Palace Intrigue On East 72nd: Two Pools, 16 Bathrooms and a Million Rumors

A photo of 12 and 14 East 72nd taken in 2009 when the townhouses were still two distinct buildings.

A photo of 12 and 14 East 72nd taken in 2009 when the townhouses were still two distinct buildings.

As for the size of the proposed single-family townhouse, at 19,329-square-feet, it is not only within the realm of possibility, but established fact. The limestone townhouse at 22 East 71st Street—the one that is said to be in contract to the Qatari prime minister—is 22,000 square feet. The Woolworth Mansion at 4 East 80th is 19,950 and the Harkness, at 4 East 75th, is 21,700 square feet.

The real question, of course, is whether such a house—a showplace rumored to have three swimming pools—is within the realm of possibility for a man like Mr. Croman.

In truth, the 19,329-square-foot house doesn’t have three pools. It will have two (one indoor, one outdoor) and a koi pond. There is a basketball court, but it’s not on the roof. Nor is the building 10 stories high; it is six stories above ground (with a basement and sub-basement below), topped by a copper-clad penthouse addition with a skylight and two rooftop terraces shaded by an open pergola.

Besides the pools and the penthouse addition, the architectural plans filed with the Department of Buildings show extensive wine storage, a dumbwaiter, six wet bars, nine full and seven half baths, a library, a 1,055-square-foot family room, and a master bedroom suite with two fireplaces, a study, five closets and a dressing room. For the record, workers are drilling 25 feet into the bedrock, not 40. In short, it is, in the words of Mr. Croman’s next-door neighbor Jim Baumann—one of the few who was willing to give his name—“quite elaborate.”

“I’m happy. It increases property values,” Mr. Baumann said of the townhouse combination. He allowed that the construction had been noisy, but added that this was to be expected for a massive project and that Mr. Croman seemed to be doing everything correctly.

As for the rumors, he’d heard a million different ones, all of them outlandish. “People have a lot of time on their hands and they begin to fantasize,” Mr. Baumann said.

Mr. Croman has tried to keep a low profile, with limited success. He came to New York when he was in his early 20s and started working as a rental broker. Within a few years he had incorporated Croman Real Estate and bought his first building. Over the last two decades, he has amassed a sizable portfolio of rental buildings and more than a few enemies, generating not only a fair amount of antipathy, but a Facebook page—the now-defunct “I hate slumlords Steve and Harriet Croman”—and a tenant advocacy group, the Stop Croman Coalition.

Residents have, among other things, accused him of purging rent-stabilized tenants from his new acquisitions by mixing classic eviction tactics—aggressively challenging succession rights and making constant calls to prod tenants into a buyout—with unnerving chumminess like asking them to coffee and sending holiday packages of chocolates and blue-corn tortilla chips, according to a 2000 Village Voice article. Nearly all of Mr. Croman’s detractors take issue with his management practices and policies, rather than the apartments themselves, which are often renovated and rented to those willing or able to pay higher prices.

For his part, Mr. Croman has always denied that his methods were overly aggressive, untoward or illegal. “That’s not what we’re about,” he said. “We restore older buildings and make them beautiful.”