Last August, a London judge decided that the U.K.-based World Wildlife Fund had first dibs on the acronym “W.W.F.” It was bad news for the World Wrestling Federation, which responded in May by changing its name to World Wrestling Entertainment. They’re now issuing T-shirts that read “Get the ‘F’ out.”
That works for W.W.E. heir apparent and sometime wrestler Shane McMahon, who just sold his place in Connecticut and bought a $4 million Tribeca penthouse loft.
“Just like our company name changed, I just got the ‘F’ out of Greenwich,” Mr. McMahon told The Observer . “Our quality of life has increased immensely since moving …. Instead of three restaurants, you have 3,000.”
The 32-year-old Mr. McMahon is the son of Vince McMahon, the W.W.E.’s body-slamming, blood-feuding chief executive, who is primarily responsible for professional wrestling’s explosive growth during the past two decades. The entire McMahon clan-including Vince and wife Linda, and Shane and his sister Stephanie-make regular appearances in the ring, as characters in a wrestling soap opera that revolves around control of the W.W.E.
In reality, it’s one big happy family. The same’s true of Mr. McMahon’s relationship with Jesse (formerly “the Body,” now “the Mind”) Ventura, who parlayed his fame on the mat into a successful gubernatorial bid in 1998 in Minnesota.
In 1999, when Mr. Ventura made a controversial return to the ring as referee, Shane McMahon got a lot of national attention by getting thrown out of the ring by the wrestler turned governor.
“Jesse and I go way back,” Mr. McMahon told The Observer . “I used to take Jesse’s ring jackets when I was a kid, and then being in the ring with him-it’s funny how life works out.”
The way life’s working out for Mr. McMahon right now, he’s reverse-commuting from Tribeca to the W.W.E.’s headquarters in Stamford, Conn., each day, and reveling in the downtown culture.
“I love it down there,” he said. “It’s a part of the city where you don’t feel that you’re in the city. It’s more of a neighborhood-that’s why my wife and I chose to move back.”
Mr. McMahon’s wife Marissa is a native New Yorker, and he spent two years on the Upper East Side in the mid-90′s. He’d always wanted to move back, but it took him upwards of three years to settle into his new place, mostly because he and a friend, architect Chris Smith, designed his penthouse loft from scratch. Citing security concerns-you wouldn’t believe the resourcefulness of wrestling fans at locating the stars of their firmament-Mr. McMahon was mum on many of the details, but he did say that the place has 12- to 15-foot-high ceilings, a 24-hour doorman and “tremendous views and light, not obstructed in any way.”
It’s one of the largest private residences in New York-not to mention the headquarters of Bob Guccione’s Penthouse empire-but bawdy bachelors hoping to soak up a sexy atmosphere need not apply to buy the place, which was put on the market in April for $40 million to help stanch the flow of dollars out of Penthouse ‘s purse.
Those who have worked at the palatial 20,000-square-foot, 30-plus-room manse on East 67th Street don’t call it the Penthouse Mansion, careful to distinguish the place from its naughtier cousin. Though both Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame and Mr. Guccione chose to live, work and entertain from lavish homes, this is no Playboy Mansion.
“I don’t know what people think went on in that house in terms of it being Bob Guccione’s,” said Vincent Minuto, who managed the Guccione house for 17 years. “But the place was like the Vatican. It was low-key. Nothing ever happened at that house that goes on at the Playboy Mansion.”
And though Mr. Guccione made his fortune offering more lurid photo spreads than Mr. Hefner’s Playboy , and though he has admitted having been unfaithful to his wife of 32 years, Kathy Keeton-who died of cancer in 1996-on several occasions, Mr. Guccione was no playboy himself.
Mr. Minuto said that Mr. Guccione sat down to dinner with his wife and friends at 8 o’clock every night.
“Bob always cooked pasta,” said Mr. Minuto. “His favorite was linguine with fresh clam sauce.”
Not that Mr. Guccione didn’t know how to throw a party. A motley crew of boldface names-Michael Douglas, Isaac Asimov, Mike Tyson and Ruth Westheimer among them-were regulars at Mr. Guccione’s frequent parties, but people who had been there described the parties as tranquil, traditional affairs, at least compared to the fêtes at the Playboy Mansion.
“It was a very normal atmosphere,” said Leslie Jay, who was Penthouse ‘s director of public relations between 1984 and 1990. “You couldn’t do drugs, and if there was any out-and-out sexual activity, that would be frowned upon. You would not go there and expect to act in a salacious, debaucherous manner.”
“There were not girls running around [naked]-it never got to that point,” said Mr. Minuto.
