Arthur and William Lie Zeckendorf know better. Under slate-gray construction hard hats printed with Fifteen’s logo, the brothers are soaring over the verdant green carpet of Central Park in a construction elevator, taking me on a tour of Fifteen, which occupies the entire block bounded by Central Park West, 61st and 62nd streets, and Broadway.
All 201 apartments in the new building—or to be precise, two connected buildings, the 20-story “house” on the park and the 43-story tower rising behind it—have been sold, and they’d closed their sales office the day before.
No wonder their mood is even higher than the spectacular swooping arch that crowns the tower’s north-facing roof, giving Mr. Loeb what is surely the most lust-inducing private entertaining space in a city full of same. The asymmetrical roofline (which includes a loggia that hides the cooling tower), is a new yet fitting addition to Central Park West’s signature skyline. “It’s just architecture,” says Arthur Zeckendorf—though, as his brother adds, “That’s the first thing most developers cut.” Not the Zeckendorfs.
The brothers are as bright as this June day, bright both in smarts and in mood. Closings are about to commence and when they end and the building opens for business this fall, they will walk away with something in the neighborhood of $1.9 billion, about 26 percent of that profit. Though still in the construction equivalent of previews, Fifteen is a hit. And that’s before a single member of the cast (of apartment owners) has stepped onstage. A stellar cast it is, too.
Though Mr. Loeb, the headliner, may not yet have a marquee name, several of those reportedly set to be his neighbors do—among them Sting, Denzel Washington, Norman Lear, Nascar’s Jeff Gordon and his new wife, Belgian model Ingrid Vandebosch, and Bob Costas. The several Goldman Sachs partners who’ve bought in, including CEO Lloyd Blankfein, don’t need big names; they’ve got big bank accounts. Ditto Dan Och of Och-Ziff and Sanford Weill, whose purchases haven’t previously been revealed.
FIFTEEN'S BACK STORY IS fairly drama-free. The full-block lot was assembled a parcel at a time, and likely for a song, in the 1970’s by members of the Goulandris shipping clan. They annoyed preservationists in 1982 when they stripped the Mayflower Hotel, built in 1925, of its terra-cotta decoration. By 1987, they’d demolished everything on the site except the Mayflower, but then sat on the half-empty lot for years, hiding behind the shingle of a generically named real-estate firm, presumably waiting for values to rise.
The Zeckendorfs (and just about every other developer in town) had eyed the rare full-block park-side parcel for more than a decade. During that time, the former Gulf and Western tower was transformed into Trump International, which opened in 1997; the Time Warner Center rose to replace the shabby old New York Coliseum in 2004; and the city embarked on a total rehabilitation of Columbus Circle (which was completed in 2005—a subway redo is ongoing). Backed by Goldman Sachs and other investors, the Zeckendorfs paid a reported $401 million—twice the going rate—for the block in spring 2004, and speculation soon followed that they planned to build an apartment house reminiscent of Central Park West’s visually defining structures: the Century, one block north, the San Remo, the Majestic and the Beresford.
Demolition began that fall and continued until June 2005. Meanwhile, Robert A. M. Stern was hired to do something remarkable: design a building that harked back to the golden age not just of those great-named buildings, but also of East Side equivalents like 834 Fifth and 740 Park, both of which Mr. Stern has cited as inspirations. (Coincidentally, the Zeckendorfs’ grandfather, William, a legendary developer himself, briefly owned 740 Park in the 1950’s.) Those buildings house apartments that are generally considered the best, and not coincidentally, the most expensive in town. So the Fifteen team was setting the bar high, even in what was then considered an insane real-estate bubble.
As the building rose and was clad in its coat of 2,832 panels of limestone from the same Empire Quarry in Indiana that produced the skin of the Empire State Building (as well as those of the Pentagon and National Cathedral), and something like 80,000 other stone elements—50,000 of those uniquely cut—real-estate savants were busy tabulating other numbers, and it became clear what kind of gutsy bet was being laid.