Seinfeld Builds a Parking Lot

Ten years ago there was a Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza was locked in an all-night parking siege over one crummy space, spurring a comparative consideration of the “pulling in versus backing in” approach to parking. That same season there were episodes called “The Parking Garage” and “The Alternate Side.”

Now Jerry Seinfeld seems to have resolved his parking obsession by building his own lot. He’s planning 20 parking spaces, in his own garage, for his private collection of Porsches-in one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan-for about $1.39 million.

Seismographs have already been set up on West 83rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues to guarantee the integrity of the neighbors’ buildings.

Already two years in the making, the garage at 138 West 83rd Street-just three blocks from Mr. Seinfeld’s $4.35 million duplex at the Beresford apartments-has faced delays, fines, denied permits and a neighborhood in need of placating … all of which is nothing compared to the peace of mind that the semi-retired sitcom king will attain once he no longer has to get up at 7 a.m. to move the Boxster.

On Monday, March 4, Mr. Seinfeld’s construction crew trucked in a super-drill to complete digging a basement, as well as the seismographs to monitor the effects of the drilling on nearby buildings. An architecture firm and a yoga studio have temporarily closed down. The companies said that Mr. Seinfeld offered to pay a week’s salary for their staffs. He was traveling and not available for comment.

“It’s like a Seinfeld episode,” said Jennifer Walker, the proprietor of Practice Yoga, located on the ground floor of 140 West 83rd Street-who, after posting a notice on her door listing the classes that would be canceled, watched the vast drilling equipment being set in place Monday.

During the past year, said Ms. Walker, Mr. Seinfeld’s contractors have been in close contact with her so the major work could be scheduled around the quiet meditation that follows a grueling hour of sun salutations.

Peace offerings from the comedian really started in the spring of 2000, when cases of wine arrived on doorsteps along the block, courtesy of Jerry Seinfeld. Shortly thereafter, the construction crew, headed by Wayne Campbell, a principal in Campbell and Cantor, first appeared at the diminutive two-story building, formerly a plumbing business, which Mr. Seinfeld bought in the spring of 1999 for $880,000 through Medici, a corporate entity he owns. (According to the New York City Department of Buildings, Mr. Seinfeld’s sister is Medici’s president; he’s the vice president.)

As work began to transform the tiny near-derelict site-it’s only 16 feet wide and a little over 50 feet deep-into a souped-up three-story garage, neighbors were told the construction, estimated to cost $500,000, was expected to be finished by the end of 2000. Plans included an elevator in the center of the building to move the collectible cars from a new basement level and the first and second floors to a new steel-finished showroom, complete with a kitchenette, bathroom and stone-paved deck. On foot, access to the third floor would be gained by a slick steel-and-glass staircase.

Mr. Seinfeld began collecting Porsches in 1993, as Seinfeld was becoming a huge NBC hit. When he moved to New York in 1998, he became a moveable landmark, driving his Porsches-old and new-around the Upper West Side. According to Timothy McGrane, a spokesman for Barret-Jackson, the Scottsdale, Ariz., auto auction house that has sold two of Mr. Seinfeld’s Porsches (a 1957 Carrera vintage race car for $64,800, and a restored cornflower blue 1958 Speedster for $92,880), Mr. Seinfeld’s “is the kind of collection that definitely comprises the right kind of cars.” Until last year, Mr. Seinfeld owned a silver, lightweight Type GT Porsche Carrera, on which he spent more than $125,000 installing a four-cylinder racing engine and fuel tank, as well as plexiglass pull-up racing windows. It was a labor of love, however; when he decided to sell the race car last year, it got only $64,800.

The comedian is partial to the stripped-down, tough-guy allure of the Speedster, the “epitome of the road-going vintage Porsche,” with its shaved-down windshield and rag top, said Mr. McGrane. In 1993, Mr. Seinfeld traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, to receive the keys to a 1994 Speedster-the last model ever made. He also once held the pink slip to a 1956 Porsche Speedster 356 formerly owned by James Dean.

Mr. McGrane put Mr. Seinfeld a notch above most celebrity collectors. “Some people just buy cars. [Jay] Leno has probably sold a few cars, but for the most part he just buys.”

Last summer, Mr. Seinfeld M.C.’d the Hamptons Auto Classic, and he also arranged a comedy benefit for World Trade Center charities that was underwritten by Porsche. Most of his cars are in a storage unit at the airport near his Santa Monica home and in a garage he built at the $32 million Southampton estate he purchased in 2000 from singer Billy Joel.

Work on his Manhattan garage has been slow going, however-stopping and starting through red tape, racking up more than $5,000 in three fines from the New York City Department of Buildings for failure to appear before adjudicators to clear up minor violations.

Mr. Campbell, the contractor for the site, would not comment. But Department of Buildings records show that Campbell and Cantor filed plans simultaneously in 2000 for minor interior renovations and for additions to the building. According to Ilyse Fink, director of communications for the Buildings Department, Mr. Seinfeld’s project has never been granted permission for the additions.

In July 2000, after a neighbor complained to the Buildings Department, Campbell and Cantor was fined for not having filed approved plans before beginning work. Last summer, the company received a stop-work order. Two months later, it received notice for a steel staircase installed in the rear of the building that had not been part of the approved plans. Last October, after a permit expired, the company was issued another notice. After failing to appear at a hearing, the company was fined $2,500.

The permit was renewed last November.

Still, the huge March 4 production seems to be pre-emptive. The Department of Buildings has not required Campbell and Cantor to study whether they are causing too much seismic activity. When engineers showed up on the block, they bored small holes into the basement walls of ALP Signs, a store at 136 West 83rd Street, as well as 140 West 83rd Street, where Practice Yoga and Rebecca Rasmussen, the architect, are located. Rods were inserted into the holes, and the rods were attached to wires connected to a seismograph. The rods will monitor the vibrations in the buildings as the work continues.

“Lucky for me, my students have found an oasis here,” said Ms. Walker of the chaos her business has been in. “And I am thankful that I have a very loyal group of students that sticks with me.” How much longer will the work take? “They’re still telling us June,” said another neighbor, “but then one of the guys at the site said it’d be later than that.”

Mr. Seinfeld’s neighbors at the Beresford would not be surprised. Work began on his Beresford apartment in 1999 when he was a bachelor, and finished two years later after the birth of his child. Brokers and an architect familiar with the building said the episode led the Beresford to draft a more stringent policy on renovating apartments.

But, Mr. Seinfeld’s neighbors on West 83rd Street are feeling like they’re fighting one of George Costanza’s battles. “The word ‘powerless’ comes to mind,” said Glenn Scarpelli, a doctor who has lived on the third floor at 140 West 83rd with his wife and children for 12 years, as the potentially super-seismic drilling began in earnest on March 5.

“They were jack-hammering into our brick wall for the good part of the last year,” he said. “And now our entire apartment is shaking!”