Want to Renovate at 817 Fifth Avenue? So Did Richard Gere

TENANTS CAN’T TOLERATE ONE MORE MOLDING GOING IN $14.5 MILLION CONDO Back in January, Howard Solomon, the chairman of Forest Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company, signed a contract to buy a $14.5 million condominium at 817 Fifth Avenue for his son, David Solomon. The apartment–a triplex maisonette–had been put on the market in late October by the estate of Dr. Anne Dyson, a pediatrician and philanthropist who died of breast cancer last fall. The sale was expected to be finalized in late January, according to brokers, but thanks in part to Dyson, the building has become as prickly as the strictest of co-op buildings, and the deal has been canceled.

“Eight-seventeen is one of the few prewar condos in New York and the biggest on Fifth Avenue–and, I think, historically the one that everyone wants to get into,” said Michele Kleier, a co-owner of Gumley Haft Kleier who is presently showing the sixth-floor apartment at 817 Fifth Avenue, which is priced at $12.5 million. “It feels like a co-op: It has high ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces and spectacular views.”

It acts a lot like a co-op, too. The Solomons had to submit an application similar to a co-op board package–which, along with an interview, is the basis for co-op boards to vote to admit or reject a potential new resident. In this heated market, many condos have started requiring much more documentation and references from applicants, and many have even begun interviewing them.

Brokers said that the Solomons’ deal did not fall apart because their application package was weak but because they submitted plans to renovate the apartment, and those plans were not acceptable to the condo board. “They can not approve a renovation,” said one broker about the extent of power the 817 Fifth board wields. “They can give [the buyers] a very hard time.”

David Solomon and his wife Sarah, an actress, wanted to significantly renovate the 6,300-square-foot apartment, formerly a doctor’s office. “That was the problem,” said a broker familiar with the deal. The apartment had undergone a two-and-a-half-year conversion from an office into a 15-room apartment shortly before Dyson’s death, a source familiar with the deal said. “The building was giving them a very hard time because they dealt with years of work.”

Enduring those years made tenants–who include Steve Wynn and Richard Gere–incredibly sensitive to any proposed renovations. According to one broker who has worked with the building, the 817 Fifth board now presides over a waiting list of current tenants seeking to renovate. “The fancier the condo, the more approvals are needed for everything,” said Ms. Kleier.

Scott Durkin, chief operating officer of the Corcoran Group, said 817 Fifth probably has work rules that allow noisy construction only on the weekdays, and then only between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Such rules tend to lengthen projects. Mr. Durkin added: “The grass [out front] hasn’t even grown back yet” from Dyson’s renovation.

Dyson’s triplex went back on the market for $14.5 million on Feb. 23, a couple of days after the Solomons’ deal to buy the apartment fell through. Around the same time, one broker with knowledge of their plans reported, the couple made an appointment to check out a $22 million, 10-room co-op apartment at the Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue.

At least they’ll have an idea of what they’re in for.

IN TOP-SECRET TRIBECA, MAGGIE RIZER FEELS ANONYMOUS Shortly before suiting up and taking the runway before hundreds of ogling, fashion-obsessed New Yorkers, supermodel Maggie Rizer, 23, the all-American face of Tommy Hilfiger’s ads, moved on Feb. 1 into a $1.6 million hideout at 90 Franklin Street.

Ms. Rizer, whose freckled face and blue eyes are plastered all over Manhattan, said she’s finding Tribeca to be a more private place to live than her former home, a rental in a brownstone in the West Village that she shared with her sister, a law student. She also likes having a doorman. “I feel like the doormen are the only [people] seeing me there every day!” said Ms. Rizer.

The condo near Church Street, which started life in 1931 as the Corn Exchange Bank, has a level of service once unheard of below Houston Street, including a 24-hour doorman, a full-time concierge, two porters and a handyman. “It’s nice because you don’t see anyone,” Ms. Rizer said. “There are three elevators and 17 floors, so you don’t run into that many people.”

Memo to Maggie: Lauren duPont, a fashion editor at W and Vogue ‘s gossipy Web site, Style.com, and daughter of the chief executive of Sears, Roebuck & Company, lives in the building in a three-bedroom apartment that she and her husband bought for $1.3 million last August.

Ms. Rizer is not totally uncritical of her trendy new home. “In Tribeca, you actually have to go to a grocery store,” she said. But she moved into the neighborhood for the extra space, not for the delis.

Unlike her neighbor, Mariah Carey, who has hired Mario Buatta to wrap her $9 million triplex penthouse in chintzy fabric, Ms. Rizer and her boyfriend, Jorge Zavala, a student, have been giving their place “a little facelift” of their own.

“We did a lot of garden-sunset kind of colors; one of the bathrooms is very orangish-reddish,” said Ms. Rizer between catwalk struts in New York and Milan. The 1,895-square-foot apartment has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and maintenance is $1,084. “There are greens and blues and yellows. It’s a bit eclectic.”

Ms. Rizer said she’s still looking around for the right artwork to spruce the place up, but she has installed some antique doors, some of which she bought in India. She’s still waiting for a big mahogany bed from Indonesia. “It’s kind of a work in progress,” she said.

Right about now, Ben Stiller–whose new film Zoolander is a parody of the fashion flock–is kicking himself for never moving into the apartment he once owned in the building.

