Babs knows the sting of 740 Park Avenue. Barbara Walters, too. She and Ms. Streisand have been among those rejected by the tony co-op that angles toward old money and away from entertainers.
“Its polished granite entrance reeks of the prospects of satin sheets and the promise of the echoes of fine crystal,” architecture critic Carter Horsley once wrote.
Lately, though, the co-op has become bifurcated between the haves and the haves-more. While Blackstone co-founder Steve Schwarzman reigns in what may be the city’s largest luxury apartment, Liz Swig (née Macklowe) faces what is possibly 740 Park’s first foreclosure. The building represents a certain irony of the exiting Great Recession in New York: it was harsh on everybody but the very rich, and the very rich know that better than anybody.
Seven-forty Park was developed by James T. Lee, grandfather to Jackie O. (the future first lady grew up in the building), just as the markets crashed in the fall of 1929.
Soon after opening, the building struggled to attract wealthy residents in the nasty economic climate, eventually turning into a rental. “The building was effectively bankrupt three years after it opened,” said Michael Gross, author of 740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building.
The building recovered sufficiently enough to attract John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1936. Other oil families followed suit, and soon several of New York’s prominent names called 740 Park home. John D. Rockefeller Jr. converted the building back to a co-op in 1953, opening the blue-blood vein that ran through it for the ensuing several decades.
A. Laurance Kaiser IV, a longtime New York broker very familiar with 740 Park, says that the building remains extremely exclusive, but in a different way than in the past. In the early days, Mr. Kaiser notes, residents were largely “grand industrialists … grand Christian families and the fine, old Germanic Jewish families,” all of whom had substantial wealth and, perhaps more importantly, social notoriety. Today, he says, things are different. “I think these days they’re still selective, but one doesn’t have to be from the American aristocracy to pass the board.”
Indeed. But that might not be the best thing for 740 Park going forward. Here are some of the current residents, as the recession that may have altered their storied building forever ends:
Vera Wang and Arthur Becker
Residents of 740 Park hoping to get a fabulous wedding dress made (for perhaps their second, third or fourth go) need not look far. The designer and her businessman husband moved into the duplex in 2007 with their two daughters. Ms. Wang purchased the apartment, spanning the 10th and 11th floors, for $23.1 million from the estate of her father, cosmetics tycoon Cheng Ching “C.C.” Wang.
In 2010, Ms. Wang ran into some pricey problems with Uncle Sam regarding the property when the Smoking Gun revealed that the designer and her husband owed nearly $350,000 in back taxes dating from her 2008 return.
John and Carmen Thain
Mr. Thain, the former COO of Goldman Sachs and the former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, and his wife purchased the penthouse duplex on the 17th and 18th floors in 2006, paying $27.5 million for the two-bedroom, three-bath. He was named the president of Merrill Lynch around the same time, but was ousted soon after Bank of America bought the teetering bank in 2009.
Mr. Thain was roundly criticized when it was revealed that he spent over a million company dollars to redecorate his office at Merrill Lynch in early 2008. (The Observer wonders if he was allowed to take that now infamous $87,000 area rug back home to 740 Park.) The designer responsible for the ill-fated refurbishing, Michael Smith, also decorated Mr. Thain’s residence at 740 Park, according to media reports. In addition to his work with Mr. Thain’s family, Mr. Smith redecorated the private quarters of the White House when the Obama family moved in.
Alex Kuczynski and Charles Stevenson
The media matron lives at 740 Park with her husband, who reigns as king, er, president of the co-op board. Author of the choice title Beauty Junkies: In Search of the Thinnest Thighs, Perkiest Breasts, Smoothest Faces, Whitest Teeth, and Skinniest, Most Perfect Toes in America, Ms. Kuczynski is a master of all things aesthetic (she is also, it should be noted, a former staff writer at The Observer and, later, at The New York Times).
It may not come as a large shock that after Mr. Becker proposed, his enfianced allegedly Xeroxed her ring and sent the image around to friends.
Mr. Stevenson was himself blown off by the board in his first attempt to buy into the co-op, according to Mr. Gross’s book, but was finally allowed to purchase a 16-room apartment (previously owned by Henry Kravis) with wife number 3 (Ms. Kuczynski is number 4).
Steve and Christine Schwarzman
Co-founder of private equity powerhouse the Blackstone Group (and the 52nd richest American), Mr. Schwarzman loves his 740 triplex so much that he had the venue of his lavish 60th birthday bash in 2007 designed to look like rooms from his apartment.
“Certain rooms in the apartment—not all 34 of them,” noted Mr. Kaiser, the broker familiar with the building.
In 2000, Mr. Schwarzman purchased his apartment from disgraced financier and insurance strongman Saul Steinberg. Although the exact price remains a mystery, Mr. Schwarzman paid around $35 million for the palatial home, the highest price paid for a co-op in Manhattan at that time.
