Mike Tyson has fallen hard for a canary-and-cream beauty, a four-story townhouse on East 64th Street. And there are only two men standing between him and ownership: First he’s got to beat Lennox Lewis. Then Peter Cervinka.
Iron Mike has bid on the house. To afford it, all Mr. Tyson has to do is take down Mr. Lewis-his former chew toy, the pride of the British empire, the reserved, 35-year-old, 247-pound heavyweight champion-in Memphis on June 8. If he wins, he’ll be able to buy the $10.75 million Upper East Side townhouse that he bid on several weeks ago, complete with pseudo-Rococo stylings and an eight-person Jacuzzi surrounded by a tile mosaic reminiscent of Pompeian baths.
If he doesn’t-well, a source close to the deal told The Observer that the sellers of the house believe he’s got to win in order to be equal to the townhouse’s purchase price.
Then he’s got to get past Mr. Cervinka-who has, with workmen and decorators, been ebulliently bestowing Viennese elegance on the house for years-and convince him that he’s a worthy owner. Mr. Cervinka isn’t immovable.
“He was very nice; I was very surprised,” said Mr. Cervinka, an Austrian developer who owns the building, of Mr. Tyson’s visit. “He and his girlfriend appreciated the house …. He stayed here for over an hour and he liked it a lot-that was my impression.”
The loser of the Tyson-Lewis fight is guaranteed at least $17.5 million-not chump change, but not enough to get Mr. Tyson the house. Sports Illustrated recently reported that a smaller payday probably wouldn’t pay down Mr. Tyson’s debt. To buy it, he’s got to win. Now that he’s bid on the place on East 64th Street, he needs to earn the $30 million he’d get for a triumph in what The Sporting News says may be his last big payday-an event that has already generated $23 million on site in Memphis and is commanding $54.95 on pay-per-view television.
Mr. Tyson’s public difficulties have been well-documented: ear-bitings, crotch-grabbings at press conferences, many vivid quotes, wife-hurlings, imprisonment. His recent assertion that he would smear Mr. Lewis’ “pompous brains all over the ring” and some other obscenities cost him the services of his P.R. firm. When questions were presented about the possible purchase of the new house, the spokesman for the ex-champ was no longer Dan Klores Communications, who dropped him, but an independent publicist who did not return calls for comment.
But Mr. Tyson is-even by the account he has offered to the court, in documents submitted in connection with his lawsuit against his onetime promoter, Don King-deeply in debt. He owes Showtime Networks-the co-producer, with HBO, of the June 8 fight-somewhere between $10 million and $12 million. He is being sued for divorce by his second wife, Dr. Monica Turner. Besides his other difficulties, his suit against Mr. King is also expected to be costly: The fighter claims that Mr. King bilked him out of tens of millions of dollars before and after his stint in prison on a rape charge.
So watching the bout closely alongside the 20,000 spectators at Memphis’ Pyramid Arena-and hundreds of thousands of viewers dialing up for pay-per-view at homes, bars and private clubs-may be Upper East Side doyenne Jayne Wrightsman, confidante of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who, although a well-known fixture on the co-op board of 820 Fifth Avenue, is the owner of 182 East 64th, and would become, immediately, the Girl Next-Door to Mike.
Also on the block: Spike Lee and Kenneth Laub, the former president of the 64th Street Association, who seemed to lay out a welcome mat to the house’s new owner-whoever it may be.
The neighbors, said Mr. Laub, “are of fine quality, and are conscientious about maintaining the street, and take great pride in the trees lining the street.
“Anybody who lives on the street,” he added, “will be very happy for being there.”
Still, some of the Upper East Side’s most old-school brokers have turned up their noses at the cheery, canary-yellow row house with white accents on this shady block of 64th Street, which is home to chef Jean Georges Vongerichten’s JoJo. Around the corner is Hale and Hearty soups; across Lexington Avenue, the slowly sinking 136 East 64th Street. Nearby neighbors include Martin Scorsese and the Palestinian embassy.
All in all, a good neighborhood, to which the champ might bring something else: Mr. Tyson, who owns estates in Connecticut, Ohio and Las Vegas, pays high premiums to animal-husbandry employees who help him tend to his flock of carrier pigeons, his lion and his two tigers.
As for the house itself, some find it a little jolly for the neighborhood.
