Developer Harry Macklowe has just bought a mansion at 53 East 77th Street for $15.75 million—but whether it’s part of his plan to take over the Upper East Side with development projects, nobody’s saying.
Lately, Mr. Macklowe has kept himself busy mostly on the congested streets of the East 50’s, with two large-scale developments in the works.
At the corner of East 53rd Street and Madison Avenue, the developer is reportedly building a hotel and condominium tower (while razing five brick buildings in the process). Also, Mr. Macklowe is in contract to purchase the Swissair Drake Hotel on East 56th Street, which will be demolished to pave the way for a ritzy new condominium.
Richard Steinberg, a senior managing director at Warburg Realty, listed the gigantic townhouse for $16.5 million on behalf of Simone Development, a real-estate company that has been buying, restoring and reselling Upper East Side mansions for tens of millions of dollars. But he declined to comment on the transaction.
“These type of homes are like buying waterfront property,” said Joseph Simone, president of Simone Development. In June 2005, his company purchased the townhouse that Mr. Macklowe has just bought for $11.4 million, and he hoped to turn a profit following a complete gut renovation.
But they didn’t have to get very far before Mr. Macklowe came along. Although his development company was in the “process of rehabbing it and restoring it,” says Mr. Simone, they never completed the renovation of the East 77th Street building—which would have been configured as two triplex condos—before unloading it.
And Mr. Simone will not say what the new owners intend to do.
“We sold it to Harry Macklowe,” said Mr. Simone. “So I really can’t tell you exactly what he intends to do with it.”
Over at Macklowe Properties, lips are tightly sealed.
Billy Macklowe—Harry’s son and the company president—is currently traveling in India, and couldn’t be reached for comment. Senior vice president James Migliore didn’t return calls for comment.
However, considering that the 12,500-square-foot townhouse is zoned for both residential and commercial use, there are plenty of options. One luxury broker told The Observer that it could make a fine gallery space or high-end retail outlet.
While the building has served numerous functions throughout the past century, it was originally designed as a grand personal residence—which was the scene of a gruesome murder just after its completion.
Historical novelist Paul Ford and his wife moved into the neo-Georgian-style home, which was designed by architect Henry Rutgers Marshall, in 1901. In May 1902, Ford was shot in the home by his brother Malcolm—who immediately killed himself, according to The New York Times.
Banker and diplomat Joseph Kerrigan purchased the townhouse in 1926, and the façade was altered to a Spanish medieval style. Later, publisher Funk & Wagnalls maintained offices in the building, and it even became the Kips Bay Showhouse in 1987.
Most recently, Cello, a music company, purchased the building and opened a three-star seafood restaurant of the same name on the premises—but they shuttered it abruptly in the summer of 2002.
Around that time, Mr. Macklowe was embroiled in a very public dispute with neighbor Alexis Stewart (daughter of Martha) in bucolic East Hampton, which later ended up in the courts.
And while Mr. Macklowe has yet to file specific plans with the Department of Buildings, hopefully his intentions for the building will not sour the relationship with the other residents on this tony block, located between Park and Madison avenues.
KIESELSTEIN-CORDS WANT $23.5 M. FOR ‘ROMANTIC RUINS’
“I like romantic decay,” said the artist and designer Barry Kieselstein-Cord. “A great folly on an estate is attractive to me. My fantasy has always been to live in a big ruin—a castle that has six great rooms that were in immaculate condition, but a huge structure falling down around it.”
Although it’s quite a departure from a crumbling palace in rural England, Mr. Kieselstein-Cord’s townhouse off Lexington Avenue certainly was a wreck when he bought it eight years ago for a little over $3 million.
It could be assumed that Mr. Kieselstein-Cord—who maintains an upscale jewelry brand with a boutique at Bergdorf Goodman—certainly has vision when it comes to design.
But does that extend to real estate?
After passing through “about a hundred” townhouses in the late 1990’s, Mr. Kieselstein-Cord purchased 132 A East 65th Street and quickly embarked on an extensive, yearlong renovation.
