few hundred commercial buildings. “I built that house,” he joked. Ms. Peck did not return a call to her home.

Eight-seventy Park, between 77th and 78th streets, has a three-story open atrium facing the back, a grand staircase plus an elevator, five bedrooms, a paneled library on the third floor overlooking Park Avenue, a wine cellar and wood-burning fireplaces. Real estate taxes are $52,672.

The most recent renovation was done by Mr. Kondylis after the massive fire in October 1992, which completely gutted the house and required Ms. Peck to move out and to enter into a prolonged battle with her insurance company. (To add insult to injury, the place was burglarized shortly after the fire.) “It’s in great shape!” said a broker. The new-and-improved, dinner-party-friendly kitchen is one of the house’s highlights, with twin Sub Zero refrigerators and oven ranges.

Still, Ms. Peck struggled to sell the house before and after the fire because, unlike her, it seems townhouse buyers want off the avenues. It was “a tough sell,” said a broker. “People want to be on a side street … There’s a very, very small group of people who want to be on Park Avenue in a house.”

Mr. Shabtai is in that small group. “I like the fact that it’s on Park Avenue, the best location,” he said. Mr. Shabtai and his family have been renting an apartment at Trump Palace on 69th Street and Third Avenue until minor renovations to the house–an expansion of the living room and the bedrooms–are completed, probably by December. He was represented by the Corcoran Group’s Carrie Chiang. “The inside of the house is really beautiful and it was exactly what we were looking for,” Mr. Shabtai said. “It was suitable to me the moment I saw it six months ago.”

Still, he promptly negotiated $550,000 off the price.

UPPER EAST SIDE

DONNA DIXON AND DAN AYKROYD MAKE BOSOM BUDDIES ON 86TH STREET About the penthouse apartment that beauty-and-the-beast couple Donna Dixon and Dan Aykroyd bought at the Leighton House (360 East 88th Street) for $3.7 million in June: “God, they really overpaid!” said one broker.

But the couple, who met on the set of Doctor Detroit in 1982, apparently had an attachment to the building, where they’ve rented an apartment for three years. “Everybody loves them in the building,” said one source. “They fit in … and they are adored.”

Then they won’t miss all the sucking up that goes on in Los Angeles, where they are reportedly selling their home of more than 15 years. Their six-bedroom estate in the Hollywood Hills went up for sale for $2.45 million in February. The 4,800-square-foot house, which was home to Ringo Starr in the 70′s and Mama Cass in the 60′s, has six fireplaces, a library, a gym, maids’ quarters and an English garden.

But they might miss about half a home: the new apartment runs about 2,854 square feet, with just four bedrooms and only four and a half bathrooms.

860 Fifth Avenue

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,400-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $1.495 million. Selling: $1.495 million.

Charges: $1,433; 50 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: one day.

FIRE SALE ON THE ROOF It was every co-op owner’s nightmare. The woman who purchased this second-floor apartment about a year ago constructed a 1,200-square-foot terrace on the roof outside her window–wet bar, sound system, a garden with its own irrigation system–only to be told that she’d have to undo everything when she wanted to move. And she wanted to move immediately, considering that the little utopia had been created to make her husband’s last days more enjoyable. When he died, she put the apartment up for sale for $1.995 million, but after the co-op board broke the bad news to her, she reduced the price by $500,000. The apartment sold the next day. Suzanne Turkewitz of Douglas Elliman, the woman’s broker, said she is now creating another dream home just outside the city.

205 East 69th Street

Two-bed, three-bath, 1,500-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $895,000. Selling: $887,500.

Charges: $2,000; 46 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: three months.

A SLOW AND PAINFUL PURCHASE Which is worse: Moving back to New York in the spring of 2000, only to realize that you sold your swank Manhattan apartment about six months before the biggest real-estate boom in the city’s history–or death? A couple with two kids are returning to the city from a two-year stint in Asia to a frightening realization: They sold the place where they had lived like kings (for a marginal profit), only to return feeling like paupers. “These are people of means,” said Julie Friedman of Belmarc Realty, their broker. “These are affluent people, but they got squeezed in this market.” And they chose one of the worst six months to conduct their search–estimates of price increases during the first half of this year start at 25 percent. The couple finally took an apartment–in need of about $100,000 in work–in a prewar building which is changing its profile with a garden, a health club and, unfortunately, no more free electricity as of Aug. 1. “So many people are renovating and upgrading the [electric wiring] in their apartments that the building doesn’t want to be responsible for it anymore,” said Ms. Friedman.

UPPER WEST SIDE

108 West 80th Street

Five-story, 6,200-square-foot townhouse.

Asking: $1.55 million. Selling: $1.4 million.

Time on the market: two weeks.

GOOD NIGHT, GRANDMA So how did Matt, an architect in his 30′s, get suckered into moving into this five-story townhouse with his wife, his mother-in-law, his wife’s grandmother (Nana) and Nana’s little dog? Of course, the mother-in-law, a lawyer who had been living in Bayside, Queens, agreed to help pay for the place. But there’s still another argument: “He’s a great guy,” said Charles Godinksy, a broker with Prudential MLB Kaye International Realty. Mr. Godinsky showed the family around the Upper West Side for a year before they found something suitable. This 20-foot-wide townhouse was divided into 10 apartments (four of which were vacant). The extended family negotiated a contract in one day. And the late June closing was nothing short of functional. It was “the happiest closing I’d ever gone to,” said Mr. Godinsky. The family will turn the four vacant apartments into two floor-through apartments: one for Matt and his wife (a semblance of privacy), one for the mother-in-law and Nana.

Corrections

In last week’s Manhattan Transfers column, a resident of 998 Fifth Avenue was misidentified. While there is a Steven Rattner who is a managing director of fixed income in Europe at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, the Steven Rattner who lives at 998 Fifth Avenue is a founder of the Quadrangle Group, an investment fund in New York, and a former managing director at Lazard Frères & Company.

In the July 31 issue, the pictures of two buildings–one in Harlem and the other on the Upper East Side–were transposed due to a production error.