N.Y.’s Bosom Buddies: Two Bachelors Convert Old Egyptian Mission

INTERNET GUY AND VANNA’S EX BECOME ROOMIES ON 67TH STREET The blonde in army fatigues who opened the door at 36 East 67th Street was not the lady of the house, but the “manager.” Her name is Erin Pettersen, and she was still recovering from a party at the five-story residence four days earlier, where bouncers stood outside and 1,500 guests stalled the elevator, broke off a banister and generally littered the place with cigarette butts.

“We just finished putting down another coat of paint,” said Ms. Pettersen, pointing at the mosaic-patterned floor in the foyer.

From the entrance, the 17,500-square-foot house looked virtually empty, save several enormous Renaissance paintings and crystal chandeliers, but in fact it’s the home of two wealthy bachelors: Michael Gleissner, a 32-year-old German private-equity investor and dot-com millionaire, and George San Pietro, an L.A.-based real-estate developer and ex-husband of Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White. The two men bought the neo-Georgian mansion for $9.75 million last March. Brokers said there were five interested buyers for the townhouse, which had been on the market since 1998, but the two gentlemen won out by agreeing to sign an iron-clad, non-refundable contract.

“We developed the house in a partnership,” said Mr. Gleissner. “I think of the house as a co-op with two units and a lot of common areas.” The owners share the first two floors of the house and the basement level, which now has a movie theater, a steam room, a “Japanese meditation room,” a gym, a professional kitchen and a courtyard. Mr. San Pietro, who has two children, got the third floor, and Mr. Gleissner got the top two floors.

Mr. Gleissner, a soft-spoken guy about 5-foot-7, with dyed gray hair that looks a little bleached-blond, freckles and dark brown eyes, said he considered six other properties before going in with Mr. San Pietro on the house. He recently also purchased a 4,000-square-foot loft on Warren Street, and he owns a home in L.A. and a penthouse apartment at the Portofino Tower in Miami–but he spends much of his time traveling, especially to Shanghai, where he’s setting up an Internet company.

The party had been the idea of Mr. Gleissner’s friend Michael Capponi, who owns a popular nightclub in Miami called 320. Mr. San Pietro was not at the party. He was very involved with the house’s renovation and decoration, but he spends most of his time in Los Angeles. And Mr. Gleissner, who spent most of the night on the roof–a major selling point–was practically incognito. His name was not even on the invitation. “I’m a low-profile person,” he said.

“People thought it was my party,” said Ms. Pettersen.

So why let a nightclub owner throw a party in his new house? “He specializes in how to have great parties,” said Mr. Gleissner.” I’m new in the city; I don’t know so many people. They did a great job–I had a blast!”

Mr. Gleissner and two partners got $31 million in stock (which they cashed for $360 million one year later) from Amazon.com when they sold the German online bookseller Telebuch.de in 1998. But there was a catch. “I had to stay on with Amazon.com as a part of the acquisition for one year,” he said. “I left the company in 1999, largely because I did not like Seattle.” He is currently the president of Cleverventures Learning Fund, a venture-capital fund with offices in New York, L.A. and Miami that primarily invests in learning-technology companies. “I always wanted to be in New York,” said Mr. Gleissner on July 5. His favorite relative, a great uncle, used to own an apartment in Carnegie Hill.

Ms. Pettersen hired a crew to pick up after the “blast.” Fortunately, Mr. San Pietro’s art collection, which includes an Andy Warhol silk-screen of John Wayne, survived intact. But it was nothing compared to the house’s condition when the two men bought it. It had been the Egyptian Mission to the U.N. since 1958, and the Egyptians “had horribly destroyed the existing contextual design,” said Michael Gadaleta, a partner at M.G. New York Architects who was hired to do the renovation, which took almost a year. “They had chopped up the rooms into little suites, placing bathrooms in parlors and dining rooms …. The ceilings were destroyed, woodwork was painted over,” said Mr. Gadaleta. “I don’t know what they were thinking! We had a lot of history we wanted to preserve.”

