Coen Brothers Join Harvey and Co., Buying Quirky Tribeca Office

It’s an odd building that could fall under the Barton Fink school of architecture. Flatiron-shaped would be overdoing it, but it is triangular–only 11 feet wide in front and three feet wide at the back. Next week, it will become the headquarters of filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen and their Mike Zoss Productions, which they founded nine years ago.

The Minnesota-born Coen brothers have written, produced and directed eight movies, starting with 1984’s Blood Simple . Their latest film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? , is a contender in this year’s Academy Awards (for Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay). For the past 10 years, the Coens have been working out of a small basement office in a 20-story rental apartment building at 280 Riverside Drive, on the corner of West 100th Street. According to Joel Coen, the brothers looked for bigger office space for a few months last year. When asked how big their offices are now, Mr. Coen admitted he wasn’t sure. “I’m just not a square-foot kind of guy,” he said.

Last July, the Coens agreed to buy a three-story building on Reade Street for $1.5 million. Joel Coen described the new building as “the right amount of space”–it’s only 1,800 square feet, probably smaller than either of the brothers’ apartments. But, said Mr. Coen, “we have a very small operation.” It’s just the two of them–and they share an office–plus an assistant. Their purchase is expected to be final on Feb. 27, when, Mr. Coen said, “we’re just going to move in.” No renovations, no fuss.

For the folks moving out, things are a little more complicated. Architect John Petrarca bought the small building in western Tribeca 20 years ago for $120,000, and has renovated it and lived there with his family ever since. He’s in the process of building the Reade Street homes–five built-on-spec townhouses that will be among the first structures in the city to employ geothermal heating and cooling–on Reade and Greenwich streets. He and his family will occupy one of the townhouses, but it won’t be ready until April. In the meantime, Mr. Petrarca has rented a large office space near his new home and will literally camp out there, pitching large tents to serve as bedrooms for his family.

Mr. Petrarca put his home on the market on April 14 for $1.45 million, not necessarily with a film-industry buyer in mind. But Tribeca is the closest thing New York has to a back lot. “Tribeca was definitely an asset,” said Joel Coen, “but it wasn’t that we were specifically looking there. We’ve been working down in the Village recently, and we just thought it would be nice to be downtown.”

Next thing you know, they’ll be doing lunch.

HAMPTONS HEADACHE: A MAN NEEDS HIS CASTLE

They say a man’s home is his castle, and in recent years some in the Hamptons are taking the old adage and running with it. With several of the properties presently on the market priced at $45 million and up, they threaten to leave Jerry Seinfeld’s record-breaking Hamptons purchase of last year in the dust. And these monuments to egotism are not just hugely expensive; they are downright strange.

There’s the seemingly cursed Southampton estate, now called Elysium, owned by Francesco Galesi. Local residents may still know the place by its old name: Dragon’s Head. Mr. Galesi, a real estate developer, bought the property for the low, low price of $2.3 million in May 1992. It was already infamous for its creepy rehabilitation in the 1980’s, resulting in turrets ringed with gargoyles and a saltwater grotto that once featured a shark and other forms of sea life.

Now the three-story, 17-bedroom estate on 9.7 acres on Meadow Lane is on the market for $45 million.

But at least Elysium has a long pedigree in the area, dating back to its service to Henry F. du Pont’s family under the less assuming name of Chestertown House. More in the du Pont tradition in style, if not scale, is copper-trader David Campbell’s 25-acre estate in Wainscott, with frontage on Georgica Pond. Mr. Campbell bought the property on Burnt Point five years ago for $10 million. The house, designed by architect Francis Feetwood, was finished only two years ago. The asking price, now that the property has the house, two barns, a separate guest house, a tennis pavilion, a greenhouse, a boathouse, a private dock and a gazebo on the water: $50 million.

Joan Jedell, local celebrity watcher and publisher of The Hampton Sheet , said that these “ego-architecture” properties often have a hard time on the market. But that’s just the natural vetting process in an area that wants desperately to communicate a disdain for showiness–once déclassé, now inevitable.

“They come and go,” said Ms. Jedell of the giant estates and their attendant headline-grabbing parties. “Maybe it’s a kick to come there and party and make a scene and make it known that, ‘I’m here! Hey! Look at me!’ But I think that they get tired of it…. It’s just a momentary lapse of sanity.”

Some lapses are more severe than others. Take the four-year-old Wilzig Castle, summer home of Alan and Ivan Wilzig, New Jersey bankers whose cars bear vanity plates that read “SIR ALAN” and “SIR IVAN.” The castle boasts seven bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, two kitchens, and bizarre details like a trompe l’oeil bookcase that conceals a boudoir, fake Picassos, faux-medieval bric-a-brac and a living room that transforms into a 70’s-style discotheque. But the brothers already seem to have outgrown the style–if not the size–of the building.

“That’s no more of a castle than my house,” sniffed one Hamptons insider. And Wilzig Castle isn’t even in a fashionable Hamptons district–though that may be changing. “It’s far north of the highway, in Deerfield,” the local said. “But nothing is not chic in the Hamptons anymore–it’s like Manhattan now.”

And here, too, the owners are looking for a way out. At $3.2 million, the current asking price, the Wilzig property is not even very expensive. But–to the chagrin of the local Maidstone Club set–anyone interested in buying the castle will have to have a very special kind of taste, not just the right kind of money.

