Marcia: Uptown Girl

The rush to Harlem continues, with celebrity home-buyers north of 110th Street upping the ante in the increasingly trendy neighborhood.

The rush to Harlem continues, with celebrity home-buyers north of 110th Street upping the ante in the increasingly trendy neighborhood. The latest addition is Academy Award–winning actress Marcia Gay Harden, who closed Dec. 30 on a four-story townhouse on West 120th Street, just a few blocks away from Columbia University.

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Ms. Harden and her husband, theatrical art director Thaddeus Scheel, paid $1.125 million for the newly renovated 4,000-square-foot building.

“We moved here because we wanted space, the warmth and dignity of a brownstone,” Ms. Harden told The Observer in an e-mail, “and [now] we have what so few New Yorkers have: affordable space.”

Until the Harlem purchase, Ms. Harden and her family had been bicoastal, living in California as well as in various rental units on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. One of the former owners of Ms. Harden’s new house, Chelsea bar and restaurant owner Joe Fontecchio, said Ms. Harden told him she was very unhappy on the Left Coast and was eager to establish a permanent residency in New York.

“She hated California,” said Mr. Fontecchio. “It was an uncomfortable situation, where she was constantly scrutinized and compared against younger actors.”

Ms. Harden’s arrival comes on the heels of other recent Harlem immigrants like basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former Poet Laureate Maya Angelou and singers Roberta Flack, CeCe Peniston, DMX and Don Williams.

“We live in a vibrant community with great restaurants, a great gym and great shopping nearby on 125th,” Ms. Harden wrote. “The architecture of the surrounding buildings is very classic and Old World.”

The listing broker on Ms. Harden’s house, Todd Marsh of Douglas Elliman (DOUG), said that Ms. Harden is already a favorite among her neighbors.

“She immediately became close with people on the block,” he said. “She was gung-ho about the neighborhood.”

Ms. Harden, 43, won the Best Supporting Actress Award several years back for her role as real-life artist Lee Krasner in the film Pollock . She and her husband are settling into the house with their 4-year-old daughter, Eulala Grace. The Oscar-winner said the house’s excellent condition, as well as the neighborhood’s family-friendly feel, were prime factors in the deal.

“My husband found this beautifully renovated brownstone on a tree-lined, owner-occupied street where the sounds of children’s laughter drift into my office window,” Ms. Harden wrote. “The house was in move-in condition with four working fireplaces, but the one that sold me was the one in our master bedroom …. We even have a little backyard for our daughter to play in.”

Credit for the condition of the house goes to its previous owners, who gave it a three-year-long gut renovation. Mr. Fontecchio, who runs the restaurant Food Bar and the Chelsea gay meeting place G, purchased the property in 1998 with Eric Sawyer, a community activist and former Citibank employee. Their architect turned the house into a three-unit building, with Mr. Fontecchio occupying the parlor and second-floor duplex, Mr. Sawyer living in the apartment above, and a rental tenant living on the ground floor. The 18-foot-wide building now includes a chef’s kitchen, Viking stove and Sub-Zero fridge.

Mr. Fontecchio said he had planned on starting a family there, but when his relationship broke up, he decided he needed a change of environment and put the house on the market in October 2002.

“I wasn’t going to be having any children in the immediate future,” he said, “and honestly, the house was sad.”

Mr. Sawyer went along with the decision to sell the house because, Mr. Fontecchio said, Mr. Sawyer was in the process of renovating another townhouse on the block, and the extra money was welcome.

Mr. Fontecchio met Ms. Harden for the first time on the day of the closing. He pronounced her “a doll” and said they got along “like houses on fire.” Ms. Harden also liked some of Mr. Fontecchio’s furniture so much that she bought a few pieces, including an antique butcher-block table. Mr. Fontecchio said that Ms. Harden will probably continue to rent out the ground floor, but will likely use the top-floor apartment as office space.

Keith Prince of Douglas Elliman represented Ms. Harden on this deal. She is currently starring in the Clint Eastwood–directed drama, Mystic River .

The Inside Job: Elliman Chairman Markets $1.75 M. Co-op on 62nd

For the last 12 years, Douglas Elliman chairman Alan Rogers has been an uptown man, moored to his sprawling one-bedroom co-op at 30 East 62nd Street. But the top-dog real-estate executive has always harbored a desire to live below 14th Street, and he’s finally ready to make his move. Two weeks ago, Mr. Rogers put his 62nd Street apartment on the market for $1.75 million.

“I’ve always had a yearning to be downtown,” he said. “It’s probably a midlife crisis-I don’t know.”

Mr. Rogers, a British-born 52-year-old bachelor, said he’s looking to buy a loft or townhouse in either Soho or Greenwich Village.

“I’ve looked at some of the new condo developments and conversions, but I haven’t started my townhouse search seriously yet,” he said.

In 1997, Mr. Rogers bought a raw loft condo in the New Museum building, at 158 Mercer Street. He never moved in, though, and sold the apartment within the year.