But Mr. Gadaleta’s first concern was the “deterioration” of the roof. With the permission of the Landmarks Commission, he immediately erected an “emergency scaffolding” on the sidewalk to repair the townhouse’s roof and façade. Then, room by room, he restored the windows, uncovered moldings on the ceiling and chipped away as many as 30 layers of paint on ornate fireplaces. “We did test strips, and things started coming back as Brazilian mahogany,” said Mr. Gadaleta. “We scraped paint in there for six months. We had to, at a point, stop scraping or we would still be doing it.”

Mr. Gadaleta set up a shop in the basement to replicate some moldings that had been irreversibly damaged or lost, using the ground-floor library, a 40-by-20-foot room with 14-foot-high ceilings, as a benchmark of the house’s original quality. “For some reason, the room was spared the paintbrush,” he said. He also had to remove metal bars from the windows of a room on the fourth floor, which had been used as a “jail room.” All that’s left to do is installing some sprinkler heads and “following up on some paperwork” with the Department of Buildings, he said.

The real housewarming party, according to Mr. Gleissner, was thrown in honor of his birthday on April 8, with 250 of his closest friends and a 70′s cover band. He noted the irony of a German throwing a party on the second night of Passover in the former Egyptian Mission. “My Jewish friends declined,” he said, adding, “I don’t interact much with the neighbors.”

Now, Mr. Gleissner said, he’s considering renting out the first two floors, with their enormous dining room, for private parties and corporate events–but he has some reservations. “So far, I’ve had both good and terrible experiences renting out property. It largely depends on getting an idea of the hassle involved and finding the right person in charge of that,” he said. “I’m not a 24-hour-party kind of person,” he insisted. “I don’t want to just rent it out and make it a party space.”

A member of Community Board 8 said there had not yet been any complaints from the neighbors–which include art dealer Richard Feigen, Seagram heir Matthew Bronfman and oil heiress Barbara Rockefeller–about Mr. Gleissner’s parties. And neighbor Bob Guccione ‘s secretary said his only complaint about the new guys on the block was that he hasn’t been invited to a party yet.

UPPER EAST SIDE

MILKMAN MAKES MILLIONS ON EMPIRE CONDO Marc Goldman, the former chief executive of Farmland Dairies–who sold the New Jersey-based dairy farm to Parmalat for $135 million in 1999–just made another lucrative deal. In May, Mr. Goldman sold his 4,757-square-foot apartment at the Empire, a condo building at 188 East 78th Street, for $9.34 million. He bought the place for $6.12 million in March of this year. Mr. Goldman, reached at his home in Teaneck, N.J., confirmed the deal and the fact that he did not use a broker.

Brokers were astounded that Mr. Goldman was able to get more than $9 million for the 29th-floor apartment, which was originally two separate units. “It was ludicrous, totally ridiculous,” said one broker familiar with the deal. “Everybody thought [the buyers] were morons.”

“Two thousand dollars a foot for that building is a lot of money,” said another.

But the buyers–Nathan Thorne, a banker at Merrill Lynch, and his family–may have been willing to pay top dollar because they were specifically looking for a place with a lot of square feet, but all on one floor; plus the building has a full-time doorman, a concierge and a health club.

CHELSEA

THE COMEBACK OF LINDA EVANGELISTA: A $2.4 MILLION PENTHOUSE Is Linda Evangelista really coming out of retirement? Rumors have spread that the 36-year-old–who made her reputation as a moody supermodel when she remarked that she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000–will grace the cover of the September Vogue . (She hasn’t been a cover girl in three years.) And in May she bought a Chelsea penthouse with a 2,700-square-foot terrace for $2.4 million.