“It is not in the New York spirit,” said one broker who’s seen it, noting the townhouse’s Rococo-style moldings, the gold wall sconces illuminating its six bedrooms-and that Jacuzzi. “Of course, if somebody wants to have a little Versailles in New York, you might go for that,” the broker added.
Mr. Cervinka, a 53-year-old with blond hair, paid $1 million for the place in 1993 and has spent over $8 million renovating it. He has an infectious love for the yellow-taffy-painted house he’s been working on for years, and was kind enough to allow The Observer to get a look at the place Mr. Tyson wants.
“Look at this here,” Mr. Cervinka said, pointing to the gold-leaf detailing on a wrought-iron stair railing. “You wouldn’t do this on spec.” Mr. Cervinka bought the place as a home for himself and his three children. When work took him back to Europe, he had to put it on the market.
From the two powder rooms, done in onyx, to its basement spa mosaic-the artist who spent three months down there also does work for the Vatican-the house was a labor of love. The wrought-iron gates and staircase railings took an Austrian artist two years to forge by hand; a towering, nine-foot armoire of European walnut crests the second-floor landing; there’s an olive-walnut library and a salon with frescoed ceiling in delicate pink and green pastels on the second floor, and a book-match rose-marble bath on the third.
“I’m very proud of this,” Mr. Cervinka said, standing in an oval-shaped dressing room flanked on all sides by mirrors.
Not everyone was as impressed-“Only [Tyson] would want to buy this townhouse,” said a broker who wished to remain anonymous-but apparently it struck the boxer as just right. And Jed Garfield, of Leslie J. Garfield & Associates, said the place was “beautifully done,” although he called it a bit “over the top.”
Before 1993, and for 35 years, 180 East 64th Street was owned by a doctor who had a practice on the townhouse’s ground floor and lived in the triplex above. Leslie J. Garfield & Associates brokered the house’s sale in 1993 to Mr. Cervinka, who might be experiencing some early seller’s remorse. Mr. Cervinka suggested that even though he’s lowered the asking price around $2 million in recent months, he could get cold feet when it came time to sell it. “I’m very attached to it,” he said, looking lovingly about.
-with additional reporting by Brandt Gassman
Judge Kicks Bowie Bond Banker Out Of West 67th Street Co-op
David Pullman, the man who invented the Bowie Bond, may have to do his dancing in the street now that a judge has ruled that his co-op board was within its rights to kick him out of his Upper West Side apartment.
But the court’s split decision means Mr. Pullman will automatically get to make his case to the State Court of Appeals, where he said he will knock down the co-op board’s charges against him.
“It’s absurd!” Mr. Pullman told The Observer when asked about Friday’s ruling. “[If they win] it would mean that anyone who litigates, [the co-op board] would try to terminate their lease. Like, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great to get rid of all these “objectionable” people?’ If you’re going to keep your principles, you can’t allow this kind of thing to go on.”
The ruling, on an appeal by the co-op board of 40 West 67th Street, completes the latest round of a years-long dispute between Mr. Pullman and his neighbors that started with complaints that an elderly couple had their TV on too loud and peaked with charges of anti-Semitism and assaults in the building’s elevator.
A State Court of Appeals on Friday ruled, by a margin of 3-2, that Mr. Pullman’s tenancy, and the motives for his behavior towards his neighbors, were “objectionable” and that the board was within its rights to kick him out.
The problems with Mr. Pullman, who just this month saw his story turned into a novel by international best-selling author Linda Davies with the book Something Wild , began soon after he moved into his apartment on 40 West 67th Street in October 1998-a year after he made financial history by raising $55 million through the issuance of previously unheard-of bonds backed by David Bowie’s future royalties. According to documents filed by representatives of the co-op board with the court, Mr. Pullman made repeated noise complaints against the elderly couple who lived in the apartment above him, accusing them, among other things, of turning the volume up on their TV and stereo, and of making loud banging sounds stemming from a commercial book-binding business which he claimed they were operating from their apartment. A subsequent investigation by the co-op found no evidence to support such a claim, and previous occupants of Mr. Pullman’s apartment said that they’d never heard any such noises.