“The timing wasn’t right,” he explained. “I was very busy at the time. Maybe it wasn’t a big enough midlife crisis.”

Asked about his fondest memories of his apartment on East 62nd Street, Mr. Rogers chuckled and replied, “Nothing that can be printed.”

So what (besides the things not fit for print) endeared him to the 1,700-square-foot unit in the postwar building?

“It’s the proportions I like,” he said. “The rooms are huge for a postwar building. It’s like I have part of a very large prewar apartment.”

Douglas Elliman brokers Todd Marsh and Sonya Dunham are sharing the listing.

Recent Transactions in the Real Estate Market


203 West 90th Street

One-bedroom, two-bathroom condo.

Asking: $900,000. Selling $827,000.

Charges: $500. Taxes: $700.

Time on the market: two months.

TWO FOR ONE A college economics professor and his wife-who had been professional nomads for well over 20 years, picking up houses in Boston and Pennsylvania-decided to move back to New York. But after 45 years of marriage, and having clocked endless class hours teaching, there was still one lesson this teacher could only learn from the harsh reality of New York living: The couple sold both of their houses to trade up to this Upper West Side one-bedroom. It’s a brand-new apartment, and they’re the first tenants in a five-story-plus addition to a previously existing six-story building that began construction in the summer of 2000. After years of wrangling with grumpy neighbors sick of the construction, the addition was completed more or less as planned, and last month the upper floors opened for occupancy. The professor’s unit has a 30-square-foot terrace, high ceilings, crown moldings and a California-style kitchen. Mickey Cohen, an associate broker at Charles H. Greenthal & Co., represented the buyers. Eva Graczyk, president of Margaret Bassett Real Estate Corp., had the exclusive.


520 West 23rd Street

One-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op.

Asking: $436,000. Selling: $436,000

Maintenance: $687; 20 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: five weeks.

PEDESTRIAN-CHIC The western edge of Chelsea has been gaining popularity-however slowly-as a place to live. But its residents remain tied to the arts and decorating businesses that made Chelsea west of 10th Avenue chic-the galleries and boutiques. This couple is no exception: They’re the owners of Mind Hand & Company Inc., a low-key decorating firm, located only a few blocks away, which operates solely by word-of-mouth referrals. Being plugged into the neighborhood, they have seen the area “at its best and its not-so-best,” according to their broker, Robert Clepper of William B. May. “If you crossed 10th Avenue 10 years ago, it wasn’t in anyone’s mind that someone [could] live here-and even five years ago, it wasn’t much of a residential choice.” Soon, the couple found itself wanting to live in the neighborhood instead of just working there. The developers of this building said the western sliver of Chelsea took off so fast that they reversed an initial plan to offer rental apartments and opted for the condominium/co-op hybrid known as the “condop.” The new owners of this unit can now take stock of further developments in the neighborhood from their balcony.


8 Old Fulton Street

Two-bedroom, two-bathroom co-op.

Asking: $949,000. Selling: $850,000.

Maintenance: $1,148; 53 percent tax-deductible.

Time on market: six and a half months.

SEAT OF EMOTIONS Although the previous owner of this apartment works in the financial industry, it wasn’t a matter of finances that almost gummed up this deal-it was sentiment. On the day before selling his home of 10 years, this newly married financier wanted to take one final stroll through the apartment. As it turned out, however, he had accidentally brought the wrong set of keys, and was unable to take his whimsical walk-through. Irritated, he left in a huff, and refused to close on the property until the lawyers on the deal added a clause to the contract that permitted him one post-closing visit. The apartment with such emotional magnetism is located in a former toilet-seat factory, and the financier’s unit is now the home of an Italian fashion-magazine editor and a freelance photographer. The artsy couple had been living in Manhattan and were impressed by the neighborhood’s chic eateries, like the River Café and Grimaldi’s Pizza, as well as the under construction Brooklyn Bridge Park. What sealed the deal for this couple, however, was the accessibility of Manhattan via the nearby water taxi. Corcoran Group senior vice president Cheryl Nielsen-Saaf was the broker for the buyer, and Corcoran broker Peter Schwartz represented the seller.


American Jewish Congress Markets 27,000-Square-Foot Beauty on 84th

After half a century on East 84th Street, the American Jewish Congress is selling its six-story townhouse there for $19.5 million.

The massive, 27,000-square-foot building, which came on the market two weeks ago, presently houses the national headquarters of the influential civil-rights group, which was founded in 1918.

While the building’s wide, winding staircase and original details are pleasant to behold, the building “has never been efficient for our offices and staff,” said the organization’s president, Jack Rosen. He said they had considered selling the building at different times over the past 10 years.

The group is motivated in part by news of several large institutional townhouse sales on the Upper East Side in recent years.

The congress’ associate executive director, Belle Faber, said the group will likely focus its search for new offices in midtown, adding that the group has to update phone and computer systems that would be more easily accommodated in a conventional office building.

“It’s a beautiful building, and we love it dearly,” Ms. Faber said. “But this is a natural step for us to take.”

Marcia: Uptown Girl