Sony’s Tommy Mottola on the Move Again

UPPER WEST SIDE Just a few months after laying out nearly $8 million for three condominium apartments in the Century,


Just a few months after laying out nearly $8 million for three condominium apartments in the Century, an Art Deco building at 25 Central Park West, Sony Music Entertainment chief executive Tommy Mottola is selling the properties.

In late April, Mr. Mottola finalized his deal to purchase three different units–two on the 20th floor and one on the 19th floor–in the building near West 62nd Street. At the time, the music mogul–newly single after a 1998 divorce from singer Mariah Carey–intended to fashion one huge duplex space comprising a 200-foot-long terrace and a “dramatic entertainment space,” as one broker put it.

However, in the midst of knocking down the walls adjoining the three apartments, Mr. Mottola decided the 4,400-square-foot swath was too small to fit his needs. One broker familiar with the owner’s plans said that the apartments’ eight-foot ceilings and lack of a fireplace had also proved disappointing. In early July, the Sony executive put the three units back on the market as a package offering, asking $8.9 million altogether. Considering that the property is “in a complete state of demolition,” according to a broker familiar with the space, the price tag was “quickly reduced to $8.5 million,” where it stands at the moment.

Real estate sources familiar with Mr. Mottola’s search said he has shifted his focus to the East Side–but no deal has been struck. A publicist for Sony did not return a call for comment

Donna Karan may finally become a homeowner, the hard way. The 50-year-old designer has been kicked out of the 3,000-square-foot co-op she has been subletting at the San Remo, 145 Central Park West between 74th and 75th streets, and has been asked to undo the major renovation she gave to the apartment.

Months ago, Ms. Karan was given notice by the apartment’s owners that she could not exercise an option to buy it as she had expected, according to sources. Instead, the owner decided to keep the apartment and asked her to vacate by June 30 and renovate it back to the state it was in when she and her husband, sculptor Stephan Weiss, moved in two years ago. Co-op rules do not allow a sublessor for more than two years.

All winter and spring, according to real estate brokers, the designer has been combing Manhattan for a new home. She plans to sign a contract to purchase a 6,300-square-foot penthouse at the Alfred, a condominium at 161 West 61st Street, for $5.75 million, sources said. In the meantime, the couple has signed a six-month lease on a loft in SoHo.

Ms. Karan has been in the home-buying market for years. In 1996, she was rejected by the co-op board at 10 Gracie Square after signing a contract to purchase a 15-room apartment for more than $5 million. Instead, the designer leased the apartment at the San Remo, where neighbors include film director Steven Spielberg and Steve Jobs, interim chief executive of Apple Computer Inc. and chief executive of Pixar, the computer animation company.

According to real estate sources, Ms. Karan began a major renovation of her San Remo apartment two years ago with the notion that her lease had an option to buy. The apartment had Central Park views to which Ms. Karan added gold paneling in the living room and a home gym. However, the apartment’s owner ultimately opted not to sell, said the sources–and requested that Ms. Karan renovate the space to the condition it was in when she took up residence.

“She spent all this time and money putting the place together,” said a broker familiar with Ms. Karan’s real estate plans. “Then she moved in, she had it for two years, and the owners wanted it back.”

This time around, Ms. Karan and her associates have toured a town house at 16 East 69th Street, on the market for $11.25 million, a penthouse at 1016 Fifth Avenue, on the market for $4.5 million, and a condominium in TriBeCa, on the market for over $3 million, among many other properties. A source familiar with Ms. Karan’s search said she first visited the Alfred, a high-rise condominium at 161 West 61st Street, late last year, when the asking price was $6.1 million. Now, seven months later, real estate sources said, she is close to signing a contract on the apartment, which has since been reduced in price.

“As of right now, we don’t have a signed contract,” said Sandra Knowles, an associate at J.P. Morgan, the co-executor of the estate of the apartment’s owner, Michael Palm, a pioneer in the field of reinsurance and a classical music lover who died in 1998.

In 1994, after paying $3.4 million for the penthouse–one of three in the building–Palm renovated the home into a sleek-looking space geared for entertaining. “It looked like a wing of the [Museum of Modern Art],” said one broker familiar with the property. “It was very cold.” During Palm’s years in the apartment, such musical luminaries as opera singer Kathleen Battle and pianist Earl Wild performed there, the broker said. Although the building, erected in 1988, is close to Lincoln Center–and the exploding commercial district surrounding it–it is just as close to a low-income housing project, prompting one broker to describe the penthouse sought by Ms. Karan as a “white elephant” to the real estate community.

While Ms. Karan negotiates the details of buying Palm’s penthouse and demolishes the work she accomplished in her San Remo rental, she will be living in a 5,000-square-foot SoHo apartment, according to a real estate source. Even in her short-term digs, the designer will endure a weeks-long renovation process.


