Just as the New York Academy of Sciences was poised to
accept a $27 million bid for its mansion on East 63rd Street off of Fifth
Avenue, that offer-from the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad
bin Khalifa al-Thani-was
rescinded in early October.
The Emir, the highest official of the nation of Qatar, has
come under fire recently for the apparent relationship of his government-owned
network, Al Jazeera, with terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden-airing unedited footage of Mr. bin Laden’s statements and reportedly ferrying questions to him
on behalf of CNN. Spokesmen for the Emir and the Academy said they didn’t know
why his offer for 2 East 63rd Street
was withdrawn, or whether it had anything to do with the events of Sept. 11.
“At the moment, there is no interest in that building,” said
Robert W. Thabit, the legal advisor to Qatar’s
permanent mission at the United Nations. “I prefer not to discuss it; this is a
matter that involves the security of the Emir.”
The Emir made the offer back in May; employees of the New
York Academy of Sciences said it was for $27 million. Richard Ravitch, a member of the Academy’s board of governors and
the head of a subcommittee working to sell the building, said only that the
offer was “well over $20 million.”
Academy spokesman Fred Marino confirmed that the offer had
been on the agenda of the Academy’s Oct. 9 board meeting until it was retracted
only days before. Several board members said the offer
would have been accepted at that meeting. “They’ve been negotiating for months,
and we had every right to assume that he was interested. And we finally agreed
on their price,” said Mr. Ravitch. “I haven’t the
vaguest idea why he pulled out of it.”
Paul Massey of Massey Knakal
Realty, the Academy’s broker, said that as of Oct. 16, the building was “still
on the market.”
The 75-foot-wide, four-story mansion is laid out in a
20,646-square-foot sprawl that includes a basement, a sub-basement and a
penthouse. The mansion was built in 1919 for William Ziegler, a prominent
businessman, politician and then-president of the American Foundation for the
Blind, and it was designed by Stern and Wolfe in a neo–Italian Renaissance style.
The building is set apart from the run-of-the-mill town house by its stone
façade, round-arched entrance and large window with scroll cornices and
cartouches; the interior features ornate moldings, a grand central staircase,
fireplaces and large entertainment rooms, including a ballroom overlooking a
generous courtyard-all in the Renaissance style. In 1929, Norman Baily Woolworth, of the retail-store family dynasty, bought
the house and lived there with his family until 1949, when he donated it to the
prestigious New York Academy of Sciences.
According to Mr. Marino, the Emir was looking for a New
York residence, and would have returned the mansion
to its original single-family use had he bought it. Some speculated that recent
events had something to do with the Emir’s decision. “I’m not sure what
happened; it may have something to do with the current situation in terms of …
terrorist problems or something,” said Jacqueline Leo, a member of the
Academy’s board of governors and the editor in chief of Reader’s Digest.
But one source close to the deal surmised that it was just
business as usual in the high-end townhouse market. “We understand that they
were also dickering for another building,” said the source, “so we suspect they
might have been playing one against the other for a while.” That building is
the Lycée Français’ Beaux
Arts–style residence at 9 East 72nd Street,
currently on the market for $25 million with the Corcoran Group.
When the Emir started looking for an extra-large residence
in the spring, word spread quickly among the handful of brokers who sell the
most expensive townhouses. Jed Garfield, a broker with Leslie J. Garfield &
Co., said he was contacted by a banker who was an associate of the Emir early
last summer. When Mr. Garfield found something he thought would interest the
Emir, he contacted the banker, but never heard back.
The nation of Qatar
already owns a 1,956-square-foot, eight-room condominium apartment in the St.
James Tower at 415
East 54th Street. City records show that it was
purchased in January 1999 for $1.15 million. But Mr. Thabit
would not respond to questions about the apartment’s use by Qatar
or its dignitaries.
Meanwhile, the Academy-which in June made a much-criticized
financial decision to shut down The Sciences, an award-winning magazine with
big-name contributing editors like Stephen Jay Gould, Laurence Marschall, Rosamond Purcell, Robert Sapolsky
and Hans Christian von Baeyer-is unable to pursue its
consolidation plans until it finds a buyer for 2 East
When the Emir withdrew his offer to buy the mansion, the
Academy was negotiating to rent a full-floor office in the Ziff-Davis building
at 1 Park Avenue, which
would have eliminated its current need for back-office space at Madison Avenue
and 59th Street. “We don’t
have adequate meeting space here,” explained Mr. Marino. “We had our annual
meeting eight months ago, and it was spread across several rooms in the
building …. Part of the thing was to find a space that allows us to have bigger
Mr. Ravitch said the plan was to
sign a lease at 1 Park as soon as the board approved the sale of the 63rd
Street building. But after the terrorist attack
created a stampede for midtown office space and the Emir backed out, the
Academy eventually had to let the space go.