CARNEGIE HILL

1185 Park Avenue

Three-bed, 3,800-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $4.9 million. Selling: $4.8 million.

Charges: $2,790; 38 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: five and a half months.

THE ALTERNATE SET OF REAR WINDOW One of the very few grand-courtyard apartment buildings left in Manhattan, and the only one still standing on Park Avenue, this co-op has 185 apartments. Designed by Schwartz & Gross–among the most prolific apartment-house designers of the early 20th century–this 1929 building reflects the firm’s movement from Renaissance- to Gothic- and medieval-inspired details, also evident in their designs at 44 Gramercy Park North and 14 East 75th Street. Entry to the bucolic central courtyard, by car or on foot, is gained through a Gothic triple-arch entrance and driveway. The very large courtyard leads to six elevator lobbies, each of which serves only two apartments per floor. The façades facing the courtyard are also rich in Gothic detail. Other building amenities include an 800-square-foot basement gym detailed in black granite and pine trim, built in 1995 out of a former “ironing” room that had been used for storage. A couple–New Yorkers in the vacation-planning industry–bought this apartment in January from a European couple who had used it as a pied-à-terre, according to broker Norma Hirsch of Douglas Elliman. The nine-room apartment is on a lower floor; it has three bedrooms and a library. The living room (with a wood-burning fireplace), dining room and master bedroom all face Park Avenue.

UPPER EAST SIDE

575 Park Avenue

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

Asking: $1.15 million. Selling: $1.2 million.

Charges: $3,516; 15 percent tax deductible.

Time on market: five months.

SIZE ISN’T EVERYTHING The price of this petite two-bedroom co-op was reduced by $100,000 in June to attract buyers, but when a contract was signed on Nov. 2, it was for $50,000 above the asking price. The sale price works out to be $1,000 a square foot–a lot to ask for an apartment, even in this market. But this wasn’t just any apartment, which may be why the owners held out for five months before making a deal with the buyer, a real estate developer and his wife. The apartment is in the prestigious prewar Beekman Hotel, and the building’s rich history, provenance and ideal location won out in the end. This 10th-floor apartment overlooks Park Avenue and has been extensively renovated, according to Claire Ratusch of Douglas Elliman, the exclusive broker on the deal. The apartment features a wood-burning fireplace, a granite and mahogany gourmet kitchen, oak floors set in the old-fashioned herringbone pattern, and architect-designed built-ins and closets. The Old New York flavor is guaranteed in this building by its architecture: a classic, buff-colored brick façade with terra-cotta trim and the ubiquitous limestone base, and a bright, well-appointed lobby with Old World hotel fixtures and the Park Avenue Café restaurant. (That spot has previously been occupied by such storied restaurants as Le Perigord.) These diminutive domiciles have long been popular as pieds-à-terre, given the building’s prime location. Former tenants have included actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who died in May of last year, and financier Henry Kaufmann. Another throwback to earlier times: included with the monthly maintenance is maid service–and, in this case, the sale price also included some of the traditional furnishings installed by the sellers, longtime occupants.

UPPER WEST SIDE

263 West End Avenue

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,250-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $650,000. Selling: $635,000.

Charges: $1,087; 47 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: Five months.

DIALING BACK TO MILDLY GREEDY Back in the spring of 2000, when the real estate market was peaking, a couple looking forward to retirement put their four-and-a-half-room apartment in fair condition on the market for $625,000. When they got an offer right away, they started getting greedy. “There was enough interest that we thought we could raise the price,” said David Dernberger of the Halstead Property Company. They may have spoken too soon. After they raised the price by $25,000, the Nasdaq meltdown cooled the market and the frenzy stopped. They finally got a couple with no children to sign a contract in October for $635,000. “It survived the best of times and the worst of times,” said Mr. Dernberger. “We sold it for more than it originally came on the market for at the worst of times,” he said. The deal closed on Feb. 12.

FLATIRON DISTRICT

23 West 16th Street

One-bed, one-bath, 1,500-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $1.095 million. Selling: $1.095 million.

Charges: $1,308; 47 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: five months.

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S PERMANENT VACATION This 1,500-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment was formerly owned by Michael O’Donoghue, the late satirist perhaps better known as Mr. Mike, who was the head writer for Saturday Night Live from 1975-80 and one of the original contributors to National Lampoon. According to Carol Shainswit, an associate broker at the Corcoran Group, O’Donoghue lived in this apartment, the parlor floor of a converted townhouse, for 20 years until his death in 1994. His wife has since remarried and put the place on the market last spring. Although people were interested, there was no serious offer and so she took the apartment off the market for the summer. When it was returned to the market in September, the apartment–which has 13-foot ceilings, two fireplaces, a formal living room and dining room and original moldings–sold in just a few weeks. The sale closed on Jan. 23; a financial executive and his wife are moving in. They may or may not know that, after Mr. O’Donoghue’s death from a brain tumor at the age of 54, his apartment was decorated with his CAT scans for his wake.

Correction

In the Feb. 12 issue, it was reported that Sharon Baum of the Corcoran Group sold the Vanderbilt Fabbri Mansion at 11 East 62nd Street to the Japanese government for $21.5 million in December 1998. Ms. Baum marketed the townhouse for a year, but Jed Garfield of Leslie J. Garfield & Company procured the Japanese government as a buyer when his company and Simon-Rudd Associates were marketing the house.