115 East 95th Street

Four-story town house.

Asking: $1.45 million. Selling: $1.35 million.

Time on the market: one month.

A DIRECT DESCENDENT OF GYPSY ROSE LEE. Leslie Garfield has been selling this house for 30 years. In 1966, he sold it for actress June Havoc, the younger sister of Gypsy Rose Lee. When she lived there, Ms. Havoc slept in the basement because it was the quietest part of the house, recalled Mr. Garfield. “It’s a very special street,” he said of the block between Park and Lexington avenues. Then, Mr. Garfield sold it to an ITT Corporation executive who remodeled it into a rent-gathering enterprise: creating a garden duplex and two floor-through simplex units. The executive paid Ms. Havoc $83,000. Mr. Garfield then sold it to a family that paid $155,000. In 1969, a woman bought the house for $152,000. Now Mr. Garfield has sold it again to a family that will renovate its new acquisition back to a one-family house. Broker: Leslie J. Garfield & Company (Leslie Garfield); Wohlfarth & Associates, Inc. (Kinnaird Fox Spector).

333 East 68th Street

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,250-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $550,000. Selling: $565,000.

Charges: $1,450; 38 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: one week.

SUNDAY IN THE APARTMENT WITH GAZILLIONS. A torrential downpour couldn’t deter the masses of Sunday home shoppers from attending the one-and-only open house for this apartment. Little did they know that six days earlier, a 30-ish investment banker had discovered the property while surfing the Internet and, after a quick run-through, made an offer of $565,000–a sufficiently arrogant $15,000 above the asking price, which gained him first dibs. The banker staked out his territory at the Sunday open house, bringing a pal along for moral support, and was not outmaneuvered–even though many other interested parties approached the young lawyer and family who were selling the place. Parts of the apartment could use some updating: Exhibit A, the 1920’s-era kitchen cabinets. Meanwhile, broker Connie Walsh attributes the property’s immense popularity to its antiquity. “When I was first going to show it, I thought, you know, it’s way far over,” said Ms. Walsh, referring to the 1928 building’s location between First and Second avenues. “But you know what? If it’s prewar, it could be in the river.” Broker: Corcoran Group (Barbara Freehill; Edith Salton and Connie Walsh).


220 East 54th Street

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,350-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $499,000. Selling: $505,000.

Charges: $1,267; 60 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: three weeks.

LAWYERS AGAINST BATHROOM HUMOR. Two young attorneys came across this combination of apartments after the utterly draining experience of renting at Zeckendorf Towers on Union Square. Among other things, they really wanted a spoiled-rotten master bathroom. In this case, the former kitchen of a studio apartment had been refitted with a huge Jacuzzi, shower stall and a Mexican-tile floor. According to their broker, Brett Grabel, “It was all about the bathroom.” There was already an offer on the apartment when the lawyers came on the scene. A simple game of intimidation eliminated the competition: The lawyers upped the ante, pushing the price $6,000 above the asking price. Broker: William B. May Company (Brett Grabel); Corcoran Group (Jeff Levitas and Peter Belmonte).


434 West 20th Street

One-bed, two-bath, 900-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $499,000. Selling: $478,000.

Charges: $986; 65 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: four months.

BOSTON DOCTOR SWAPS WITH CHELSEA COUPLE. A high price tag (initially $525,000) kept this brownstone apartment on the market for four months–an eternity in real estate years. But as winter ended, an unmarried doctor who is a Boston native happened upon the place, between Ninth and 10th avenues. He didn’t mind the one-flight walk-up, and the Seminary Gardens–located right across the street–reminded him of Beantown, where the sellers were about to relocate. They had hoped for more money, but with a real estate search of their own to worry about, they decided to shake hands with the doctor. Broker: Corcoran Group (Jane Cibener); Stribling & Associates Ltd. (Anne Marie Salmeri).


8 Charles Lane

Two-bed, 1.5-bath, 1,200-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $489,000. Selling: $465,000.

Charges: $1,240; 70 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: one week.

WHERE THE COMMUTING IS EASIER. Two men living in Forest Hills, Queens, and commuting to jobs in northern New Jersey, thought this town house co-op was the perfect excuse to move to Manhattan. Built in 1979, this building is one of a series of 12 on Charles Street and Charles Lane, in the far West Village near Washington Street and the elusive Hudson River Park. The buildings are right out of suburbia–each apartment in the 12 buildings is a duplex with a garden patio and two bedrooms and a patio on the second floor. (But if you go out there, you might meet your neighbor!) Charles Lane, which is still paved with cobblestones, has been home to a prison and a warehouse; in the late 70’s, a local developer decided the spot was great housing material. Now the duplexes are selling for $500,000 each. Broker: Corcoran Group (Kitty Sorell). Sony’s Tommy Mottola on the Move Again