You’re the Top!

cover murdoch1v You’re the Top!If Jefferson or Jesus were well-heeled New Yorkers and could get past the classy co-op board, they would live in 834 Fifth Avenue. “For me, it’s been heavenly and peaceful,” said Ruth Stanton, who has been in her seventh-floor apartment since 1975. (John and Susan Gutfreund are next-door.)

“Everything about it,” said Sotheby’s mega-broker Roger Erickson, who has sold in the limestone building, “is as if it were created by someone in heaven who knows exactly how we should live.”

“How we should live” is in a 77-year-old, 14-story, 24-apartment co-op designed by regal uptown architect Rosario Candela, whose units have mahogany doors and plaster moldings, plus unique and Platonically perfect floor plans. “All of the rooms are in the right places; there’s no disorientation, no wondering where the dining room is,” said broker Kathryn Steinberg, who in March listed the late Jeanette Solomon’s ninth-floor, eight-room apartment for $16.5 million. (She would not discuss that listing, on or off the record.)

In May 2005, Rupert Murdoch spent $44 million on Laurance Rockefeller’s penthouse triplex, which makes it the most expensive co-op apartment ever sold in New York City. Despite that record, the building doesn’t appreciate publicity: “Look, 834 is a conservative building,” said ex–Lazard Frères vice chairman Damon Mezzacappa, who lives in a 12th-floor apartment with his socialite wife, Liz. “And people mind their own business. And that’s the way we like it. And it’s not going to change!”

That’s why it remains the most pedigreed building on the snobbiest street in the country’s most real estate-obsessed city. Ergo: “Why would you move out of 834,” Mr. Mezzacappa asked, “unless you’ve died?”

Who are the lucky lifers at 834 Fifth? “I wouldn’t know them anymore than you do,” said art expert Jan Abrams, who lives in one of the three maisonettes. “Aside from the chauffeured limousines, you don’t see the people come and go. That’s one of the reasons people chose to live in a building like this.”

Illustration by Haisam HusseinIllustration by Haisam Hussein

Maisonette A: Dave and Reba White Williams

Ms. Williams lost badly after spending more than $1.2 million on a campaign for City Council in 1999, though she said she “didn’t really need the job.” (Likewise, her husband Dave stepped down as the C.E.O. of the multibillion-dollar Alliance Capital Management firm that year.)

Ms. Williams has better things to do, like hosting lunches in her co-op for Tina Brown, where Diane Sawyer and Jeanine Pirro come to hang. Also hanging is the Williams’ famous art collection, which includes Warhols and Lichtensteins. They curate their own shows, like Alone in a Crowd: Prints of the 1930s and 1940s by African-American Artists.

Maisonette B: Jan and Stefan Abrams

Art expert Jan Abrams has filled her apartment with Josef Hoffmann furniture and, by appointment, opens her home as a pro bono gallery space. Why do the spaces have so much fancy decoration? “They lend themselves to art collections: The space is horizontal,” Ms. Abrams said.

Most horizontal of all, this duplex has a winding marble staircase with wrought iron and brass. On the down side, Ms. Abrams is not on the co-op board: “To be perfectly honest, it’s not a forum that I have had the opportunity to participate in,” she said. “I don’t know that I’ll get there.”

Maisonette C: Harry Crosby

Mr. Crosby has a legendary father (Mr. “White Christmas,” who reportedly moved into the building after it was completed in 1931). But the younger Mr. Crosby came here separately.

“Harry seems like a very nice man; he’s on the board,” said his upstairs neighbor, Ruth Stanton. “He’ll listen! They just fixed up the lobby a little bit. It was really tired, and they, in a very classy way, reupholstered some things, added some curtains.”

The place once belonged to Hearst publishing mogul Richard Berlin and his wife Honey, parents to Warhol superstar Brigid.

3 and 4a: Alfred and Judith Taubman

Lucky Al Taubman! After returning to 834 Fifth from a seven-month stay in prison, where the portly old billionaire was sent because of his infamous Sotheby’s-Christie’s price-fixing scheme, he was welcomed home as a folk hero.

“The DeLoreans, the Taubmans, all the people who have served time …. Oh, it doesn’t matter; it doesn’t matter one iota,” said Ms. Abrams. “In the case of Mr. Taubman, I personally think it was a horrendous misappropriation of justice. I’m happy to have him here!”

According to the book High Rise Low Down: Who’s Who and What’s What in New York’s Most Coveted Apartment Houses, his apartment has “subdued, elegant neutral colors, the best Modiglianis, Renoirs and Monets.”

3 and 4b: George and Lita Livanos

This wasn’t the first duplex in 834 Fifth for the billionaire G
reek shipping family. They had a maisonette downstairs: “They actually used this, with the downstairs divided up for the nanny and the two kids,” Ms. Abrams said. “It took us two years. We brought it back to the original space; we took out the partitions. It’s as close to as Candela would have had it!”

This duplex used to belong to Mimi Adler, widow of art collector Max Adler.

3 and 4c: Walter Goldstein

Why does Mr. Goldstein like 834 Fifth? “The fabulous thing is the service,” he said. “The help are wonderful, and the building is a pleasure to live in. The location is fantastic—and I’ll go back to the service!”

He’s an 834 old-timer. “I think we’ve been here about 35 years. It was wonderful when we moved in, and it’s still the same today.”

5 and 6a: Leslie and Abigail Wexner

Rupert Murdoch may want to visit: This is the apartment he kept in 834 Fifth decades before he bought the hulking triplex. He paid $350,000.

But Mr. Wexner, chairman and C.E.O. of the Limited Brands, reportedly paid $9 million for his 16-room, six-bedroom duplex in 1997. It was $3 million below the original asking price, perhaps because it was a fixer-upper. His seller was the Italian magnate Eduarda Crociani, who one year earlier had sold off an apartment adjoining the duplex’s first floor for $4.2 million.

The place is modest compared to Mr. Wexner’s Stanford White-designed, 18,000-square-foot townhouse at 25 East 78th Street. Seven years ago, he sold that place for $31.6 million.