Mr. Steinberg had purchased the home back in 1971 from the estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s second wife, Martha.
David and Julia Koch
It seems that Mr. Koch really has a thing for Jackie O.’s former residences. In 2004, Mr. Koch, a low-key conservative moneyman who beat the mayor last year as the richest New Yorker, sold his apartment at 1040 Park Avenue, the last home of Onassis, for $30 million. He promptly purchased a duplex at 740 Park from the Japanese government (the country’s U.N. ambassador had lived there).
At the time of the purchase, Mr. Koch told The New York Times that he had paid “an attractive price” for the property, figured by many to be around $17 million.
Mr. Koch outbid a Russian financier, Leonard Blavatnik,. “I took it out from under his nose,” Mr. Koch told Mr. Gross. “I’m sure they preferred me. Obviously, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. It’s nice to be wanted.”
Don’t feel too badly for Mr. Blavatnik, however. In 2007, he purchased Edgar Bronfman Jr.’s townhouse at 15 East 64th Street for $51 million.
Ezra and Lauren Merkin
Wall-size Rothkos once graced the walls of former financier and Madoff crony Ezra Merkin’s apartment at 740 Park. In happier days, Mr. Merkin and his wife, in fact, owned the largest private collection of Rothkos in the world.
Immediately after the Madoff scandal broke, however, Mr. Merkin revealed that his money managing firm Ascot Partners had lost $2.4 billion in investors’ money in the Ponzi scheme. Then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo promptly froze Mr. Merkin’s assets, claiming that he had concealed his investment ties with Mr. Madoff’s group. Mr. Cuomo demanded that the Merkins sell their famed Rothko collection, holding assets from the sale pending the outcome of the state’s lawsuit. While the paintings have been sold, the fate of the assets remains unknown.
We wonder if the apartment remains underdecorated, or if perhaps Ms. Merkin decided to paint an accent wall to compensate for the loss.
Thomas and Alice Tisch
Around the time Saul Steinberg was unloading his apartment, the Tisches quietly purchased a duplex on the eighth and ninth floors for approximately $15 million. They purchased the home from an Austrian financier and his wife, Anne Eisenhower, granddaughter of the former president. According to Mr. Gross, the Tisches snatched the apartment the same day it was put on the market.
Although Ms. Eisenhower and her husband, Wolfgang Flottl, owned the apartment for eight years, they never moved in. “It was too big for me,” Ms. Eisenhower told Mr. Gross for 740 Park.
Before Mr. Flottl and Ms. Eisenhower owned it, the apartment served as a pied-á-terre for one of the more colorful residents in the building’s history. His Royal Highness Nawwaf bin Abd al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman Al Saud; Prince Nawwaf, for short, bought the apartment in the late 1970s. Although he visited his New York outpost infrequently, his presence in the building was readily evidenced by the presence of secret Saudi police and women by the “truckload” who would visit the apartment, according to Mr. Gross’s book.
Kent and Liz Swig
The New York Post revealed earlier this summer that the developer and his now-estranged wife, Liz Swig, the daughter of another famous New York developer, Harry Macklowe, were facing foreclosure on the apartment they bought in 1997.
Bank of America is suing the Swigs for failing to make good on a $4.7 million loan the couple took out on the apartment back in 2007, The Post reported. The bank is threatening to foreclose upon the apartment, from which Mr. Swig has allegedly moved out. The foreclosure would be a first for 740 Park.
They’re not supposed to happen there: financing for purchases is not an option—prospective buyers must pay up front, and they are expected to have substantial liquidity (reportedly to the tune of $100 million) before they are even considered for entry. So how, in a building that does not allow residents to borrow against their apartments, did Mr. Swig manage to do exactly this?
Exact details are unclear, but it is particularly noteworthy that a company that Mr. Swig co-owns, Terra Holdings, owns Brown Harris Stevens, the tony brokerage that manages 740 Park. A source, who wished to remain anonymous given the subject’s sensitive nature, said that one could make “an educated guess that he was only allowed to borrow against this apartment because he was managing in the company.”
A spokesperson for Swig Equities declined to comment on that aspect, saying instead that “the apartment at 740 Park Avenue is owned by Liz Swig and has been for over a decade.”
Although the bank appears to be closing in, money may not be the issue. Neither Mr. nor Ms. Swig is wanting, and the potential foreclosure may have more to do with the knock-down-drag-out divorce proceedings.
In fact, multiple sources seemed less surprised by the Swig story than the fact that Ezra Merkin was still in the building.
Never mind these kerfuffles, though. The Great Recession—indeed, the very traffic from Park Avenue—arrives muffled on the other side of 740’s limestone walls.
“That building is such an A++ building,” said luxury broker Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier, “that I don’t think anything negative that happens in the building will actually affect the building itself.”