More and more of these “very special” buyers are snapping up land in the Hamptons. Ms. Jedell pointed out that work on the Ira Rennert compound looks almost complete. The project, begun by the industrialist in 1998, was estimated to cost around $30 million. The plans called for a 110,000-square-foot, four-wing building with 29 bedrooms, 42 bathrooms, a 20-car garage, a 2,950-square-foot garden pavilion, a 240-square-foot beach pavilion, a gatehouse, two bowling alleys, two squash courts, two tennis courts, a basketball court with spectator stands, a giant indoor pool and the coup de grâce : a reconstructed pub, transported stone by stone from an original site in England.

UPPER WEST SIDE

101 Central Park West

Three-bed, two-and-a-half bath, 2,800-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $5.595 million. Selling: $5.595 million.

Charges: $2,900; 40 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: three months.

KEEPING UP WITH THE MILSTEINS There’s nothing like a fat price tag on the neighbor’s place to make yours seem like it’s worth more. That helps to explain the sweet price a couple who’ve just left town got for this apartment “just below the tree level,” according to Daniel Douglas of the Corcoran Group, who sold it. Located in a 19-story, white-glove co-op, the apartment had recently been renovated–and tastefully. Four of the apartment’s seven large rooms look out on Central Park, and there are high ceilings along with a marble master bath and powder room. Plus, 101 Central Park West, which has about 100 apartments, is hardly a low-profile building: Rick Moranis and Harrison Ford both live there.

Last fall, real estate executive Edward Milstein put his own sprawling apartment in 101 Central Park West on the market for $18 million. Although it hasn’t sold yet, Mr. Milstein has had offers “in the ballpark,” say brokers who have shown the apartment–and though it’s about three times the size of the couple’s place, it makes their apartment seem not so overpriced after all.

UPPER EAST SIDE

150 East 93rd Street

Two-bed, one-bath, 950-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $479,000. Selling: $455,000.

Charges: $961; 54 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: two months.

THE BACHELOR AND THE BROKER Carnegie Hill is no place for a sexy bachelor to find a date. At least, that’s what Marlene Steiner, a vice president at the Corcoran Group, told her friend, a “hot” banker in his 30’s who’d been living in this fifth-floor co-op for about four years–apparently very much alone. The apartment’s large eat-in kitchen and high ceilings lured a young couple, who signed a contract to buy the place last November. Ms. Steiner said the wife was worried that she would give birth during the couple’s meeting with the co-op board in late December, but they passed the board without incident–and brought their new baby to the closing on Jan. 31. “It’s a family building; the mother can take the baby to the park!” said Ms. Steiner. But more to the point, “it’s in the right school district.” In the meantime, the broker had convinced the bachelor to buy a condo in Bridge Tower, a new luxury construction at 401 East 60th Street, right near the hopping bar scene at trendy Guastavino. “I found him the babe magnet,” she said. (Warning: Ms. Steiner also lives in Bridge Tower.)

SOHO

117 Prince Street

Two-bed, two-bath, 2,500-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $2.6 million. Selling: $2.35 million.

Charges: $1,077; 0 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: Six weeks.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE ARTISTS GONE? As a broker, you must realize you have it made when an Upper East Sider says he wants to buy something “special” in Soho in 2001. “Price didn’t make much of a difference,” said Sheba Forrest of Douglas Elliman, who took this uptown buyer around to about 15 apartments below Houston Street. They narrowed it down to this co-op with north and south exposures, a wood-burning fireplace with a blue-vein polished granite mantle, South American cherrywood floors, teak and onyx countertops in the bathrooms and glass partitions sandwiched in rice paper. It also has fabulous light, huge windows and city views. The seller, an artist, was leaving the city to live in Europe. She had been living in the apartment for about four years, and had imported almost everything from Brazil. Ms. Forrest is not sure what the buyer will do to the decor since it is “pretty much renovated.” The deal closed Feb. 15.

TRIBECA

166 Duane Street

2,385-square-foot condo loft.

Asking: $2.6 million. Selling: $2.45 million.

Time on the market: seven weeks.

STOCK ANALYST SAYS “SELL!” As long as developers have been pre-selling loft apartments, buyers have been abandoning them because they don’t match their expectations. But despite reported problems with the luxury condos at 166 Duane Street–especially the wood floors that started buckling almost immediately after tenants moved in in 1998–the resale value of this apartment doesn’t seem to have suffered. In this case, owner Richard Scocozza, a software-stocks analyst, left his apartment in Duane Park about two years after buying it. The apartment sold last November for $2.45 million–$150,000 below the asking price, but more than twice what Mr. Scocozza paid. Mr. Scocozza made his mark at Bear, Stearns calling stocks like Computer Associates and, as recently as Jan. 19, advising clients to buy stock in Microsoft. The Duane Park building faces a small park that architecture critic Francis Morrone called “one of the most comfortable spots on the island” after renovations were completed there in 1998. This building, along with several others abutting the recently restored park, were originally warehouses built to store produce for nearby Washington Market; most are now upscale condos. This apartment is one of the smaller units in the building; the largest is more than 5,000 square feet in size. Each boasts an open island kitchen and whirlpool baths. There are no outdoor spaces connected to the individual units, but tenants share a terrace on the roof as well as a 24-hour doorman. Richard Orenstein of Halstead Properties represented Mr. Scocozza.