To celebrate the Jewish holiday of Succoth with the publisher of the Israeli edition of Penthouse , Mr. Guccione brought in a rabbi to bless a feast. To celebrate his daughter Nina’s wedding, Mr. Guccione erected a clear Lucite platform above the basement’s Roman-bath-style pool and set a table of guests atop it.
“It wasn’t debaucherous at all,” said Sy Presten, a longtime publicity consultant for Penthouse and the last of the old-school publicists. “People didn’t stay overnight at the parties.”
Beset by steadily declining sales at his flagship magazine, the 70-year-old Mr. Guccione put his sprawling, double-wide townhouse at 14-16 East 67th Street on the market in April for a whopping $40 million.
A 35-foot-long indoor pool now lies at the bottom of the house’s seven stories. Mr. Guccione and his wife hired a staff of about 20-including four armed security guards, maids and three dog-walkers for their Rhodesian ridgebacks-to manage the place, from the large marble entry foyer with a grand marble staircase to the Georgian-pine-paneled library, ballroom, three master suites and five additional bedrooms, to the large garden out back.
They also kept watch over Mr. Guccione’s extensive art collection. Ranked as one of the world’s top 200 collections by Artnews magazine in 1993, Mr. Guccione has had to sell many of the pieces, which once included originals by Renoir, Degas, Botticelli, van Gogh, El Greco and Picasso.
“It was like going to a museum,” said Ms. Jay.
The house at 14-16 East 67th Street, between Fifth and Madison avenues, began its life as two townhouses, which were fused in 1920 by Jeremiah Millbank, a director of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Mr. Guccione-who had been living at Judy Garland’s old place on 63rd Street-bought the place from Mr. Millbank’s estate in 1975 for $650,000 and spent until 1981 renovating it.
upper east side
530 East 76th Street (the Promenade)
Two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom condo.
Asking: $995,000. Selling: $920,000.
Charges: $1,285. Taxes: $791.
Time on the market: two months.
THE BACHELORETTE SHUFFLE These two sisters have an arrangement worthy of the next Gotham sitcom, living together in a condo in this East 76th Street building. They loved it there, but the roomies-a banker and a radiologist in their late 20′s-were looking for a little more room to stretch their legs. When this apartment upstairs came on the market-the seller was a computer consultant in her 30′s who had found love with a cop in the suburbs and was ready to ditch sex in the city-the sisters went to see her broker, Eric Ozada, a senior vice president at William B. May, who was leaving the next day for a dog-sledding trip in Norway. The sisters liked the place-and had to negotiate the deal with Mr. Ozada when he could get a break from tending his Alaskan and Siberian sled dogs. “You can’t leave the dogs alone for too long or they’ll eat each other alive,” said Mr. Ozada. “I was on the phone with them every night. In the camps, on top of the mountain …. [But if] the dogs have come to a halt, and you’re talking for 10 seconds, they can’t stand it any more and they go crazy. That was the toughest part of the deal.”
910 Fifth Avenue
Two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom co-op.
Asking: $1.6 million. Selling: $1.585 million.
Maintenance: $2,074; 50 percent tax-deductible.
Time on the market: nine months.
BEST IN SHOW Normally, getting past the board at 910 Fifth Avenue is about as difficult as you might imagine it to be at this prewar co-op near 72nd Street. But when these buyers-two retired surgeons from Florida-stumbled on this apartment, it was a coup: The seller of the apartment had negotiated a clause in her lease that exempted future buyers of the apartment from going through the board-approval process. One hitch: They brought a dog-and the dog was not included in the exemption. The pooch’s credentials were, of course, carefully checked. “We had to send all the proofs of what school the dog went to,” said Insignia Douglas Elliman’s Tristan Harper, who brokered the deal. “Can you imagine that?” It was unimaginable to the seller, a Swiss art dealer who had been using the place as a pied-à-terre for the last 20 years. “She didn’t understand how New York co-op boards had changed,” said Mr. Harper. Luckily for the buyers, their dog, with his academic and do-gooding credentials, easily passed muster. A search-and-rescue specialist-the kind used by people with disabilities-this dog cut through velvet ropes all over Florida, thanks to a federal law, and has graduated from the finest canine-training institutes; now the pooch has passed its final test, and will soon be hurtling over the threshold of 910 Fifth after walks in the park with the Upper East Side’s top dogs. “It was surreal to me,” Mr. Harper said, “But [the board] was just doing what they had to do.”
77 East 12th Street
Three-bedroom, two-bathroom co-op.
Asking: $775,000. Selling $750,000.
Maintenance: $1,322; 36 percent tax-deductible.
