According to the immutable laws of Manhattan real estate, apartments that belong to artful New Yorkers all end up in the hands of tanned businesspeople. Two years ago, for example, a department store executive bought the poet laureate Stanley Kunitz’s place right after his death.
So it’s not quite surprising that an Oklahoma-born energy executive named Charles Price III has paid $3,375,000 for the late novelist, essayist and critic Elizabeth Hardwick’s apartment at 15 West 67th Street. She was living in the eight-room duplex with Robert Lowell when they co-founded The New York Review of Books in 1963, and kept the co-op until her death in late 2007 at age 91.
But Mr. Price turns out to be one of the few Oklahoma-born energy executives who’s been reading The New York Review of Books since adolescence. “It used to come to our house wrapped in paper like pornography,” he said, from Dallas, in a soft drawl. “I still read it.”
Does he nod along to, say, Bill McKibben on environmentalism? “I’m sort of a libertarian, I guess. It’s more of a pure liberal sort of rag—but I was just reading a Julian Barnes article on George Orwell. I like stuff like that.” Considering that he’ll be sleeping in Lowell’s old bedroom, does he like his poetry? “You know, yes I do. I do. If I compare it to somebody like Mark Strand, it’s a little intellectual, but that’s O.K.”
Even though Mr. Price recently sold his family’s gas pipeline company, H. C. Price, he and his wife won’t be retiring full time to New York. They plan on spending just three months of the year in the apartment, but won’t rent it out while they’re away: “Not at all. We don’t share well. And you know the problems with that.”
He said they might eventually decide to stay here permanently. “I don’t know. I’m an Okie, so we just put a mattress on the car top and move out.”
The three-bedroom co-op has a double-height living room with a massive wood-burning fireplace and two walls of laddered floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. “The apartment in other senses isn’t grand,” he said, “but that creates a very sympathetic environment for friends.” Still, one or both of those laddered walls will be replaced. “We may dedicate other space in the house to bookshelves, and hang paintings or something in the space,” he offered. “We have a big Lucian Freud, for example. It’s one of the Leigh Bowery paintings; it’s a frontal nude.”
Even if he likes Freud’s famous portraits of Bowery, the gender-bent performance artist, can any Southern energy executive be a good fit in an important critic’s Upper West Side apartment? “Sort of like the Japanese buying Rockefeller Center,” Mr. Price offered. “And what happened to that deal?”