“It hasn’t happened before,” A. Laurence Kaiser IV, the high-end broker of 44 years, said from the car on his way out to Long Island last Thursday. “Never before has there been an apartment of this scale under the same ownership forever. The size, the pedigree and the mystery–it’s an unparalleled combination.”
Forty-two rooms, 15,000 square feet total on two floors, all of it inside the lustrous limestone prewar co-op at 907 Fifth Avenue. It could be the listing of the young century, the most sought-after apartment in the entire city, and all the more so because of its seller.
Huguette Clark, who died last week at 104, was a reclusive copper heiress whose father’s wealth once ran second only to John D. Rockefeller’s. She sealed herself off for decades in 907 Fifth, surrounded by old masters, antique dolls and loyal attendants. When she finally left her home 22 years ago for a succession of hospitals, Clark was almost forgotten–except for the whispers about the phantom spread on Fifth, which tantalized brokers and buyers alike.
Now, with Clark’s death, the scramble begins. “Every broker in the city will be lining up for this,” a veteran of their ranks told The Observer last week. “It could get crazy rather quickly.”
It could also take quite a while. Clark’s attorney and accountant are under investigation for possibly tampering with the will of their client, though they counter that her estranged relatives are simply making a bid for her estimated $500 million fortune.
Not only did Clark die in seclusion, she died without any direct descendants. Her older sister succumbed to meningitis in 1919, and Clark herself was married for only two years in the late 1920′s. The resulting divorce was what sent her back home to 907 Fifth and toward assembling one of the biggest apartments in the city’s history.
Huguette and her mother, Anna, had moved to the 12th floor after the death of William Clark in 1925, leaving behind an even gaudier 121-room mansion at 960 Fifth Avenue built just for the robber baron in 1903. The 28-room penthouse mother and daughter took at 907 Fifth seems modest by comparison–even if it had set a rental record when it was first leased to a Standard Oil executive for $30,000 in 1915.
When Huguette moved out in 1928, Anna moved downstairs to take half of the eighth floor, believes architectural historian Andrew Alpern, who studied the Clark homes for a book she was working on–since nixed in the face of opposition from the attorneys. When Huguette moved back, she wanted the other half of the eighth floor but it was unavailable, so she was given half of the 12th, which by then had been subdivided. Eventually, the other half of the eighth became available and Huguette moved in while keeping the penthouse. Thus was born the monster spread.
“That’s a whole lot of square footage, but that’s the great thing about this apartment–it was originally intended to be this big,” Corcoran’s Leighton Candler said. “The scale of the apartment is built for the size of the apartment–at that big an apartment, that’s incredible scale.”
No such space can be found in the city’s other top buildings, because it either never existed or, like the rest of 907 Fifth, was broken up amid the Great Depression and postwar white flight. Probably nowhere else could one find a 30-foot library followed by a 40-foot drawing room followed by a 40-foot living room. “If you stood with your back to the fireplace in the library, you could see out to Central Park through the living room window that is almost 110 feet away!” Mr. Alpern wrote in an email.
By comparison, the city’s last two record-setting co-ops are Rupert Murdoch’s $44 million, 15-room triplex at 834 Fifth and the 17-room duplex at 1060 Fifth that traded for $48.9 million at the height of the market in 2008. Probably the only thing bigger is Steve Schwarzman’s 37-room triplex at 740 Park, which is estimated at 20,000 square feet.
The media have valued Clark’s home at $100 million, but the provenance of that sum is unclear and seems at least a little bit absurd. Consider that the State Suites at the Plaza, which are about the same size as Clark’s eighth-floor spread alone, sold for $39 million last year. Still, a price tag of $60 million to $75 million seems possible, assuming someone wants that much space.
“Even in this world of New York real estate, I don’t know who wants 42 rooms, especially split over two floors,” said Michelle Kleier, head of Gumley Heft Kleier. “They’re all dead or bankrupt.” There is also the issue of one person controlling so many shares within the co-op.
Corcoran’s Wendy Sarasohn, who has sold a number of units in the building, believes a buyer for that kind of space does exist, given the pedigree and rarity. “I think in the same way everybody was eager to look at Brooke Astor’s apartment, and possibly buy it, to claim a bit of old New York, it’s the same thing,” Ms. Sarasohn said. “This woman was from one of the wealthiest families. I think there is more intrigue and more mystique. And that brings more interest. Maybe she’s the Greta Garbo of Fifth Avenue.”
The fact that the home has not been subdivided and reconstituted, and that neighbors say Clark maintained it to the highest standards, with near-daily cleanings even after she moved out, could help inflate the price.
Which broker might be so lucky to land the listing is another matter. At least one joked that because her daughter attended Spence, Clark’s alma mater, it would give her a leg up. Mr. Kaiser said, with the prospect of a massive commission check looming, any advantage possible would be used. “Somebody in the dollhouse business who will auction off the dollhouses or somebody who’s a shareholder in Kennecott Copper, which, gee, her father founded, or ‘My last name is Clark, and we’re the Clark Bar family.’
“But at the end of the day it will come down to the same few brokers with the same handful of clients who have the money and could afford this kind of apartment.”