Need a Deal on a Gym? Lycée Français Pushes 6 Classroom Buildings

Sharon Baum, a broker with the Corcoran Group, stepped out of her chauffeured Rolls-Royce in front of 9 East 72nd Street on the afternoon of Feb. 5., a rhinestone pin that read “SOLD” sparkling on her lapel. Ms. Baum headed inside the Beaux Arts mansion, one of six Upper East Side townhouses, spread out over three locations, that comprise the Lycée Français de New York, a bilingual school started in 1935. Just three days earlier, the Lycée had hired Ms. Baum and her colleagues at Corcoran to sell the buildings, thereby replacing Massey Knackal Realty, the firm that has been marketing the properties since last August.

Ms. Baum’s first step was to begin referring to the string of buildings as “The Lycée Collection”: They include Nos. 7 and 9 East 72nd Street, priced at $21 million and $30 million, respectively; 3 and 5 East 95th Street, priced at $19.5 million and $10.3 million, respectively; 60 East 93rd Street, priced at $17 million; and, finally, 12 East 73rd Street, priced at $8 million.

Her second step will be to slash the prices almost 20 percent on Feb. 8.

The school has also hired a spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, who said that the change in representation reflected a lesson learned over the past six months. He said the school had switched from Massey Knackal, a primarily commercial real estate firm, to Corcoran, a primarily residential firm, because most of the interest in the properties has been from people who wanted to return the buildings to individual homes. The Lycée has had “an enormous number of people coming to look at the buildings and inquire,” said Mr. Rubenstein. “Seventy percent of those people want the buildings for residential use.”

Mr. Rubenstein also said that the Lycée thought Corcoran could better reach possible overseas buyers. Ms. Baum said that she and Carrie Chang, another Corcoran broker, are marketing the properties around the world to individuals, institutions and developers who could turn the mansions into apartments.

Mr. Rubenstein said the Lycée has turned down some offers, but it now seems as though the buyers are the ones who are balking, turning down the school’s high prices. “My sense is that Lycée is getting anxious,” said one townhouse expert about the school’s having switched real estate firms. “I had heard that they had a $43 million offer for the two buildings on 72nd Street. They should have run screaming to the bank.” The broker said the rejected offer was made by a foreigner who wanted to turn the townhouses into a foundation.

In November, New York magazine reported that Band-Aid heiress Libbet Johnson was close to a deal to buy the six mansions. The report said she planned to live at 9 East 72nd Street (known as the Sloan Mansion) and sell off the other buildings. “That was just a rumor,” said Ms. Baum. But two of the properties have offers on the table now, one made by an individual and one by an institution, she said.

The de-institutionalizing of the mansions of New York–especially those on the Upper East Side–has been going on for the last couple of years, and is gaining as the de rigueur move in real estate. The buildings are being renovated back into individual residences. One of the first significant purchases was that of New York investor Bruce Kovner, who paid $17.5 million in November 1999 for the uptown outpost of the International Center for Photography, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 94th Street. (The museum has still not vacated the building.) A year later, socialite Sloan Lindeman spent $11.25 million on the English Speaking Union, a 33-foot-wide mansion at 16 East 69th Street that had been the union’s headquarters for 44 years. And on Dec. 6, a 40-foot-wide house at 10-12 East 94th Street that housed the offices of Louise Wise Services, an adoption agency, was purchased by Nicholas Rohatyn, son of the former ambassador to France, for $7.4 million.

Comparatively, the Lycée properties are treasures, but aside from being overpriced, they will be extremely difficult to un-renovate. A typical floor plan includes a biology lab, a nurse’s office and a dining room. Then again, the grand staircases have been retained, and there are spaces with designations like “Salle d’Honneur” and “The Marble Room.” The school, which currently enrolls 970 kids from preschool to the 12th grade, started at the two buildings at 3 and 5 East 95th Street. The five-story house at 3 East 95th Street was built in 1921 in the 18th-century French style and was purchased by the Lycée in 1937. The three-story building at 5 East 95th Street was constructed the same year, after the school bought a garden from a neighbor. Ms. Baum showed the latter property on Feb. 2.