“The whole thing is like a satire, like a skit,” Mr. Pullman told The Observer . In documents Mr. Pullman has filed with the court, he claims the co-op board ignored his complaints because the board’s president, Brian Pusch, is friendly with his chief antagonist among his neighbors, Norman Indictor. “You live in a building, you complain about the noise? The guy upstairs, he buries it because he’s the guy’s best friend. He swept it under the carpet.”
Mr. Pullman continued to make repeated complaints to the building manager, “in rapid sequence and accompanied by threats,” according to the documents.
Papers filed by the co-op board go on to say that Mr. Pullman distributed leaflets to other tenants in the building that made slanderous accusations against the couple above him. The “slanderous” leaflets, Mr. Pullman told The Observer , simply accused Mr. Pusch of siding with Mr. Indictor against him, and ignoring Mr. Pullman’s complaints-and accused his neighbor of assaulting him in the elevator. The leaflets were titled, “Push Pusch Out, Evict Indictor.”
Criminal charges were filed against Mr. Indictor, a retired college professor, but were later adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.
Mr. Pullman was riding high on his Bowie Bonds and issued similar bonds for James Brown, the Isley Brothers and the estate of Marvin Gaye, among others. And though his critics claim that the supposed multibillion-dollar market for Bowie Bonds has never materialized, Mr. Pullman has continued to ride high on his creation-even as the tensions with his neighbors mounted.
In 2000, Mr. Pullman filed four lawsuits against various people in the co-op, including suits against the building’s managing agent and Mr. Pusch, for failing to abate the noise above his apartment.
Around the same time, the shareholders in the co-op had decided that they’d had enough. The lawsuits and threats notwithstanding, court documents claim that Mr. Pullman had made illegal renovations to his apartment and had failed to carpet it, which meant that he was now the one disturbing his downstairs neighbors.
Mr. Pullman rejected those claims, saying that he did indeed have carpeting in his apartment, and that the only “renovations” he had made were to paint the walls and to add a new light switch to an existing outlet.
“It wasn’t even against the rules to do those things,” Mr. Pullman said.
The board notified him that a meeting would be held to decide upon his eviction. A clause in every lease in the building-which Mr. Pullman signed-allows for such an eviction if two-thirds of the shareholders agree. He was not in attendance when the shareholders voted him out by 2,048 shares to 0, with 542 not in attendance or voting.
“I wasn’t going to show up to something that was obviously one-sided,” Mr. Pullman explained. “It was a joke at that point.”
Mr. Pullman, who is Jewish, also claimed in court documents that there was an unmistakable strain of anti-Semitism on the co-op board. They “discriminate religiously, as demonstrated in the way they decorate the building during the year-end holidays,” Mr. Pullman alleged in documents filed in court. “They refuse to put up Jewish decorations, including menorahs to represent the holiday of Chanukah, and only display Christmas decorations.”
Mr. Pullman’s brief also alleged that a picture of Adolph Hitler on the wall of a first-floor apartment whose door is often ajar is visible from the building’s public area. Mr. Pullman wrote that the owner of the apartment “wears a “self-imposed dress code … of a fascist”-and is a best friend of Mr. Indictor.
“Hogwash!” said Mr. Van Der Tuin. “If you saw the picture you would know it’s not anti-Semitic, and there has not been religious decorations in the building of any sort.”
When the co-op sued to have him removed from the building-you need a sheriff’s warrant to actually evict someone-Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Shafer ruled that the board had exceeded its authority in evicting Mr. Pullman, saying that something as drastic as an eviction must be subject to judicial review rather than the mandate of a co-op board.
Friday’s appeal, brought on behalf of the co-op board by Manhattan attorney John Van Der Tuin, in effect reversed that ruling, finding that according to what’s known as the “business judgment rule,” a co-op board is well within its rights to force someone out of his apartment.
The majority in Friday’s decision wrote, “were we to look behind [Mr. Pullman's] actions, we would find that the record amply supports the determination that Pullman’s tenancy is ‘objectionable’ …. These actions have had a negative effect on all of the 37 other leaseholders, including making them responsible for the payment of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.”
Robert Braverman, who represented the co-op board and its then board president in two lawsuits that Mr. Pullman filed against them in 2000, was gratified by the recent ruling.
“The court looked at the record and found that there was no question Mr. Pullman’s conduct rose to the level of justifying the shareholders’ decision to have him ousted from this building,” Mr. Braverman said. “It’s well established that absent a showing of bad faith or discriminatory conduct, the actions of a co-op board of directors will not be subject to judicial review.”
