Life in the fishbowl isn’t the thing for Nadine Johnson, the Belgian-born über-publicist and former spouse of Page Six editor Richard Johnson.
So perhaps it comes as no surprise that when she decided to move to a new place, it wasn’t to her client Richard Meier’s famous curio cabinet of celebrities on Perry Street. It was to a quaint bricks-and-mortar Chelsea townhouse.
According to city records, Ms. Johnson bought a four-story house on a tree-lined Chelsea block for $3.2 million earlier this month.
“It was broken up as two duplexes,” said listing broker John Bowe, of Stribling and Associates. Mr. Bowe’s client had owned the 19th-century brownstone for over 25 years and utilized just one duplex. However, the entire building is now being delivered vacant so that Ms. Johnson can do as she wishes (and not have to worry about any lingering rent-stabilized tenants).
“The buyer is going to have it as a single-family unit,” said Mr. Bowe. “All they have to do [is] open up the inside wall of the closet and then you are into the public staircase.”
The 16-foot-wide townhouse originally came on the market for $3.495 million in April, but the price was reduced to $3.295 million about three months later.
The lower duplex—taking up the garden and parlor floors—includes a master bedroom, two smaller bedrooms, two baths and a living room with a wood-burning fireplace. There are two more bedrooms and baths on the upper floors.
Her specific plans for the place are unknown; in this instance, Ms. Johnson—who started her own boutique P.R. firm in 1990 and now represents wealthy and fashionable clients like hotelier Andre Balazs and art dealer Larry Gagosian—is pursuing a strategy of discretion: She didn’t return several phone calls from The Observer about her purchase.
Nor did her real-estate agent, Lisa Gilroy of Prudential Douglas Elliman.
Good work, girls!
There was a time—sometime after Edith Wharton was writing—when the very thing among the moneyed classes of Manhattan was to leave townhouses behind for grand multi-dwelling apartment buildings.
Ahead of the trend was 998 Fifth Avenue, the impressive Italian Renaissance–revival building at the corner of 81st Street and Fifth Avenue, which opened its doors in 1912.
“The building is the first grand building on Fifth Avenue,” said Laurance Kaiser IV, president of Key-Ventures Realty. “It was built by McKim, Mead and White to take people away from their townhouses.”
Initially a high-priced rental, the 12-story limestone building attracted the likes of Nobel Prize–winning diplomat Elihu Root, former Vice President and Governor of New York Levi P. Morton and financier Murry Guggenheim. The building’s developer, James T. Lee—grandfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis—later constructed tony 740 Park Avenue. Both Upper East Side landmarks included pricey rentals in the early years before turning fully co-op in the 1950’s.
Nowadays, even as the old Upper East Side townhouses sell for record prices to single-family buyers, vacancy signs are popping up at 998 Fifth. The opulent 18-room residence of the late Yolande Fielding-Scheftel recently entered the market for $21.9 million, listed with Meredyth Hull Smith of Sotheby’s International Reality, making it the third opening at 998.
For over 50 years, Fielding-Scheftel occupied the building’s third-largest apartment. She passed away last August at age 85. Jack Fielding, her deceased first husband, spearheaded the co-op conversion. Her second husband, real-estate investor Herbert Scheftel—a backer of the Beresford, San Remo and Pan Am buildings—passed away in 2000.
“She was an elegant lady who lived a grand lifestyle,” said Mr. Kaiser. The apartment certainly includes superb architectural details, but the new buyer should expect to make some modern renovations.
In the bedroom wing, there’s a large master-bedroom suite with a dressing room, his-and-hers baths and three master bedrooms. In addition, there are three fireplaces, hardwood flooring, an ample kitchen, a pantry and a breakfast room.
“It is currently one of the largest and most desirable apartments on the market,” said Ms. Smith. “There is active bidding.”
And, yes, there are Central Park views, though the landscape of metal protuberances in a field of gravel that makes up the roof of the Metropolitan Museum un-prettify the picture a bit.
As the Fielding-Scheftel apartment enters the market, a duplex a couple of floors down may have been snatched up.
On Nov. 15, an offer was accepted for the 6,000-square-foot home of Sharyn and Stephen Mann, according to a real-estate source. Most recently, the 12-room apartment carried a $15.75 million price tag. In a little over a year, the price had been dropped $2.75 million, and the listing changed hands (and brokerages).
Sharon Baum of the Corcoran Group first listed the apartment for $18.5 million. In March 2005, the price was reduced to $16.5 million before the apartment went off the market temporarily. Then Kathleen Sloane of Brown Harris Stevens took over the listing and the price decreased slightly. Ms. Sloane didn’t return calls for comment.
The Manns’ residence includes a master bedroom with an en suite marble bath, three more bedrooms and five and a half baths. There is also a curved staircase joining the two spacious floors.
Also, on the second floor, socialite Anne Slater’s 14-room apartment has remained on the market since January 2005, listed with Dolly Lenz of Prudential Douglas Elliman. Like Fielding-Scheftel, Ms. Slater proved a long-term resident of the building—reportedly for more than 40 years.
Ms. Slater’s five-bedroom, seven-and-a-half-bathroom apartment features high ceilings, marble baths and herringbone wood floors. Also, there’s a 35-foot-long gallery leading to the living room, salon and dining room.
Art of the Deal
In the 1940’s, the Jane Street Gallery served as New York’s first artists’ cooperative. Although the gallery closed its doors by the end of the decade, it functioned as an important precursor to the city’s ascendancy as the mid-century art-world capital.
So it’s fitting that Lisa de Kooning, daughter of mid-century Abstract Expressionist master Willem de Kooning, was attracted to the charming cobblestone street. Ms. de Kooning recently purchased a Jane Street condo for $2.965 million, according to deed-transfer records.
“It has great views,” boasted listing broker John Tenore, of Sotheby’s International Realty. From the apartment’s private balcony, one can easily glimpse the Empire State Building.
In April 2005, the West Village condo entered the market at $2.995 million. About five months later, a contract was signed; the deal closed in late October at a reduced price. (That’s still about $7 million less than one de Kooning work sold for this month at Christie’s.)
The 1,948-square-foot apartment has three bedrooms and three baths, as well as a living room, separate dining room and modern kitchen equipped with stainless-steel Viking appliances. Built in 1999, the 11-story building has a 24-hour doorman, concierge, garden and on-site garage.
In the luxury condo’s short existence, there has been at least one celebrity buyer—and subsequent break-up.
Artists are temperamental, though. In 1999, Sopranos star James Gandolfini and his now-estranged wife, Marcella Wudarski-Gandolfini, purchased a two-bedroom apartment for $850,500. A few years later, the couple bought an adjacent unit for just over $1 million. After their divorce in December 2002, Mr. Gandolfini unloaded the property to her for $2.5 million, according to public records.