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.”
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.
5b: Paul Cejas
In 1999, Mr. Cejas, once a Clinton-appointed ambassador to Belgium, hosted Hillary Rodham Clinton in his co-op during her first Senate campaign. His neighbors reportedly complained about Secret Service agents patting down guests, refusing to allow unattended packages in the lobby, and keeping residents from the elevators whilst Ms. Clinton traveled up and down.
Five years later, six 834 Fifth residents scraped together only $6,500 for the Democrats’ Presidential campaigns. On the other hand, nine folks gave $41,000 to the Republicans. Watch out, Senator Clinton!
5c: Clayton Frye, Jr.
Public records list Mr. Frye as a senior associate at the estate of Laurance Rockefeller, so his presence in the building makes sense: His late boss bought the whole building in 1946, transformed it into a co-op and chose the triplex penthouse for himself.
6b: Stephen and Nan Swid
Mr. Swid lost out to his neighbor Al Taubman in his bid for Sotheby’s. Now he’s the chairman and C.E.O. of the performing-rights organization SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors & Composers).
His apartment once belonged to the well-named Lydia Mendelssohn Buhl Morrison.
7b: Ruth Stanton
When callers ask to speak with Ms. Stanton, the accented gentleman who answers her phone says, “Very well.” She paid a little less than $400,000 for her apartment in the mid-70’s.
“All this new money,” she said. “There are apartments now that are selling in the building; people have put huge prices on them. There’s so much money around. People are so self-absorbed. They can afford it, and I don’t know—I’m not going to sell this apartment. I’ll stay here forever.”
After she met the stately Fifth Avenue real-estate broker A. Laurance Kaiser IV, who has sold over 10 apartments in the building, “he said: ‘You’re 10 windows.’ I never heard myself described that way—because I have 10 windows on Fifth Avenue.”
7 and 8a: John and Susan Gutfreund
The Gutfreunds’ Henri Samuel–designed apartment stretches 12,000 square feet. “I have a winter garden,” Ms. Gutfreund said about her favorite room. “It just gives enormous pleasure because of the amount of light and fantasy.”
As for her husband: “He has a room where he can smoke his cigar.”
Before the cigar-smoking ex-C.E.O. of Salomon Brothers (and his bombshell wife) came along in the mid-80’s, there was Revlon co-founder Charles Lachman.
“When people arrive at 834,” she said, “they are so surprised by the beauty of the view. They’re not realizing it’s because of such low windows! It’s a secret that people don’t pass around often.”
Might she one day redesign the duplex? “I really have no interest,” she said, “in reinventing the wheel.”
8b: Joe and Hilppa Roby
Even though Mr. Roby helped design the union of Credit Suisse First Boston with his firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, which BusinessWeek has called “one of the more unsuccessful mergers in Wall Street history,” he has a record-setting apartment in the building. In 1997, the couple paid $12 million for the apartment.
The 15-room apartment was, according to The Times, the first Manhattan sale to break $1 million when the place was sold in 1978 to the Bolivian miner Antenor Patino by Jean Flagler Matthews—whose grandfather was Standard Oil partner Henry Flagler, thus a friend of the Rockefeller family.
9 and 10a: Loida Lewis
The 15-room apartment is on the market with Mr. Kaiser for $39.5 million. Ms. Lewis is the widow of the late Reginald, billionaire C.E.O. of Beatrice Foods: According to reporter Steven Gaines, the African-American mogul and his Filipino-born wife were two of “the few people of color to own an apartment in a ‘Good Building’ on Fifth Avenue.”
Disgraced winged-door sports-car man John De Lorean sold the place to the Lewis couple in 1992; the equally scandalous blonde Gregg Dodge Moran (who married a different car man) had lived there earlier. It boasts a 640-square-foot living room and master bedroom, both overlooking Central Park
9b: Jeanette Solomon
The late Jeanette Solomon’s eight-room apartment went on the market in March, with Ms. Steinberg from the boutique brokerage Edward Lee Cave. But, according to the broker database ROLEX, it’s already gone to contract: The listing price was $16.5 million (plus a staggering monthly maintenance of $6,816.29), yet a source said the sales price would be millions more because of a bidding war.