In 1964, the Lycée bought the two buildings at 7 and 9 East 72nd Street, which now house the preschool-through-elementary-school facilities. Built in 1896 for Henry T. Sloan, a carpet upholsterer, 9 East 72nd Street is the prize among the properties: It’s 59 feet wide, has five stories and boasts approximately 25,363 square feet. The neighboring five-story house at 7 East 72nd Street, which was built in 1899 for Oliver Gould Jennings, director of the National Fuel Gas Company, is 28 feet wide, with a limestone façade, large French windows and a total of 18,256 square feet.

As Ms. Baum walked through the mansions, which have been joined, she pointed out marble fireplaces and ornate original moldings. The Sloan Mansion is the largest townhouse to go on the market since the Vanderbilt Fabbri Mansion at 11 East 62nd Street, which Ms. Baum sold to the Japanese government for $21.5 million in December 1998. That mansion had been the headquarters of the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, an aptitude-testing center, for 55 years. Michael Jackson was the only individual who seriously considered buying it.

In 1978, the Lycée bought its fifth building, formerly known as the Virginia Graham Fair Vanderbilt house, at 60 East 93rd Street. They paid $680,000. Finally, in 1994, the school bought 12 East 73rd Street, a five-story townhouse built in 1920, for $4.3 million. It has been connected to the mansions on 72nd Street.

Richard Speciale, a financial adviser to the Lycée, said the school’s decision to vacate the townhouses was based on a drive to improve the academic environment rather than to raise cash. “They came to a truly emotional decision to leave the premises,” said Mr. Speciale. “The single best way to re-invigorate the program at Lycée was to find another site and build a facility designed for an academic purpose.” Mr. Speciale said a new facility was a more cost-effective alternative to renovating the townhouses.

The Lycée bought a site on York Avenue between 75th and 76th streets in January and is in the process of building a new school, which it plans to open in the fall of 2002. They’re hoping Ms. Baum will help them sell their other properties well before then.

UPPER EAST SIDE

RICHARD PERRY PRE-SELLS 72ND STREET CO-OP FOR $9.8 MILLION Richard Perry, president of Perry Capital, a hedge fund, has secured a buyer for his sixth-floor apartment at 117 East 72nd Street. The 16-room, 6,000-square-foot apartment went on the market last June for $10 million, and Mr. Perry signed a contract to sell it on Nov. 1 for $9.8 million. Brokers with knowledge of the deal said that on Jan. 30, the buyer passed the building’s notoriously tough (“very WASP-y”) co-op board.

But the deal won’t close until June, which is when Mr. Perry hopes to start renovating the penthouse at 1 Sutton Place South, which he bought for $10.9 million last June from the estate of philanthropist Janet Annenberg Hooker, daughter of Triangle Publications founder Moses Annenberg and sister of communications magnate Walter Annenberg. The house rules of 1 Sutton Place South–a tony address where residents include actress Sigourney Weaver–only permit renovations during the summer, lest anyone be disturbed by jackhammering.

Mr. Perry plans to make alterations to the 17-room, 6,400-square-foot penthouse (plus 6,000-square-foot terrace) this summer. He got a permit to do $200,000 of “minor partition work and plumbing” in November and has hired David Tiscuskas of 1100 Architect, the firm that designed the New York and London offices of Perry Capital.

The 72nd Street apartment, between Park and Lexington avenues, features five bedrooms, five and a half baths, a library, a gallery, a double maid’s room and new, oversized windows. (Maintenance is $5,212.) The building is also home to one of Nelson Rockefeller’s granddaughters, socialite Toni Mortimer, and former Soros Fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller and his wife, Fiona. Corcoran brokers Sharon Baum and Heather Sargent, who represented Mr. Perry, wouldn’t comment on the deal.

HARLEM

485 Manhattan Avenue

Four-story, 3,300-square-foot townhouse.

