When the 94-year-old painter Buffie Johnson, a stalwart of Abstract Expressionism, died this August, she left behind a three-story loft building at 102 Greene Street.
Her estate listed the 8,968-square-foot place with Corcoran vice president Wendy Maitland for $8.5 million, and Ms. Maitland said this week that it’s gone to contract for over $9 million.
“Where can you find a building in prime Soho that was part of the revolution? The forming of the real Mecca of artists in Soho! It’s authentic,” Ms. Maitland said. “An artist who was hanging out with Andy Warhol and Carl Jung—and, prior to that, Hemingway and Picasso! Where do you find it?”
The more sober account of Ms. Johnson’s past can be found in city records. Ms. Johnson bought the place in 1975. She lived in the second-floor loft and rented out the others. There was once a fourth and fifth floor, but about 60 years ago they were destroyed in a fire; Johnson never did much work on the exterior of the building.
“The color couldn’t obscure the beauty of the façade more,” sighed Ms. Maitland. “It’s like a dirty brown—but once it’s gleaming white, it’ll be the gem of the block.”
She said Brown Harris Stevens broker Sophie Ravet represented the buyer.
But reached at her office, Ms. Ravet was a less enthusiastic storyteller about her client.
A source with knowledge of the deal said that the building was sold to a partnership headed by Derek Harte, a Scottish investor and real-estate developer who also happens to be an art collector.
Ms. Ravet denied that Mr. Harte was the buyer, and would only characterize the buyer as a “group.”
“They are art friends, so that was definitely appealing for them,” she said. “And from a buyer’s point of view, it’s a rational decision, because it’s an investment property.”
“They’ll renovate it to make it look beautiful,” said Ms. Ravet. “But they’ll rent it out.”
On the other hand, she said her clients don’t have a Manhattan home—and could potentially keep their new purchase as a pied-à-terre.
“I don’t know if the buyer is making this into a mansion,” Ms. Maitland said. “But it would be a fabulous mansion.”
Didn’t Lachlan Murdoch try that one out already?
The Corcoran broker said that Ms. Johnson’s apartment was rustic.
“Really barebones—more of a studio with a tiny living area. A real gritty artist’s loft!”
In the 1950’s, after studying with France’s chic Francis Picabia, Ms. Johnson completed what the Anita Shapolsky Gallery calls “the world’s largest abstract mural” at the Astor Theater in midtown.
Pop-Art Pup Flips for $4.6 M.
Back in 2003, fledgling filmmaker and Pop Art progeny Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of Roy) paid $2.65 million for an 1848 Greek Revival brownstone at 120 West 12th Street. But he never moved in.
“It was a wonderful house,” said his broker, Stribling senior vice president Vals Osborne, “and a complete wreck, of course.”
It needed a new kitchen, new bathrooms and new mechanicals, for example—plus it had to be converted from a five-unit rental back to a one-family home. But after a lot of consultation with architect Alan Wanzenburg, who has done homes for Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, Mr. Lichtenstein decided to drop the project.
“After thoroughly driving the architect crazy, we realized how long it would take to really do the job that was needed,” said Mr. Lichtenstein, the 50-year-old son of the painter, who came to national attention when director Ang Lee gave him a starring role in his 1993 movie The Wedding Banquet.
So, a little less than four years after buying the five-story townhouse, he has sold it for $7.25 million to hedge-fund man Oskar Lewnowski.
Now that his real-estate project is out of the way, Mr. Lichtenstein can devote himself to making his directorial debut on the film-festival circuit. His movie, Teeth, stars Nip/Tuck’s John Hensley.
“It’s a pretty nutty movie,” said Mr. Lichtenstein.
Of course, it’s not as though Mr. Lichtenstein has been couch-surfing while making his movie.
“He lives next-door,” said Ms. Osborne, “in the most beautiful house you ever saw.”
He bought that place for $8.8 million in 1997—and then he actually did pull off a total renovation.
Mr. Lichtenstein said he doesn’t have regrets about deciding to sell the 6,000-square-foot house (which is bigger than the one he’s in now)—even though he bought a lot of stuff to fill out its large, ornate spaces, with their Corinthian capitals, Arts and Crafts tiles, Greco-Italianate ceiling rosettes and Gothic Revival buff-veined black marble fireplaces.
“There’s a chandelier that makes no sense,” he said—which means he can’t keep it.
In addition to space considerations, there is his very particular position: a lover of old detail with a filial obligation to hang originals by a master of the mid-century.
“It’s hard when I have a choice between hanging stuff of his and ‘old-school’ stuff,” Mr. Lichtenstein said of his father’s work.
Hedge-Funders Run Away With Cass Gilbert Condo
This September, hedge-fund man Vedula Murti and his wife, Seema Kalia, paid $7,127,750 for one of the seven apartments in the recently converted 1904 mansion at 3 East 75th Street.
But they couldn’t decorate their new triplex for the life of them.
“You know that sometimes people buy great houses and have no taste?” said Ms. Kalia. “Well, we have no taste, so we put it in the hands of someone who does.”
Those hands belong to Jamie Drake, who designs color-saturated spaces for people with names like Madonna and Michael Bloomberg.
Ms. Kalia especially needed help fixing up her living room, which was the mansion’s original ballroom.
“It’s such an intimidating space, I didn’t dare try it myself,” she said.
The room has 20-foot-tall ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. “I wouldn’t know where to buy drapes that big, to be honest.”
Not at Gracious Home, probably.
Mr. Drake, reached after a flight home, said that the curtains and small chairs and pillows would be in “vivid amethyst purple, saffron and olive.”
His work hasn’t begun yet, so for now the new triplex is “kind of Grey Gardens–y.”
Or maybe more Child’s Garden of Verse–y.
“My daughter turned 4 a month ago, and we were able to have a band here,” she said. “The Dirty Sock Funtime Band. They’re the Rolling Stones for the pre-school set.”
In 1904, the celebrated architect Cass Gilbert built the house for Stuart Duncan, whose dad made a fortune importing tasty Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce. The hefty fireplace in the old ballroom is from Gilbert’s day.
Mr. Duncan sold the house to Clarence Mackay, who founded a company that became the huge ITT Corporation.
On the downside, however, Mackay’s daughter ran off with Irving Berlin, against his wishes.
“She walked out of this house in the clothes she was wearing and went to marry him and lived happily ever after,” said Ms. Kalia. “Who wouldn’t want their kids to grow up with that kind of karma?” Indeed.
The couple bought the place from the developers, Dominion, who finished the mansion’s condo conversion this June. Barbara Melson at Prudential Doulgas Elliman was the listing broker.
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