Time on the market: nine months.
DIAMANT IN THE ROUGH When this postwar co-op first went on the market in May 2001, it suffered from what Corcoran vice president Margaret Heffernan called “optical perception problems.” “This poor apartment,” she sighed, “it was so jammed full of stuff that it looked smaller than it was.” Not only that, but questionable interior-design choices had left the standard eight-foot-high ceilings in this 1,400-square-foot apartment looking more like they were six feet high. “There was this unfortunate remote-control blind that lopped a foot off the window, and the light fixtures hanging down from the ceiling brought one’s eyes down …. Anyone who made an offer measured the ceiling height first.” The sellers-a French couple with two kids-didn’t get to see all that. They headed off to Malta right after putting it on the market. After they left, Ms. Heffernan did what she could to spruce the place up a bit, starting with knocking down a wall that had created a “strange-looking” bisection of the living room. Despite her last-minute surgery, the people who ended up buying the apartment-a couple in their mid-60′s (he’s a surgeon, she’s a retired lawyer)-took a pass on the place the first time they saw it. “It didn’t wow them in the way it showed,” said their broker, Penelope Giaouris of Benjamin James realty. “They couldn’t see it being their perfect apartment.” What changed their minds? About a quarter of a million dollars. “Once they increased their budget to one million, we went back to the $750,000 place that needed about $250,000 of work,” said Ms. Giaouris. Now they’re gut-renovating the former three-bedroom into a two-bedroom with an extra pull-out couch, because they just had their first grandchild.
UPPER EAST SIDE
Maidman’s Double Wide to Duel Perelman’s on 63rd Street
It’s enough to give Ron Perelman a complex. The way things stand today, Mr. Perelman’s grand, double-wide townhouse dominates the block of East 63rd Street between Park and Madison. But right across the street, Mitchell Maidman’s quirky development company has plans to usurp Mr. Perelman’s supremacy and set a new standard for über -luxury residences.
The Maidmans’ Townhouse Management Company has stripped and fused two former townhouses to create a single, nine-level, 20,000-square-foot mansion at 35 East 63rd Street. When the 20-person renovation crew finishes its work at the close of 2002, the house will carry a price tag of $23 million. And that just gets you the white walls; whoever buys the place will have to do their own custom interior-design job.
“Someone will be able to play out their fantasy home here,” said Mr. Maidman, Townhouse’s chief executive. “We can build a 20-by-40 swimming pool in the basement without any problem-and that’s not even the area with the double-high ceilings.”
Brokers were split on the wisdom of marketing a “white wall” house in today’s market. Jed Garfield, of townhouse specialists Leslie J. Garfield & Co., said that most of his clients don’t want to put in the work associated with a custom design job.
“It’s one more thing in people’s otherwise busy lives,” he said.
But Robert Haberman, a townhouse expert at Insignia Douglas Elliman, said there’s a tremendous market.
“I have a lot of clients that are asking for houses that need a gut renovation or are already gut-renovated,” he said.
The renovation at East 63rd Street marks Mr. Maidman’s first foray into luxury-townhouse development, but his family business owns over 20 residential buildings in the city. Townhouse Management just resolved a very public, decades-long spat with the Durst Organization in December, when it sold a building on West 42nd Street that allowed the Dursts to move forward with their plans to develop the entire block. This meant scrapping plans for an Isaac Mizrahi–designed corporate condominium in the building, which the Dursts charged was falling apart and beyond repair.
Three months later, the Maidmans parlayed their profits from that sale into a ground-breaking for a 30-story apartment building on 554-556 Third Avenue, at 37th Street, which will serve as corporate housing for Execu-Stay, a division of Marriott International Inc.
At the Maidmans’ 63rd Street townhouse, plans call for seven bedrooms and 2,000 square feet of party space on the sixth floor. Sun-worshippers can choose between a 2,000-square-foot atrium out back or a 1,400-square-foot terrace on the roof.
“Everyone from institutions to individual buyers has been looking at it,” said Mr. Maidman.
Until three years ago, both townhouses were multi-unit residential buildings, according to George Van der Ploeg, senior vice president of Insignia Douglas Elliman. The renovation process proceeded piecemeal as each tenant vacated the property.
And once again, Mr. Maidman has had to contend with the hazards of a weathered building. According to city records, he has racked up over a half dozen complaints with the Department of Buildings about the East 63rd Street location from neighbors worrying about “walls collapsing and buckling” and a lack of proper permits. All of the complaints were resolved.
Denise Lefrak Calicchio of Sotheby’s International Realty has the exclusive listing.
Follow Blair Golson via RSS.