HE’S GOING TO THE WARHOL MANSION, AFTER PAINTING IT FOR $100,000 On the sunny morning of Sept. 15, two workmen were hosing down the facade of 57 East 66th Street–the townhouse where Andy Warhol lived from 1974 until his death in 1987. About a dozen other workmen were inside, whitewashing the wide central staircase, mounting light fixtures and touching up the dark purple paint on the walls of the back staircase. The neoclassical house was purchased last January by Tom Freston, the 54-year-old chairman and chief executive of MTV, for about $6.5 million, and the events of the last two weeks had put an urgency to the October deadline on the $100,000 worth of minor renovations he began in February.
It wasn’t anything that had to do with the Sept. 7 MTV Video Music Awards, where Mr. Freston munched lobster and sipped champagne on the first mezzanine of Radio City Music Hall with his new bosses at CBS. It was that Mr. Freston’s penthouse at 39 N. Moore Street in Tribeca had gone into contract for about $4.35 million on Aug. 31.
Mr. Freston, who is married to Kathy Freston and has two kids from a previous marriage, put the duplex penthouse on the market for $4.5 million in mid-April. But when no serious offers arrived, he knocked the price down to $3.95 million in June. “In real estate, very frequently, you have to ask less to get more,” said Mr. Freston’s broker, Elaine Schweninger of the Corcoran Group.
When Mr. Freston bought the apartment for $713,000 in 1994, it was raw space; it was his fourth loft in Tribeca in 18 years. The nine-room, sixth-floor, 4,500-square-foot apartment has four bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, exotic Brazilian cherrywood floors and two wood-burning fireplaces. The apartment was decorated by L.A. interior designer Kerry Joyce, who also spruced up hotelier Ian Schrager’s classic Southampton mansion. Ms. Schweniger, who described the apartment as “beautifully crafted,” said “the big kahuna here was the terrace”–1,000 square feet of perfectly manicured terrace.
Once the price was lowered to $3.95 million in June, the bids starting pouring in. “We, of course, had a choice of candidates,” said Ms. Schweninger. On Aug. 31, an Upper East Side couple signed a contract to buy the apartment, swapping neighborhoods with Mr. Freston, who didn’t wish to comment on the deal but said in an e-mail that the selling price was close to $4.35 million. The sellers were represented by Kurt Weyrauch and Helen Dreyfuss of Brown Harris Stevens.
Come October, Mr. Freston will start moving into the five-and-a-half-story townhouse that has only one more bedroom than the penthouse, but also a library with a small terrace with a few plants in the back, and six fireplaces–-one of which is adorned with a statue of a woman on either side–central air conditioning, Juliet balconies and an elevator.
IS THE WILZIG CASTLE CURSED? Four years ago, brothers Alan and Ivan Wilzig started building a fake family homestead in
Sources said the mystery buyer, who had made an offer for the mansion in June, was recently diagnosed with fatal lung cancer. He “executed the whole deal and was diagnosed with a terrible illness that re-prioritized his life,” said Alan Wilzig, 35. “He had wanted the house so his children and their children would be attracted to ‘Grandpa’s castle’ like a magnet.”
Two years ago, nearly the same thing happened–a buyer broke a deal to buy the castle for health reasons. Both times, the brothers returned the deposit. “Personally, I would rather throw $300,000 down a sewer than profit from some person’s illness or misfortune,” said Alan.
So for now, the house is still called Wilzig Castle. In 1996, the brothers, who help run the Trust Company of New Jersey, a commercial bank run by their father, Auschwitz survivor Siggi B. Wilzig, began constructing the 14,000-square-foot, stone-and-stucco medieval-style mansion in
The brothers have made the most of the problem of selling the place. In August, the house was the site of the premiere and party for the Showtime film On the Beach . Alan Wilzig and Armand Assante were hosts. And last summer, the brothers threw a “Jungle Masquerade” theme party to benefit the Rainforest Alliance. It made headlines.
“The Jungle Masquerade last year was the very best party in Hamptons history,” said Alan. “Sorry to the white buck-seersucker crowd who may have preferred the 400th anniversary of the Maidstone Club or some such thing! I say ‘best ever’ knowing it sounds almost absurd; a hyperbolic superlative befitting Donald Trump–who had a great time that night, as did Ivana, Sammy Sosa and 1,100 of our closest friends!”
He described the scene as “Fellini-like, with stunning girls covered in scraps of suede and body paint.” He insists, contrary to reports, that he didn’t hire these attractive, scantily clothed women. “It was just clever costuming and the nerve and looks to pull it off.” After the party, Alan joined the Rainforest Alliance’s board.
