Academy Award–nominated diva Angela Bassett and her husband, Law and Order ‘s Courtney Vance, have landed at Lincoln Center. Earlier this winter, city records show, the thespian couple purchased a one-bedroom pied-à-terre in a luxury condominium development on 66th Street for $845,000. They join that coterie of the entertainment elite that populates Manhattan’s “West Coast,” where, a bit further uptown, Hollywood heavyweights like Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman and Miramax czar Harvey Weinstein hold court along Central Park West.
Ms. Bassett and Mr. Vance’s 34th-floor one-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom spread has marble baths and Hudson River views. The 60-story building, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, has numerous amenities, including a doorman and a private health club with a swimming pool.
The Lincoln Center perch will only be a pied-à-terre for the Ivy League couple (he’s a Harvard man; she’s a Yalie), who reside full-time in the sunnier climes of Los Angeles.
“Courtney is filming Law and Order and is here eight to nine months out of the year,” Ms. Bassett’s spokesperson said. “They’ll remain full-time in Los Angeles.”
In September 2002, Tony Friedman of Realty Group International sold the apartment to a buyer from Chicago who, two years later, sold the place to Ms. Bassett and Mr. Vance; the sale took place in January. The 890-square-foot condo is the first Manhattan residence for the couple, who married in 1997.
In 2001, Mr. Vance, 44, joined the cast of NBC’s Law and Order: Criminal Intent as Assistant D.A. Ron Carver, which has brought him to New York for extended shoots. In addition to his current role, Mr. Vance has appeared in such films as The Hunt for Red October , Space Cowboys and The Preacher’s Wife , as well as the television dramas Boston Public and Picket Fences .
For Ms. Bassett, who was nominated as Best Actress for her portrayal of Tina Turner in the 1993 film What’s Love Got to Do With It (she didn’t win the Oscar, though she did get a Golden Globe), landing at Lincoln Center is a return to her Gotham roots. Not that she’s been a stranger to the city: Over the course of her 19-year career in Hollywood, she’s appeared opposite such notable New Yorkers as Robert De Niro in 2000’s The Score , as well as in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X .
In recent weeks, the Upper East Side real-estate market has been flooded by a cascade of luxury townhouses, marking the first major real-estate shake-up of 2004. In the two years following the Sept. 11 downturn, which slowed the townhouse market’s upper echelons to a trickle, owners of Manhattan’s gilded private residences have retreated behind their mansions’ limestone façades as the properties languished on the block.
But now, as the real-estate boom that began in the second half of 2003 continues apace, owners have returned to the market with hubristic price tags. Since early April, a quartet of Upper East Side townhouses with asking prices totaling $100 million has hit the market. Buoyed by an improving economy and a recent real-estate market report issued by Miller Samuel showing that the average price of a Manhattan townhouse increased by 10.1 percent in 2003, to a record $4.04 million, sellers now believe that well-heeled buyers are ready to plunk down eight figures to own a trophy property.
“It’s a return of the titans,” said Jed Garfield of townhouse brokerage Leslie J. Garfield and Co. “Certainly, it’s fair to say, this year’s market is considerably stronger than last year’s.”
The mansions flanking the blocks on East 64th Street between Fifth and Lexington avenues-such as Seagram heir Edgar Bronfman Jr.’s $40 million home, art dealer Guy Wildenstein’s $35 million spread and the residence of former Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola, which sold for nearly $20 million last year-have made this corridor the pinnacle of Upper East Side luxury real estate. Now, the “For Sale” signs have sprouted like cherry trees budding on a spring morning.
Take 16 East 64th Street, the six-story, 10,000-square-foot neo-Federal townhouse owned by attorney Stuart Schlesinger. The property, listed by his wife, Linda Schlesinger of Douglas Elliman, hit the market on April 14 for $27 million. At the end of the block at 603 Park Avenue, the red-brick, Tuscan-columned, 25-room home owned by real-estate developer Sherman Cohen (which has bounced on and off the market since he purchased it in 1989 for $12.5 million) is now quietly listing at $35 million, brokers close to the property said. The mansion, which Mr. Cohen has never occupied, has 100 feet of frontage along Park Avenue and, since its construction in 1920 for sugar wholesaler Thomas Howell, has been home to the coal magnate James Ellsworth, as well as Margaretta Fitler, who in 1963 became Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller’s second wife.