Now, Mr. Kieselstein-Cord’s son is heading off to college, and the 34-foot-wide townhouse is just too cavernous for only him and his wife. So he’s decided to unload the mansion for $23.5 million, listed with Roger Erickson of Sotheby’s International Realty. And as for the substantial profit he hopes to reap in less than a decade: Do we really have to do the math?
“It’s a wonderful property, [but] we are a tiny family,” said Mr. Kieselstein-Cord of the residence, which includes seven bedrooms, six baths and three powder rooms.
The place also includes a mahogany-paneled dining room, a library with oak paneling and a grand, double-height living room—which the owners use for their photography. While there isn’t much of a backyard, sliding glass doors on the fifth floor lead out onto a quaint roof garden.
For Mr. Kieselstein-Cord, the interior space was the driving factor when he purchased the house in the late 1990’s. He admitted that he prefers a more “boring exterior” to the highly ornate, Beaux-Arts residences that can be found nearby.
Known as the Parge House, the mansion was originally built in the 1870’s and was altered a half-century later by architect Frederick Sterner.
Through the years, it has changed hands several times among prominent families, including relatives of former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, and has also been lent out to organizations.
“We have used this house for fund-raisers for the New-York Historical Society, Beth Israel Hospital and Bard College,” said Mr. Kieselstein-Cord. “We feel it is our way of giving back.”
Unlike the current owner, the wealthy buyer who drops over $20 million on the building may not utilize it as a single-family residence. Foundations, private schools or enterprising developers could snatch the townhouse up and renovate it extensively.
“It has massive air rights,” said Mr. Kieselstein-Cord. (Mr. Erickson estimates the air rights at approximately 17,000 square feet.)
“People have said it would make a fabulous boutique hotel,” said Mr. Kieselstein-Cord. “But Ian Schrager hasn’t knocked down my door yet.”
Regardless, it’s time to move on for Mr. Kieselstein-Cord, who has already found a new townhouse that’s “about half the size” and has “been on the market quite some time.”
And it shares the characteristics that the designer, with a skilled eye for fixer-uppers, always looks for in making a real-estate purchase: complete and utter disrepair.
“It’s been basically untouched since the 1900’s,” said Mr. Kieselstein-Cord of his future home. “The interior looks like it might have had a go-through in 1965. It’s a total disaster.”
RUSSELL SIMMONS’ PROSPECTS AREN’T GOOD
Things aren’t looking good for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who’s been trying to unload his penthouse duplex at 114 Liberty Street, on and off, for five years now.
Mr. Simmons and his wife, Kimora Lee, are already nestled in a northern New Jersey mansion, having left their lavish, 7,000-square-foot apartment behind several years ago, which since May 2005 has languished on the high-end market, dropping in price from $11 million to $7.2 million.
A couple of floors down, Mr. Simmons’ neighbors, Goldman Sachs executive Steven Kerr and his wife, successfully sold their 10-room apartment—but it went for only about $160,000 more than the banker paid for it in July 2001.
That apartment, a 5,369-square-foot spread, recently sold for $4.335 million, according to deed-transfer records.
They, too, kept dropping the price, from $5.5 million (in April 2005) to $4.975 million (in June 2005), and finally down to the most recent asking price of $4.3 million. (Mr. Kerr didn’t return calls for comment.)
If Manhattan real-estate prices have risen significantly over the past few years, what could account for the difficulty in unloading these sleek condos?
It’s difficult to ignore the residential building’s proximity to Ground Zero, only a stone’s thrown away across Liberty Street.
In the late 1990’s, the former office building was converted to eight luxurious, full-floor condos. But shortly after Mr. Kerr purchased his apartment from Steven Elghanayan, one of the building’s developers, the luxury condo sustained ample damage in the attack.
Mr. Kerr’s apartment includes four exposures, 12-foot ceilings, a library with fireplace, a formal dining room and an eat-in kitchen. There are also four bedrooms, four and a half baths, and a maid’s quarters.
On an episode of MTV Cribs, filmed prior to Sept. 11, Mr. Simmons stands on his extravagant terrace at night and looks skyward at the illuminated windows of the Twin Towers.
As the squabbling across the street continues, it’s difficult to tell when this building will again have such a prospect.