Asking: $369,000. Selling: $365,000.

Time on the market: one month.

SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT 120TH STREET A year ago, a single woman signed a contract to buy this four-story townhouse on Manhattan Avenue between 120th and 121st streets for $280,000. Her plan was to fix it up to rent out apartments, but she changed her mind. After buying it, she immediately listed the house on the market through Todd Marsh and Ron Lense of Douglas Elliman & Company brokers. The buyer, a man with two kids, was looking for a Harlem townhouse that he could redo. He liked this one, even though it didn’t have a working kitchen or bathroom. It did have lots of original details, including wainscoting and pocket doors. “The woodwork is all there,” said Mr. Marsh, who was surprised it hadn’t all been ruined because of the poor condition of the house’s roof “because every time it rains there is a waterfall down the stairs.” After preventing any future waterfalls, the buyer intends to capitalize as much as he can on the original details and turn the building into a two- or three-family home. The place should be inhabitable in another year.

UPPER WEST SIDE

505 West End Avenue

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

Asking: $825,000. Selling: $806,000.

Charges: $1,344; 39 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: three months.

ASK AND YOU MAY NOT RECEIVE In 1988, when 505 West End Avenue went co-op, a young couple that had been living on the Upper East Side bought this apartment and started a family. Now they have two children in elementary school and too little space. They’d been looking at apartments on and off for years with Naomi Davis of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, but they liked their building and couldn’t find an apartment that seemed worth the move. They finally found the perfect place last August: a classic seven-room layout, with lots of original details, just two blocks away. They put this apartment on the market in mid-August for $875,000 and had some trouble selling it. “It was on the market during that awful hot August,” said Ms. Davis. “It was not a great time.” In September, they dropped the price to $825,000 and finally got a contract signed by November. The new owners are a professional couple with no children, who lived in a rental in the neighborhood. They won’t move in until they’ve done some renovations.

UPPER EAST SIDE

30 East 62nd Street

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

Asking: $1.1 million. Selling: $1.1 million.

Charges: $1,676; 57 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: five months.

MISSION MAKE-OVER “It was in fair condition,” said broker Laurel Rosenbluth of this apartment, which sold in early February. She was being kind. Not that the bones weren’t there: The 1,400-square-foot co-op is on a high floor, gets lots of light and has good views. But the décor hadn’t been updated in several years. “I think anyone who was going to buy this was going to redo the bathrooms and maybe the kitchen,” said Ms. Rosenbluth of Gumley Haft Kleier, who sold the apartment. “But generally the decorating was what really had to be done.” The seller, who put this place on the market last August, was spending most of his time overseas and hadn’t used the apartment much in the past few years. That may have scared off a few buyers, but not this couple, who were already familiar with the building and knew a good price when they saw it. “They had foresight,” said Ms. Rosenbluth. “They had a vision that it could be a stunning apartment.” Their initial offer was a little under the asking price, but they quickly raised it to the asking price of $1.1 million. The building has a garage, a doorman and an elevator operator.

MURRAY HILL

10 Park Avenue

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,200-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $799,000. Selling: $750,000.

Charges: $1,150; 55 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: four weeks.

HELEN HUNT HAS LEFT THE BUILDING The gentleman who sold this apartment started out with a one-bedroom apartment, then bought the studio next door a few years ago. The combination, however, resulted in too much space for him. “He wanted to scale down,” said Brian Rice of the Corcoran Group, who brokered the deal with Garrett Turnbull, also of Corcoran. He moved to 200 East 32nd Street, where he found a place on a high floor, and put this apartment on the market. At the open house, a couple came to see the apartment and decided to take it. “They were first-time buyers, and they were really ecstatic,” said Mr. Rice. The place needs “absolutely nothing,” he added. The building, located at 34th Street and Park Avenue, was originally a hotel. It has a full-time doorman and concierge, and a roof deck with panoramic views of the city. Soon, the couple will be able to see their new apartment building on the big screen: According to Mr. Rice, Woody Allen recently shot a movie with Helen Hunt here.