In the 1990’s, Irish businessman Tony White made a fortune by figuring out what other people wanted to buy. Abacus Direct, the vast consumer-data company he founded, was purchased for $1.7 billion by an Internet company shortly before the decade ended. That left Mr. White with enough money to buy pretty much whatever he wanted.
Fortunately, he already had a lot of that: for several years after cashing out, he and his wife stayed on at the Georgian-style townhouse at 118 East 70th Street.
But in November of 2005, they put the swank house on the market for $25.9 million.
Last month, The Observer reported that Woody Allen signed a contract for the townhouse. And Mr. White is staying close to home: He recently signed a contract for the former home of the late philanthropist Paul Mellon at 125 East 70th Street—right across the street—according to a source with knowledge of the deal.
The 40-foot-wide mansion was most recently listed for $24.5 million with brokers Kirk Henckels and Jo Hardin, of Stribling & Associates. (However, the building’s status changed to “temporarily off the market” a few weeks ago, and the listing vanished from the company’s Web site.)
Now, if these two big deals continue as planned, it will add greatly to the recent shake-up of this fabled townhouse block between Park and Lexington avenues, widely praised as the finest in Manhattan.
Last September, Coach president Reed Krakoff paid $17 million for No. 113, a 30-foot-wide townhouse that he’s currently renovating.
And that’s not all: Townhouses at No. 110 and No. 126 are currently on the market, asking $17 million and $14.5 million, respectively.
A native of Dundalk, Ireland, Mr. White began working in advertising and marketing with an American firm in the late 1970’s. After various jobs, he arranged financial backing to launch his own company, Abacus Direct, which would later yield him a substantial profit.
Although the bulk of the company was located in Colorado, Mr. White—then the chairman and chief executive—maintained an office in Rockefeller Plaza. So it’s not surprising that he needed a place to live in the city (not to mention a residence where Mrs. White could sell her antiques). The couple purchased No. 118, the house they’ve sold to Mr. Allen, for just $6.05 million, in July 1998.
Built by Trowbridge & Livingston in 1901, the limestone-clad, single-family residence has 16 rooms, including a formal dining room, library, media room and staff quarters. Some of the notable features are the plaster moldings, herringbone floors and 10 fireplaces. Also, there’s an exquisite garden that includes shrubbery, sculpted lions and a fountain with permanent plumbing lines.
Since Mr. White didn’t return calls seeking comment, it cannot be known for sure what the couple’s motivation was to pack up the antiques and head across the street. But there are some notable differences in the two luxurious townhouses.
Size is the most obvious.
The Mellon house anchors the north side of the tony block and offers twice the frontage of the Whites’ current dwelling (and about 3,000 more square feet inside). The massive width of the townhouse is the result of Mellon replacing two 1860 row houses in 1965.
Though it first came on the market for $26.5 million last August, the price was reduced by $2 million four months later, which could have made it more enticing.
However, its mile-long provenance aside, some Upper East Side brokers have been a bit snippy when it comes to the building’s unusual layout and comparatively smaller rooms, especially when stacked up against a few of the other $20-plus-million homes on the market.
“My initial impression is that it’s perfect for a Brit,” said Bridget Restivo, of Alice F. Mason Realty. “The rooms weren’t that large, but it had plenty of charm.
“It has a European feel to it. For the average New Yorker that wants to make a splash—grand rooms, high ceilings—they don’t understand that setup.”
Considering his Irish roots, perhaps the “European feel” of the 1,600-square-foot garden impressed Mr. White. Although the garden in his current home is nothing to scoff at, Mellon’s second wife, Rachel (Bunny) Mellon, designed this one. A lifelong friend of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Ms. Mellon designed the White House Rose Garden in the early 1960’s.
Inside, there’s a study on the first floor and the kitchen on the second—so the living quarters don’t really begin until the third floor. In the living room, French doors lead out onto the 1,000-square-foot terrace that overlooks the garden.
On the fourth and fifth floors there are two master suites, with three additional bedrooms. There are also five staff rooms.
Although the Stribling Web site dubbed it “uniquely sophisticated and charming in its layout,” one broker expects that some modern renovations will be in order.
“The width is phenomenal, but the inside is a gut job,” said Laurance Kaiser IV, the president of Key-Ventures Realty. “You can always rip something apart [and] gut the bottom two floors.”
Regardless of a few million tossed in for renovations, Mr. Kaiser believes that the Whites are making a wise decision in relocating across East 70th Street.
“They’re getting the better end of the bargain,” he noted. “They’ll have a true paradise.”
