In November, when River House, the non plus ultra of elite Upper East Side co-ops, put the 62,000-square-foot space that houses the River Club on the market, it seemed proof that no residential building could resist the temptations of the surging trophy market and the foreign billionaires who have come to dominate it. Listed at an unheard-of $130 million, the unconverted space’s purchase was said not to require the famously fussy board’s stringent review—River House was famous for having turned its nose up at the likes of starlets Joan Crawford, Gloria Vanderbilt and Diane Keaton—and seemed, as we noted at the time, a desperate bid for relevance in a market that increasingly favors the lax entry requirements of condos. The era of the social register had, it seemed, finally given way to that of the LLC.
But the Muffys and Bunnys of the word can breathe a sigh of relief. J. Press may have closed, but at least the River Club’s doors will remain open (to the right kind of people). This afternoon, the two boards announced that they had reached an agreement that will allow the club to purchase the sprawling space it has occupied since the Art Deco building’s opening in 1931. Which should come as a relief to the 40 residents who rallied to save the club (well, they sent a letter to the board; they’re not hippies, after all), among them former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
“The River Club of New York, Inc. and River House Realty Co., Inc. are pleased to announce that they have signed a Letter of Intent regarding the River Club’s purchase of the premises that it has occupied since 1931,” the River House and Club wrote in a joint statement.
“We’re delighted to have reached the agreement. It was certainly a meeting of the minds and now we’re going into the future together,” River Club president Charles Berry told The Observer. Asked whether the support of the tenants had played any role in the deal, Mr. Berry declined to discuss specifics but noted that “we’re kind of the ideal occupants of the space—it’s a fairly unique club, one of the few true family clubs in the city. We’ve always had an equal number of men and women on our board. It’s fairly distinct from the men’s clubs or the women’s clubs or the university clubs out there.”
He added that a majority of the building’s residents were members. Indeed, he wished they all were.
The club, which has an indoor pool, tennis and squash courts, as well as a card room and a restaurant, has heretofore leased its space from the board. But after failing to come to a new lease or sales agreement with the 900-member club, reportedly for years, the co-op board moved to sell the space as a mammoth single-family mansion, listing the unit and designs drawn up by Tony Ingrao with Brown Harris Stevens’ Kyle Blackmon and John Burger. However, talks between the board and the club continued, ongoing negotiations which caused a number of brokers to tell The Observer that while they found the listing intriguing, if overpriced, they suspected that it was little more than a bargaining tactic.
“It was never a real listing. They presented something that was outrageously priced and wasn’t even a real product,” huffed one broker, referencing the townhouse’s “raw” state that would have required a total gut renovation not included in the $130 million ask. “I wouldn’t tell a client of mine to make an offer if the club was just going to take the space back. We heard that residents had hired some super-powered attorneys to stop any sale from going forward.”
Meanwhile, the boards have declined to disclose the price that the club will pay to officially take possession of its home, though it is fairly certain that it will fall far short of $130 million. In fact, Michael Gross has reported that the closing price is just $45 million (which, to be fair, is nothing to sniff at). The purchase, according to the board, is expected to close by early summer.