Well, in The Times, Tom Wolfe famously mocked your work, and also your belly: “Chin up, tummy out, Aby Rosen …”
I like productive criticism; I try to criticize things all the time, not because I’m so important. … I want equal criticism; it’s just the way you deliver it. It had a nasty undertone that I didn’t care much for. I grew up in Germany postwar as a Jewish child; I did not need an anti-Semitic undertone.
Isn’t Wolfe’s wife Jewish?
I’ve seen a lot of anti-Semites who mingle with Jews left and right. … But let’s not get into that.
Will the new plan pass?
Hopefully, it will pass because we have gotten a lot of support from people who previously did not support it. … You know, Upper East Side, a lot of important people live there, a lot of people who have a lot of strong opinions, people are allowed to have their strong opinions. It was a very ambitious and a very grand development. … We did nothing for four months, we basically rethought and reread all the comments that were ever rendered on all the blog sites, all the articles. I read every blog; I read every article; I read every public transcript written from community board hearings to landmarks to letters of opposition. I read them all. I took it in; I recognized the unreadiness of an area that is a very sensitive area. … You have 25 cashmere stores. I mean, how many cashmere stores does this Upper East Side need?
You own the Seagram Building and the Lever House, two of Park Avenue’s most godly buildings. Would you sell either?
Who knows—I’d rather not sell, but, you know, I’m in the real estate business. I’m doing what I’m doing solely to make money, but I chose to do that with nice, great buildings that I’m proud of owning. I deep down care about making money in order to have the freedom to do what I want to do.
In April you put the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries mansion on East 71st Street on the market for $75 million, even though no New York townhouse has sold for more than $53 million, and it still needs work.
I think it’s such a phenomenal house that if you compare what has been sold, period, in this town—15 Central Park West, some of the [rumored] resales are close to $10,000 per square foot. Even if you pay the full $75, you’re buying this for 3,000 bucks a foot. [Ed note: It’s around $3,500.] If you put in $1,000 a foot, which is what it costs to renovate a house today, you’re in at $4,000 a foot.
Have you done any work on the house since you bought it for $15.65 million?
No. At the time someone just needed money really fast, and I was there, and I’m always there, there’s a lot of stuff that I buy and I buy fast. … Look, I should have never been able to buy that thing so cheap. … If you compare the New York real estate market and the high-end market, any other town in this world is more expensive. We’re actually cheap, New York, compared to Paris, London. Lakshmi Mittal’s son just bought a house from a friend of mine; he paid 135 [reportedly 117] million pounds for it, O.K.?
What’s one thing you look back on with regret?
I should have been more aggressive when I pursued the Chrysler Building. … Luckily, I didn’t have any failures, to be honest with you. I had some things that didn’t work out as well as they should, but on the other hand, some stuff that was supposed to be O.K. turned out to be gangbusters.
You said a few years back that you have no fear. Has that changed?
I worry about doing something stupid, like making a wrong step and falling down, but other than that, no. But that was taken in the wrong way. Having no fear is not a sign of arrogance; it’s just a sign of certain things.