Although Paul Mellon lived a very long life—he passed away in December 1999 at the age of 91—the art collector, equestrian enthusiast and philanthropist almost met his demise outside of the East 70th Street townhouse.
Walking home after a dinner party, Mellon was accosted by two young assailants. Just as one of them pulled out a knife, Mellon’s “not-so-alert” night security guard finally came outside and scared off the would-be attackers, as related in Mellon’s 1992 autobiography, Reflections in a Silver Spoon.
Born in Pittsburgh, he was the son of financier and soon-to-be Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon. His mother was English, and the budding Anglophile spent many summers in the countryside. Later, he attended Cambridge University, fueling his cultural interests that would lead him to amass one of the greatest British art collections in the world.
Driven by highbrow pursuits—the arts and horse racing—Mellon realized at a young age that he wasn’t cut out for banking. Instead, he devoted himself to philanthropy, giving generously throughout his life.
But he didn’t give to everyone.
When actress and distant relative Vanessa Redgrave showed up on East 70th Street looking for money to help finance a proletariat revolution, he was forced to turn her away empty-handed (although she left him with a copy of The Daily Worker in the hopes of changing his mind).
But in the disciplines that he was passionate about, Mellon’s charitable spirit could hardly be surpassed. He donated more than $1 billion to numerous institutions—including Yale University, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (which his father founded).
And New York was just one of the places where Mellon resided, especially since he could never give up on more provincial living. Currently, Ms. Mellon resides in Upperville, Va., on the family’s bucolic estate, which stretches for thousands of acres.
$40 Million—in Jersey?
For buyers eager to drop tens of millions of dollars, the Upper East Side has more than a dozen properties currently on the market. But what if your tastes stray from the dignified Beaux-Arts mansion or the sundry turn-of-the-century townhouses scattered throughout the Gold Coast?
Well, in recent years, many celebrities and high-powered executives, eschewing Greenwich, Conn., have headed to northern New Jersey, where palatial residences supply amenities that you can’t get in Manhattan.
Just a handful of boldface names trekking across the Hudson in recent years include actor/comedian Chris Rock, musician Stevie Wonder, Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield and actor/comedian Eddie Murphy—who is now selling his 25,000-square-foot Englewood home for $27 million.
But celebrities aren’t the only ones wheeling and dealing in the Garden State.
In spring 2005, executive Donald Drapkin and his wife, Bernice, put their 60,000-square-foot home on the market for $40 million—and it’s just gone to contract!
Located on seven acres of land in Alpine—which is a short trip to the George Washington Bridge—their gated home is one of the most expensive properties on the national luxury market, listed with Dennis McCormack of Sotheby’s International Realty. (Mr. McCormack didn’t return calls for comment).
Built in the 1990’s, the incredibly spacious house includes 13 bedrooms, 17 baths and seven half-baths. There’s also a movie theater, bowling alley, 15-car garage and power plant on the premises. Try finding that on East 67th Street.
A former Skadden Arps partner, Mr. Drapkin is a now a director at Revlon Inc. and a close advisor to Ronald Perelman.
But even if Mr. Drapkin’s home is sold at the asking price, it could still be upstaged by a deal last month (at least in terms of price).
Henry Clay Frick II—whose grandfather founded the Frick Collection—sold his sprawling 63-acre Alpine estate (with just a five-bedroom home sitting on it) to real-estate maven Richard Kurtz for $58 million.
It can be said that the Mr. Kurtz, a savvy investor, ended up getting a good deal, when all is said and done. The original asking price for the scenic property: $85 million.
Pinault Buyer is Revealed: Menachem Sternberg
Last May, French billionaire and Christie’s owner François Pinault put his nearly 5,000-square-foot apartment on the market for $25 million. Unlike some sellers, Mr. Pinault never reduced the price for the luxurious residence; nevertheless, it has recently closed for a few million under asking.
In December, The Observer reported that the duplex apartment—purchased in 2000 through a corporate entity, the Kerusa Company—was changing hands after the ink dried on the contract. Now, the buyers have emerged: Financier Menachem Sternberg and his wife, Liora, are dropping $22 million, according to deed-transfer records.
Located on the 40th and 41st floors, the duplex apartment includes an 18-foot-tall gallery, dining room, library, eat-in kitchen, and a master bedroom with private study and bathroom.
Some powerful residents of the luxury building have included New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, record producer Antonio (L.A.) Reid and ousted Vivendi Universal chairman Jean-Marie Messier.
Mary Rutherford, of Brown Harris Stevens, had the listing.