Before Friday’s ruling, the statute that allowed co-op boards to mandate decisions affecting a single shareholder had only applied to actions of lesser import, such as routine business decisions. Mr. Van der Tuin said that Friday’s ruling was something of a landmark, because it now expanded the scope of that statute to encompass full-out evictions.
“This is a significant case for co-op board/shareholder relations because it … determines whether shareholders [can decide] objectionable grounds for termination of lease.”
Lawyers for the co-op board at West 67th Street conceded that Mr. Pullman probably had grounds for an appeal, given the 3-2 split ruling. Writing for the minority, Justice David B. Saxe said that a co-op board review is “simply too narrow a prism to protect tenants against the loss of their homes. While the ordinary management decisions of a co-op board may result in some sort of negative impact upon an individual tenancy, they cannot compare to the loss of a person’s home … the proprietary lessee, like any other tenant, is entitled to judicial scrutiny of the basis of the ejectment sought against this allegedly undesirable tenant.”
Despite his recent loss, Mr. Pullman was upbeat, and spoke as though it was he who had the co-op board on the run.
“This thing will take years to get through the courts, and my apartment appreciates every year,” he said. “So what’s the downside?”
upper east side
162 East 64th Street
Five-bedroom, five-bathroom townhouse.
Asking: $4.3 million. Selling: $4 million.
Time on the market: four months.
SCHOOL TIES When the seller of this townhouse, an Internet mogul in his 40’s, met the buyer, the head of a large, family-owned contracting firm, the negotiations immediately skidded off course. The two men realized that they had known each another at college and may even have dated the same co-eds. To boot, both had grown up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood. “The closing was so relaxed,” said Tristan Harper, a vice president at Insignia Douglas Elliman, who represented the buyer. “They were talking about who they know instead of going through the paperwork.” The seller was represented by Nancy Weaver, a senior vice president at Elliman. The buyer looks forward to using the townhouse’s garden-with redwoods and a ginkgo tree-and tiled patio as a playground for his three daughters, the eldest of whom was bat mitzvahed a few weeks before the closing.
330 East 38th Street (the Corinthian)
Four-bedroom, three-bathroom condo.
Asking: $1.495 million. Selling: $1.4 million.
Charges: $1,302. Taxes: $1,090.
Time on the market: three months.
When an American couple in their early 50’s returned to New York after 25 years in Asia, they were eager to get back into the life of the city. The financial-services company they worked for put them up in a Battery Park City rental apartment-on Sept. 4. When the attack on the World Trade Center blanketed their new neighborhood in ash, their first impulse was to seek solace in an uptown apartment. But in the tight post–Sept. 11 housing market, they found little out there that merited serious consideration, and they decided to be good soldiers-for a while-and stick around in lower Manhattan. When the time came to look again and find a permanent home in New York, “they looked east, west, up, down, all over the city,” said their broker, Margo Goodale of Charles H. Greenthal. “One of the elements of why they were successful was because they were willing to be flexible with the neighborhood.” Eight months later, they settled into this 2,200-square-foot condo in Murray Hill on a high floor-with dazzling views of the river and the city skyline they had left behind decades before.
136 Waverly Place
One-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op.
Asking: $499,000. Selling: $499,000.
35 percent tax-deductible
Time on the market: four months
SOLDIERING ON, DOWNTOWN In September of last year, a 29-year-old in human resources and her fiancé began to look for an apartment more conducive to a married lifestyle-and big enough for their dog. They’d been living on Bleecker Street for two and a half years, and the wedding was set for October, when terror struck. The consultant’s fiancé, an asset manager who worked in Tower One of the World Trade Center, died in the attack on Sept. 11. And though their apartment had a full-on view of the destruction, his fiancée continued the search for an apartment downtown. “I thought about what he would have done if he survived,” she said. “I knew he would not have left the city. I know he would have felt like it was important to stay.” Determined to remain in the neighborhood, she teamed up with Mady Faber, a vice president with the Corcoran Group, and settled on this prewar Waverly Place co-op. “It’s helpful to me to be close to the life I had before,” the disaster survivor said. “Because it’s still my life, and it’s good to be close to what happened.”