Right around the time that George W. Bush was announcing his candidacy for President, Joseph W. Luter III, the chief executive of Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s largest hog producer and pork processor, went on a multimillion-dollar apartment-buying binge. Mr. Luter’s shopping spree finally ended on Jan. 16, just four days before Mr. Bush was sworn in as President, when he closed on a deal to buy a 13-room apartment at 888 Park Avenue for $11.5 million. Like President Bush, Mr. Luter spent a lot of money along the way.
The spending frenzy started when Mr. Luter signed a deal to buy an apartment at 838 Fifth Avenue, a new luxury condo development on the corner of East 65th Street that still isn’t completed, for about $14 million a year ago. At the same time, he put his apartment at 791 Park Avenue on the market; that apartment sold for $6 million last February.
A short while later, the developers at 838 Fifth made Mr. Luter “an offer he couldn’t refuse” to buy the apartment back from him once his deal went through, said Sami Hassoumi, a director at Brown Harris Stevens and Mr. Luter’s broker.
Still looking for a new place to live, Mr. Luter next signed a contract to buy producer Marty Richards’ 16-room maisonette at the River House, an exclusive co-op building at 435 East 52nd Street, for $17.5 million last spring. But after marrying last summer, Mr. Luter changed his mind about living at River House because his new wife, disapproved of the apartment.
When he went before the supposedly tough board of River House, Mr. Luter said as much, according to Mr. Hassoumi. At his interview last October, Mr. Luter informed the board that “as much as he loved the apartment, he was not planning to live there,” said the broker. Still, the board allowed the sale in the hopes that Mrs. Luter would come around and the couple would eventually move in.
Not so. Mr. Luter’s plan “is to close on the apartment and put it back on the market again,” said Mr. Hassoumi. That deal hasn’t yet closed because Mr. Richards has until the end of March to move out; he is waiting for his two new apartments at Trump World Plaza to be completed. (Mr. Richards bought the apartments on the 72nd floor last summer for about $6 million.)
“It’s basically like being in the White House,” said Mr. Hassoumi, of the River House maisonette that will be put back on the market for $20 million in April. The 8,000-square-foot apartment features 14-foot ceilings, curved walls and large reception rooms, and it overlooks the East River and the building’s gardens.
In the market for a home once again, Mr. Luter read in The Observer that Bradley J. Wechsler, co-chairman and co-chief executive of Imax Corporation, and his wife Patti Newberger, were turned down in their efforts to buy an apartment at 888 Park Avenue. Mr. Luter and his wife waltzed into the 5,200-square-foot, five-bedroom apartment on Dec. 1 and signed a contract to buy the place that very day. The board approved the couple at the end of December.
“I think this is an indication of a healthy market,” said broker Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier, who sold the apartment to Mr. Wechsler and then to Mr. Luter. “When I put it back on the market, brokers said I would never get the same price for it.”
The apartment was certainly a find for Mr. Luter: It features a 14-by-18-foot master suite, a library, original moldings and a 40-foot entrance. His future neighbors include Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. (Maintenance is $4,225.)
The seller, Linda Jurist–the sister of Saul Steinberg, the former Reliance Group chairman–lived happily in the apartment for nine years. “I did a huge renovation,” said Ms. Jurist, who was relieved to have resold the apartment for the same price in less than a month’s time. “I restored it to what it must have been.” Ms. Jurist and her husband Joe, a printer, have moved to a smaller apartment in Carnegie Hill.
Brokers said Mr. Luter, who didn’t return calls, should be moving into his mint-condition apartment by the end of the month.
THE BROTHERS MCNALLY BRING THEIR POP TO THE CITY The McNally family suddenly seems to be taking over Manhattan–again. Brothers Keith and Brian have been feeding the city’s elite at their trendy restaurants–Odeon, ’44,’ Balthazar, Pastis–for years. Now here comes a third brother, Peter, who is planning a new restaurant with Brian at First Street and First Avenue, and the family patriarch, Jack, who is also immigrating here from London.
Keith McNally–who participated in an ode to his apartment of 24 years on Thompson Street in Vanity Fair last year–bought his father a townhouse at 105 West 11th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, for $2.4 million in November. The house was being sold by the estate of harpist Lucien Thomson, who passed away a year ago.
The 1842 brick-and-brownstone house has retained its original stoop and Greek-revival doorway. It has four full-floor apartments but was delivered vacant. It will be returned to a single-family home, which will involve a $100,000 renovation.
“It was a wreck,” said Mr. McNally. “I like projects. I like renovating.” He shopped for about six months before finding a townhouse he liked enough to buy.