Several doors down from the Cohen mansion, corporate real-estate dealmaker Kenneth Laub is currently seeking $23 million for his four-story, red brick townhouse at 163 East 64th Street. Mr. Laub, the former president of the East 64th Street Association, had been privately showing the 8,500-square-foot, 13-room mansion over the past 10 years and advertising it with a slick brochure, before openly listing the property with Yael Nazmiyal and Alexandra Tawfik of Douglas Elliman in early April. Five blocks uptown, at 21 East 69th Street, the fertility guru Dr. Norbert Gleicher, chairman of the Chicago and New York–based Center for Human Reproduction, recently listed his 7,500-square-foot mansion (formerly the Romeo Gigli boutique) for $14.99 million-more than twice the $5.25 million he paid back in February 2001 for the 20-foot-wide landmarked building.
The appearance of these listings indicate that the townhouse market is finally keeping pace with the Upper East Side co-op and condo frenzy that has raged since last year. Sellers, hesitant until recently to wade back into the market after “white elephants” like Mr. Bronfman’s $40 million mansion and Mr. Wildenstein’s $35 million abode languished post-9/11, have decided to dive headlong into the resurgent market.
“We’ve been thinking about doing this for a while,” said Ms. Schlesinger of listing her East 64th Street townhouse, which has a limestone-and-marble entry foyer, bronze and wrought-iron railings and six wood-burning fireplaces. “Since the market is so strong now, and since we live on the best block in New York, we thought we’d make a go of it.”
Mr. Laub echoed the sentiment.
“If someone is willing to pay a price commensurate with what the home is worth, then I’ll sell. I’m just as happy to stay here if I don’t get my price,” he said. “It just seems like an opportunity [to sell] in an improving market.”
Brokers handling the listings say that the stratospheric asking prices are realistic-not overly optimistic, like the previous slate of luxury properties that failed to sell in 2002.
“We feel it’s an excellent time now. The trend for townhouse prices is going up,” Mr. Laub’s broker, Ms. Nazmiyal, said.
But other brokers in the Upper East Side market question the selling stampede and the skyrocketing prices.
“This often happens in the townhouse market on a cyclical basis. A lot of times, the market is filled with big egos that tend to get ahead of the rest of the market,” said Kirk Henckels, a director at Stribling and Associates. “We’re back to speculation in the market, though one thing that will help is the lack of inventory in the co-op and the townhouse market. There’s really nothing else out there for sale.”
Recent sales may also fuel optimism for those looking to cash out. In February, the 28,500-square-foot mansion at 9 East 86th Street owned by the Town Club sold for $14.7 million to a private investor and his family. And while Woody Allen’s $27 million, 22-room mansion still awaits a buyer, some brokers say that, given current market conditions, a sale may be not far off.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. The number of buyers willing to fork over north of $20 million for a private residence will be the best indication of whether the current glut of eight-figure listings is more than brash posturing.
“It’s very hard to get a five- to six-bedroom apartment in this market. There’s nothing available. The bottom line is, everything is selling,” said Michele Kleier, the president of Gumley Haft Kleier, an independent Upper East Side brokerage.
“The market is absolutely crazy,” she continued. “Condos are now asking for income-tax returns; the only thing they don’t do is interview like a co-op board. The only clean deal, if you don’t want to go through the difficult process, is to buy a townhouse. When you own a townhouse, you own a real piece of New York.”
Hachette Boss Buys on Beloved Block; Will He Ask Staff to Choose Colors?
Jack Kliger, president and chief executive of Hachette Filipacchi U.S., the publisher of such style-conscious titles as Elle and Metropolitan Home , has left the stroller-saddled sidewalks of the Upper West Side for the leafy West Village, home to designers Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg. Mr. Kliger recently paid $1.4 million for the 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom condo at 59 West 12th Street that had been the home of actor Ben Bates, son of the late thespian Sir Alan Bates, who passed away last December.
“I wanted to get back downtown,” Mr. Kliger told The Observer , speaking of his recent West Village acquisition. “I always loved that particular block. That’s where I lived 25 years ago when I worked for The Village Voice .”
The prewar building, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, is also home to designer Isaac Mizrahi. Talking Heads rocker David Byrne lives down the block.
The renovated condo has detailed woodwork, marble baths, oversized windows and a high-tech sound system. Leonard Steinberg of Douglas Elliman, who sold the spread along with his partner, Herve Senequier, declined to comment.
Mr. Kliger began his career at The Village Voice in 1973. Before becoming the head of the U.S. division of the world’s largest magazine publisher, he worked as publisher of GQ and Glamour , as well as being executive vice president of Condé Nast.
While the renovated apartment already meets Mr. Kliger’s exacting standards, it’s impossible, with the resources he has at his fingertips, not to ponder making further improvements.
“I bought [the apartment] in great condition, though I might have Elle Decor or Met Home come in and take a look,” he said. “The editors can come by and tell me what they think. It’s good to have that kind of on-staff advice.”