Mysterious, beautiful and fiercely independent—the Schinasi Mansion at 351 Riverside Drive—the Ellen Olenska of real estate, has finally found a buyer. The white marble, 12,000-square-foot French Renaissance mansion is one of the rare free-standing single-family houses in Manhattan (and one could hardly hope to possess Gracie Mansion or the Morris Jumel), but has lingered (some might even say languished) on the market for the better part of seven years. In that time, she has lowered her lofty expectations considerably, dropping her $31 million ask to a much more modest $13.5 million.
When we called, Corcoran broker Tod Mercy confirmed that the magnificent, 12-bedroom, 11-bath mansion, which Robert A.M. Stern called “unsurpassed in refinement in the West End,” is indeed in contract. But he could not comment on the identity of the buyers or the price (which we had heard was close to the ask) and the Corcoran spokesperson he referred us to was unforthcoming about even his unforthcomingness, writing: “We have no comment. Please do not quote me directly.”
But then, the mansion is famous for her secrets, including a tunnel that runs about 20-feet from the basement toward the Hudson but ends abruptly (its purpose remains a mystery). There’s also the mystery of why the man who commissioned the mansion found it so unsatisfactory that he refused to pay architect William Tuthill, according to the blog Daytonian in Manhattan. From the coffered ceilings to the numerous fireplaces to the tiled entrance hall, stained glass windows and a facade so pristine and white that the owner original owner rigged up a system of pumps to clean every part of it, the house is really quite stunning. It’s also 41-feet wide by 73-feet deep, surrounded by private gardens on a corner lot facing the river.
So why did it take so long to sell? Is it haunted by the spirit of the headmistress of the Semple School for Girls, which filled the space after the Schinasi family moved out? Cursed by the unpaid architect? Or did it just suffer the curse of being a $31 million mansion at 107th Street?
Alas, the mansion suffers from a far more prosaic problem, according to one of the brokers with whom we spoke—it needs some work.
“Many people have wanted to see it over the years, but many people have been disappointed. When you stepped in, it was like stepping back in time,” the broker said. “The woodwork was distorted, the ceilings were beautiful but crumbling, the exterior was in bad shape. I guess it’s been habitable all these years, but it needs a lot of work.”
“The buyer has to be someone who was just drawn to the architecture,” he concluded. “It had to be the architecture.”
The current owner, Beverly Smit, has been in possession of the mansion since she and her late husband, Columbia law professor Hans Smit, bought it in 1979 for $325,000 and started a 20-year interior renovation. While not as heartbreakingly beautiful as the Schinasi mansion, there are a number of large, fully restored townhouses available for less in the neighborhood, like the 30-foot wide Georgian manse at 317 West 92nd Street, which is asking $12.5 million.
But we can see how someone could fall in love with the Schinasi—we were completely smitten ourselves. Though The Observer knows we can never have a life together—we will be forever separated by $13.5 million—351 Riverside Drive makes every other townhouse in the city look like May Welland: proper, perfectly put together, but hopelessly dull.
But perhaps, one day in the distant future, we may find ourselves sitting like Newland Archer on a bench outside in the thickening dusk, our eyes never turning from the balcony until a light shines through the windows.