There may be some father-son squabbles over the renovation plans. “My ideas are not his ideas, I’m afraid,” said Mr. McNally. “I’m helping,” he said of the renovation, which he called “nothing too elaborate.”
The ground floor has access to the garden, a fireplace, one bathroom, two large rooms and a kitchen. The first floor features high ceilings, another kitchen, one bath, fireplaces and a back porch with stairs leading to the garden. Two large rooms, a small room, another kitchen and two fireplaces are on the second floor, and the third floor has three rooms, another kitchen, one bath, two fireplaces and skylights. The real estate taxes are $23,221. Broker Janet Robilotti, who owns her own firm, wouldn’t comment on the deal.
Mr. McNally said he bought the house for its proximity to Ray’s Pizza, which his father prefers to any of his sons’ hip bistros, however famous they may be for their steak frites and art-world pooh-bah regulars. “That’s all he ever eats!” quipped Mr. McNally about his dad’s penchant for pizza.
UPPER EAST SIDE
33 East 70th Street
Three-bed, four-bath, 3,000-square-foot co-op.
Asking: $3.495 million. Selling: $3.3 million.
Charges: $2,500; 30 percent tax deductible.
Time on the market: one week.
CROUCHING BUYER, HIDDEN DINING ROOM This is the kind of apartment that people don’t usually sell, said Daniela Kunen of Douglas Elliman. “There is no place to go from this kind of apartment.” It’s 3,000 square feet, faces the gardens of other townhouses and is described as being in “original condition,” meaning it still retains intact the architectural features of the period in which it was built. “The buyers will do some updating,” said the broker, “but they like the Old World details.” These include original moldings, herringbone floors, large windows and a very large entry gallery. The apartment has three large bedrooms and two maid’s rooms, a fireplace in the living room and a formal dining room. According to Ms. Kunen, the buyers had their hearts set on moving into this building, where all of the apartments are well designed. They had looked at a few other properties, but waited until an apartment of this type showed up.
515 Park Avenue
Three-bed, four-bath, 3,000-square-foot condo.
Asking: $7.1 million. Selling: $7.1 million
Charges: $1,885. Taxes: $1,550.
Time on the market: one day.
WELCOME TO THE BUILDING. YOU HAVE THE PLACE TO YOURSELVES In the fall of 1998, Larry Kaiser of Key-Venture Realty brokered a deal to sell this 3,000-square-foot apartment with a formal dining room, library and four exposures to Martin Frankel, the financier who is charged with cheating American insurance companies out of hundreds of millions of dollars. But then the international authorities found Mr. Frankel in Germany and, needless to say, his deal on this apartment fell through. No problem for Mr. Kaiser: “I had a backup right there,” he said. Mr. Kaiser’s buyer had been hoping to buy a place downtown. “He flew in from South America to look at places in Tribeca,” said Mr. Kaiser. But as soon as the South American businessman and his wife saw this 22nd-floor apartment, they decided to abandon the ideal location for the ideal space. “It’s almost like an uptown loft,” said Mr. Kaiser. “Big rooms, high ceilings, massive views.” According to Mr. Kaiser, this is the last sale to close in the building, but there already are several apartments available for resale. Though some residents have complained about 515 Park’s shabby finishes, Mr. Kaiser points out that no one who bought this line of apartment, the Classic Line, has attempted to flip them.
201 East 25th Street
Two-bed, two-bath, 1,100-square-foot co-op.
Asking: $895,000. Selling: $875,000.
Charges: $1,495; 55 percent tax deductible.
Time on the market: two months.
WHO IS ROSE HILL? This part of Manhattan, not quite the center of Murray Hill and north of Gramercy Park proper, has long been a gray area on the map. “They tried ‘No-Mad’ once, meaning ‘north of Madison,’ but it never caught on,” said Corcoran Group broker Jane Cibener, who lives in the neighborhood. According to Ms. Cibener, the area does have a name: Rose Hill. “There is a Rose Hill community association, and they try to resurrect [that name] all the time at community fairs,” she said. “But it hasn’t really worked.” Whatever its name, this neighborhood is where a single woman who works for the United Nations wanted to live. She had been living in a large rental apartment–”far more space than she needed,” said Ms. Cibener–for several years. The sellers, an architect and his wife, had put this place on the market after making all kinds of neat changes, including a high-tech collapsible wall that could be folded out to create a second bedroom and a satellite dish installed on the terrace. The satellite dish doesn’t get the buyer’s favorite channel, “so she wasn’t too excited about it,” said the broker.” But she did like the terrace off the living room, and so she decided to take the place anyway. “Outdoor space was one of her big criteria,” said Ms. Cibener.