But that didn’t help sell the house. In fact, it attracted other party houses, which will likely make it even more difficult to sell the house. Last spring, sponsors including Nike, Kozmo.com and Evian built a neighboring mansion to promote products in the Hamptons. Called the Synergy Spa, the mansion lets guests like model Frankie Rayder, actress Chloë Sevigny and hip-hop entrepreneur Sean (Puffy) Combs stay free, use the gym, hot tub and tennis courts, and then sends them off with sponsor-stuffed goody bags. The house has driven neighbors nuts.
Another tack has been to rent Wilzig Castle out for the summer. There was a plan for the Nike athletic-wear company to rent the castle last summer. Nike wanted to throw big parties there and let star athletes, media people and hangers-on stay over. But the deal fell through, and afterward the Wilzigs decided not to rent to anyone else. “After Nike fell through, others seemed less exciting,” said Alan. “Plus, I had gotten enchanted with the whole Fortune 500 security.”
With the neighborhood perfectly quiet now, the house will surely soon be back on the market. When asked if he planned to own another Hamptons property, Alan responded by e-mail: “Never buy … but build, yes. Think Morocco-Turkish motif.”
UPPER EAST SIDE
35 Sutton Place
2-bedroom, 4 1/2-bathroom, 2,700-square-foot co-op.
Asking: $1.995 million. Selling: $1.55 million.
Charges: $4,000; 50 percent tax-deductible.
Time on the market: six months.
HOW MANY BEDROOMS DOES ONE COUPLE NEED? The sellers of this contemporary apartment, a retired couple in their 60’s, had collapsed two of their three bedrooms, creating a sprawling master bedroom suite. When they decided they had too much space–they own houses in the Hamptons and Florida–they put the place on the market and started looking for a smaller pied-à-terre. The apartment is on the 20th floor of a postwar co-op and has East River views, which convinced the buyers, a couple in their 40’s, to bid almost immediately. “There are very few buildings on Sutton Place that will give you fabulous views and space,” said Norma Hirsh of Douglas Elliman, the broker for the deal. The buyers plan to convert the apartment back to its original three-bedroom layout. He is an investment banker, she works in commercial real estate, and they will use the extra rooms to create a guest room and an office. The apartment has hardwood floors, a library, a dining room, an eat-in kitchen and new tilt-and-turn windows. The building has a doorman and an elevator man, and the new owners can be guinea pigs for the restored Bridgemarket under the Queensboro Bridge.
201 East 21st Street (Quaker Ridge)
One-bed, one-bath, 800-square-foot co-op
Asking: $599,000. Selling: $606,000.
Charges: $998; 50 percent tax-deductible.
Time on the market: two weeks.
A PUBLISHER AND A PEACH TREE When the sellers of this Gramercy co-op, two men in their 40’s, first visited it one June seven years ago, they immediately canceled their summer rental and set to work on the apartment’s 1,000-square-foot terrace. Located on the 18th floor of the building, the terrace had views of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. That was until one of the owners, an official of a nature conservancy on the New Jersey shore, turned it into a regular orchard–there are peaches, apples and grapes growing there now. When he and his partner, a writer, move to Jersey, they’ll leave it all behind for the new owner, a woman who had been working in South America for an international publishing company. “She had gorgeous gardens in Brazil,” said broker Jane Cibener of the Corcoran Group. “She hopes to replicate what she’s had there.” Although the buyer originally wanted a bigger apartment, she was impressed by the terrace, the views and the built-in bookshelves throughout the apartment. The apartment has parquet floors, a windowed bathroom and excellent light. Ms. Cibener said of the 1963 building, known as the Quaker Ridge, “It’s one of those gems that’s never had a problem.” It provides a full-time doorman and garage.
176 Broadway (Maiden Lane)
Three-bed, two-bath, 1,830-square-foot co-op.
Asking: $999,000. Selling: $995,000.
Charges: $1,369; 64 percent tax-deductible.
Time on the market: one day.
WHICH WAY IS DOWNTOWN? Asked to describe this apartment in the Financial District, the Corcoran Group’s Victoria Terri-Coté, the broker on the deal, said, “This place really has soul.” Maybe that’s because House of Blues co-owner Dan Aykroyd used to live there some 20 years ago. Around the time he quit Saturday Night Live to star in The Blues Brothers , he installed black fixtures in the master bathroom along with a Jacuzzi and sauna. The apartment also has a glass-brick wall, high ceilings, southern exposure and oversize windows. The sellers, a couple in their 40’s with two children, were art collectors who had lived in the building for 20 years. He’s a real estate attorney, she’s an art curator, and Ms. Terri-Coté described them both as “die-hard downtowners. Anything north. of Canal Street would give them a nosebleed.” Then why are they moving to Battery Park City? Even their broker described the place as almost suburban, with a lot of sunlight and trees. The folks moving into the Financial District, on the other hand, are a couple with two children who are getting out of New Jersey, mainly because his law office is in midtown. This prewar building is located in the Tribeca school zone (P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 are two of the best in the city) and has a part-time doorman.