New York is a city with a vast array of stunning townhouses, but for those who desire a manse on the East River, the options are limited and rarely listed. So The Observer was not particularly surprised to learn that a buyer has already snapped up the Ellen Biddle Shipman mansion at 21 Beekman Place. The mansion was one of the rare specimens to make an appearance on the market in recent months—with the notable exception of the Paul Rudolph house (although the two are about as different as two Beekman Place townhouses can be). And, some might argue, Gracie Mansion, which though not for sale, is being avidly pursued by Christine Quinn et al.
“There is not in all New York another piece of property like it, for it has the seclusion of Beekman Place, southern exposure, beauty of architecture combined with the extended view of the East River,” Shipman once wrote of the neighborhood that she helped mold into the fashionable district after buying 21 Beekman in 1919. The buyer, whose identity remains a mystery, apparently agreed with the late, trailblazing landscape architect, given that he or sale paid $35 million for the furnished home, according to sources familiar with the deal.
The closing price—though it falls short of the $48.5 million that the house was asking when it hit the market last fall, is nonetheless very impressive (the house was most recently asking $43 million). And the buyer was apparently so in love with the place that he even bought all the furniture—paying $34.35 million for the house and $650,000 for the furnishings, sources said. A refreshing change from the more common trophy purchase practice of ripping out every last touch left by the former owner.
The sale price is also notable for a property in the East River enclave. While Beekman Place remains among the city’s most exclusive spots—River House’s recent decision to permit the use of its name in sales listings caused some real pearl clutching—its real estate has not made the same record-setting waves of its Western peers between Fifth and Park. But perhaps 21 Beekman Place will help to change that—the 7,226-foot-wide townhouse sold for $4,844 per square foot, setting a city record for a 20-foot wide townhouse. (The last was set as recently as December, when 14 East 94th Street closed for $4,380 per square foot.)
The high price most likely had something to do with the fact that the house may be just 20-feet wide, but it sits on a corner, with its entire Southern wall—stretching a full 90-feet—open to the sun and the views and East River breezes, according to Brown Harris Stevens broker Paula Del Nunzio, who represented the seller.
“All floors of the house have light on three sides,” Ms. Del Nunzio told The Observer. “Some houses have to settle for light on just one side if they have a dark rear outlook!”
“Manhattan is an island and the views of the East River are exceptional, which a very astute buyer saw,” she added.
And while the house appears to display countless touches of Shipman’s handiwork, the tastemaker can claim only limited credit for the antique chevron flooring, elegantly curved staircase and pine-paneled library. When seller Peter Novello bought the mansion for $10.6 million in 2008, the townhouse’s only remaining interior features were a pair of blind arches sunk into the walls of the former breakfast room, according to The New York Times. Everything else had been obliterated by the series of residents who lived in the building after Shipman sold it in the 1940s. The penultimate owner—Florida businessman William Rupp—was so eager to put his mark on the property that he installed a four-foot-high monogram on the front gate and built a wall specifically to block his neighbor’s river view.
After purchasing the building, Mr. Novello not only removed the widely-despised monogrammed gate and view-obstructing wall, but renovated the remuddled townhouse into a space befitting Shipman’s vision, reinstating, among other things, the architect’s famed design innovation—a conservatory surrounded by light on three sides. Evidently, the work paid off.