That source said the buyer is Charles Schwab, who lives upstairs. If he closes on the contract, he’ll get a “perfect couple’s apartment,” according to the listing, with “spectacular Central Park and city skyline views; grand scaled rooms with all original architectural details intact; beautiful hardwood floors; oversized windows throughout.”
Calls to Mr. Schwab’s press office and Ms. Solomon’s son were not returned.
9 and 10c: John and Eugenie Radziwill
During her previous marriage, Mr. Radziwill’s wife lived downstairs. Racy!
“They’re very nice; they’re a very nice couple,” neighbor Ms. Stanton said. The nice people’s apartment used to belong to Canadian Frank McMahon, whose horse Majestic Prince won the Kentucky Derby.
Mr. Radziwill is the son of Prince Stanislas Radziwill, the onetime husband of Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ sister Lee.
10b: Carroll Petrie
This is Ms. Petrie’s second apartment in 834 Fifth; her first was the Clinton-friendly spread on the fifth floor. How does one get two apartments at 834 Fifth Avenue? It helps to have been married to the philanthropist Milton Petrie, whose 119-page will had 439 beneficiaries.
11 and 12a: Robert Wood (Woody) Johnson IV
That Mr. Johnson owns the Jets, or is one of the biggest Republican fund-raisers in the country, or is a billionaire heir to a pharmaceuticals fortune, matters much less to his neighbors than the fact that he’s the head of the co-op board.
Nevertheless, he’s spent most of his time across the park since buying a shiny 49th-floor penthouse at Trump International in 2004.
“It’s four or five people; they’re very powerful,” Ms. Stanton said about the board. “Woody Johnson has been the president for a long time—they more or less do what they want.”
11b: Christopher and Jane Johnson
Mr. Johnson is 12 years younger than his brother Woody, which makes him a baby in the building. “We don’t have really younger people,” said Ms. Stanton.
12b: Damon and Liz Mezzacappa
“There’s been very little change in the past 20 years,” said longtime owner Mr. Mezzacappa. “We’ve had some changes in the occupants of the building, but that’s perfectly normal. There are typically very few problems, and everything runs pretty smoothly. It’s very boring!”
What part is most exciting? “We’re right across from the zoo, and we can look down on the seals and that kind of thing. It’s very pleasant.”
13 and 14a: Hal Prince
Beloved Broadway producer Hal Prince, who has more Tony Awards than anyone else, is hardly the most famous person to have slept in his master bedroom.
Elizabeth Arden came
first, then Charlotte Ford (whose mother Anne lived in two separate apartments downstairs), and then purebred Cornelius (Sonny) Vanderbilt Whitney and his wife Marylou. (That couple are horse racers, too: they won the Belmont Stakes three years ago.)
13b: Mrs. Buckhantz
The mysterious, aged Mrs. Buckhantz is the cousin of monumental oilman Nubar Gulbenkian. When a reporter called for an interview, a nurse said, “She’s not able to conduct any formal business anymore.”
15a: Charles Schwab
Iconic billionaire Mr. Schwab could be excused for wanting an upgrade. A broker who has seen this tiny co-op said there was “a kitchen you couldn’t swing a cat in,” though it’s “a divine little apartment.”
13, 14, 15: Rupert and Wendi Murdoch
Poor Mr. and Mrs. Murdoch: It costs them $22,573 each month to maintain their new apartment, according to a source. Yet it’s been 24 whole months since they closed on their $44 million triplex, and they still haven’t moved in.
Apparently, the late Mr. Rockefeller’s place needed work. “In his last couple of years,” Mr. Mezzacappa said, “he was not quite as alert as he had been.”
Has Mr. Murdoch’s renovation been bothersome? “Sure, construction can be a nuisance, but it happens,” Mr. Mezzacappa said. “People spend lots of money to live in the building, and they have a perfectly natural desire to have the apartment as they want it.”
Mr. Murdoch’s 20-room, seven-bedroom apartment will be grander than the place he used to own downstairs, well before his marriage to Wendi. Incidentally, his ex-wife Anna has since married William Mann—the widower of Lydia Buhl, whose mother lived in the Swid place.
834 Fifth is a changeless co-op club! “It’s not a club, it’s a building,” Mr. Mezzacappa said. “If someone wants to buy an apartment in the building, and they’re qualified financially and so forth, there’s not a problem.”