Ms. Evangelista has been living out of the country for years. She and her boyfriend, 30-year-old Manchester United goalie Fabien Barthez, were sharing a condo in Cheshire, England, and a villa in southern France. But the British tabloids have said that the relationship has been on the rocks for some time–some scandal sheets are even sniffing that Ms. Evangelista has put on weight–and the couple themselves admitted that things became strained after the model suffered a miscarriage last year. Paparazzo Santiago Baez shot pictures of the couple coming out of Balthazar in Soho together in late May, around the same time Ms. Evangelista bought the condo.

And the 4,000-square-foot penthouse, at 525 West 22nd Street, is perched above one of the most bustling blocks of Chelsea’s gallery district, including the DIA Center for the Arts, a Comme des Garçons store and the new restaurant Open. The D’Amelio-Terras gallery occupies the ground floor of the old red-brick manufacturing building. The apartment, in a building that became condos in 1997, had been on the market for almost a year, starting in June 2000 at an asking price of $3.75 million. (The sellers bought it for $1.6 million in 1997.) Two weeks later, the owners dropped the price to $3.25 million; said one broker familiar with the apartment, “It needed a lot of work.” It finally was reduced again to $2.8 million, and closed at $2.4 million.

One thing is certain: Ms. Evangelista will not be very incognito in her new neighborhood.

CARNEGIE HILL

1140 Fifth Avenue

Two-bed, one-and-a-half-bath, 1,400-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $962,500. Selling: $995,500.

Charges: $1,318; 43 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: two months.

DESIGNER SHOWOFF Some people have all the luck. Take the interior decorator who bought this apartment: He’d bought a one-bedroom apartment on 66th Street for just over $400,000 a few months ago, but quickly decided that it just wouldn’t do–he needed more space. So he turned around and sold that place for about $500,000 and quickly found this two-bedroom apartment in a swanky Fifth Avenue co-op near 95th Street. Sure, it was already spoken for, but that didn’t stop someone so successful at changing his mind in this real-estate market. Naturally the earlier deal fell through, and that very day this fellow had his own deal. According to Richard Steinberg of Ashforth Warburg Realty, the interior designer’s broker, the apartment is in pristine condition, making it a clean palette for the designer to redo. “It’s a 60-day renovation, and he’ll move in in the fall,” said Mr. Steinberg.

UPPER WEST SIDE

44 West 77th Street

Four-bedroom, three-bath, 2,350-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $3.6 million. Selling: $2.7 million.

Charges: $2,500; 50 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: seven months.

YOUR PRICE IS GETTING LOWER … LOWER When a couple put this apartment on the market, they must have thought it was last year–when apartments, including those that are large but in need of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of renovations, sold as soon as they came on the market, at whatever the price. But it wasn’t. The couple was feeling bold enough to price this four-bedroom apartment, with park views and an oak-paneled dining room, at $3.1 million earlier this year. (They had previously been asking as much as $3.9 million.) By this spring, however, they’d accepted an offer of $2.8 million, said their broker, Karesse Grenier of the Corcoran Group. That same day the market dropped 500 points, and Ms. Grenier negotiated the price down $100,000 more because of the resulting “psychological blip in their comfort level.” Now we’re talking 2001!

GRAMERCY PARK

32 Gramercy Park South

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,450-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $899,000. Selling: $925,000.

Charges: $1,850; 54 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: one month.

DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE? A couple left the suburbs for the superb downtown views they found in this building, on Gramercy Park South and Third Avenue. The building is not one of the gothic or colonial Gramercy Park mainstays. It’s an 18-story red-brick number, built in 1956, with a full-time doorman, a concierge and large picture windows–especially from this high-floor apartment. Still, when they made their first bid, the couple discovered that even at a not-prime Gramercy address and in a supposedly sagging market, they had serious competitors; only by bidding $25,000 more than the asking price did they secure the apartment. And “it was a pretty little apartment,” said Liz Dworkin, vice president and broker at the downtown brokerage firm Eychner Associates, who represented the sellers. Which brings us back to the views: From inside this apartment, the views of the surrounding buildings are a big part of the appeal.