Now board members are hunkering down for a long wait until
the next serious buyer comes along. “There are so many of these upper-end
properties sitting on the market,” said Kathleen Burns-Hoffman, director of
townhouses for the real-estate brokerage William B. May. “[The houses] are
quite nice, but there are so many fewer people that can afford to pay for that.
And even when they can, some are almost too big to live in comfortably.”
Since the Academy’s plans were objectionable to some of its
members, the fact that the mansion won’t be sold-at least for now-is not seen
as a crisis. “I don’t think there’s anyone on the board who is going to say,
‘This has to be done tomorrow,’” said Ms. Leo. “There’s no reason to think
33 East End Avenue
One-bed, one-bath, 1,100-square-foot
Asking: $505,000. Selling: $495,000.
Charges: $1,248; 50 percent tax-deductible.
Time on the market: six weeks.
MESSAGE IN A BARGE Some claim that
residents who live in this building near 81st Street
can actually tell what kind of boat is going by on the river by the sound it
makes. According to Michael Mansur, an Insignia
Douglas Elliman broker who has sold several
apartments in this building, it’s a particular talent that comes from spending
lots of time on the terraces that look out directly over the river. But the
psychologist who sold this apartment probably didn’t have that kind of time.
She lived here for two and a half years before getting married and moving to Seattle.
During that time, she redid the bathroom and kitchen and added new lighting
fixtures. On the other hand, the couple who bought the place were
immediately drawn to the river views from the large windows in the living room
and the dining room on several visits before signing a contract. (They closed
on the place on Oct.4.) The place
clearly spoke to them.
465 Park Avenue
(the Ritz Tower)
Asking: $795,000. Selling: $770,000.
Maintenance: $2,700; 45 percent tax-deductible.
Time on the market: one week.
THE LITTLE DEAL THAT COULD On the morning of Sept. 11, on
her way out of the house for the law offices of Stroock,
Stroock and Lavan, broker
Terri Stone of Charles H. Greenthal got a phone call
from the buyer of this apartment. “‘Turn on the TV,’” Ms. Stone said the woman
told her. “There it was: the first plane. I immediately called the attorney
representing the buyer, and I said, ‘Well, gee, this is a terrible accident,’
and can they messenger the papers to the [law firm's] uptown office and make
the appointment a little later?” The sale of this apartment had been scheduled
for that morning. But when the second plane hit, the deal faded into the
background for a couple of days-until the buyer called again, still interested
and anxious to complete the deal. “Everything was a little bit upside-down in
terms of locating paperwork,” Ms. Stone said. The law firm’s offices, three
blocks away from the World Trade
Center site, were closed. “Ten days
later, we closed, and my buyers were thrilled,” Ms. Stone said. A married
couple eager to settle down in the “heart of the city” (though they own several
properties elsewhere), the buyers wanted a full-service building, and the Ritz
Tower fit the bill, with a four-star restaurant exclusively serving building
residents and their guests, a full-time doorman and concierge, and a business
center, fitness center and cleaning service available. The sellers, an older
couple, were getting the same treatment, but down South.
260 West 11th Street
3,345-square-foot, four-story townhouse.
Asking: $3.2 million. Selling: $3
Time on the market: six weeks.
UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS When an estate put this town
house-owned by the same man for almost 40 years-on the market for $3.2 million
with Jackie Vincent of the Corcoran Group, it was bucking a trend. Divided into
two apartments, the townhouse was marketed as such rather than as a potential
one-family home. The strategy made sense, since the two duplex apartments have
different styles: the lower one more contemporary, with a brand-new kitchen,
and the upper one almost entirely intact from the building’s 1840 origins. But
the Harvard-educated young couple, both in banking, who bought the place after
six weeks will have it both ways: They’ll occupy the
upper duplex until they have the time and capital to renovate the entire place
and take it over for themselves. In the meantime, their broker, Corcoran’s
Scott Stewart, got a second job: finding a renter to pay $6,000 a month for the
lower duplex. Mr. Stewart said that the income will help ease the couple’s pain
at having to be so far away from their “beautiful planted garden,” which, at
nearly 30 feet long, is much bigger than is standard in the area-at least for