Manhattan Transfers

In Husbands and Wives, Mia Farrow’s character memorably tells her husband, played by Woody Allen, that he isn’t serious about moving to Europe, because he “couldn’t survive off the island of Manhattan for more than 48 hours.”

Nevertheless, it has been rumored from time to time that the acclaimed director might someday go through with the move across the pond.

Most recently, such speculation was fueled by the fact that the 70-year-old auteur used London as the location for two feature films, the critically acclaimed Match Point, released last December, and the forthcoming Scoop.

Although Mr. Allen temporarily took up residence during shooting in a ritzy neighborhood near Hyde Park, he won’t be giving up on New York just yet: The ink just dried on his $25.9 million townhouse contract, as The Observer reported on Jan. 19.

Whether or not the real-estate market is slowing down “dramatically” (says Mayor Bloomberg) or simply has cooled a bit, there are very few trophy homes to go around for the most discriminating buyers. So, despite the fears of a bursting bubble, such properties have still been moving. Since last fall, five townhouses have sold for above $20 million, with three on East 64th Street alone.

Although Mr. Allen’s deal certainly won’t break the overall record price paid for a townhouse—the $40 million dropped on the Duke Semans mansion—there is little doubt that it will smash the current townhouse record for price per square foot.

In early November, Louise Beit, of Sotheby’s International Realty, listed the 20-foot-wide townhouse for $25.9 million. (Ms. Beit declined to comment on the listing). At that considerable price, the luxurious residence—measuring 6,400 square feet, according to city records—is asking $4,047 a foot.

While several ritzy developments (such as 15 Central Park West and the Richard Meier towers) have yielded sales at that lofty price point, the previous townhouse record for price per square foot was $2,471. That record was set last October, when Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Linda Schlesinger and her husband sold their 20-foot-wide home on East 64th Street for $21.5 million.

Sure, the final selling price on Mr. Allen’s future home is still unknown, but several luxury brokers offered their expert estimates to The Observer, with the prevailing opinion being that it will most likely sell for below asking—somewhere in the $20 million to $22 million range.

While the deal may or may not break Ms. Schlesinger’s record for the sale for a 20-foot-wide townhouse, even with the low-ball estimate of around $20 million, Mr. Allen would easily smash the record price per square foot, at a whopping $3,125.

Although such inventory is in short supply, Mr. Allen isn’t considered to be getting a steal at that price. However, taking into account this townhouse’s provenance, and East 70th Street’s reputation as the finest townhouse block in the city, Mr. Allen may still have made a very sound investment in the long run.

Built in 1901 by Trowbridge & Livingston, the five-story townhouse was first owned by Grace Luling, according to appraisal records. Next, Emily Baker Kellogg, wife of Leonard Kellogg, purchased the property. In June 1943, Ms. Kellogg sold the townhouse to the late Dr. Ernest Kulka, a renowned gynecologist, who resided there for over four decades and is still remembered fondly.

In the mid-1980’s, Kulka put the property on the market, and one high-end broker became very interested in snapping it up—for herself.

“It was my dream house,” said luxury specialist Bridget Restivo, of Alice F. Mason Ltd. An architectural expert, Ms. Restivo was enthralled with the 16-room townhouse.

“Personally, I think it is the finest Georgian house I’ve seen of that size,” she said. “It is one of those houses that can be a 20-footer, but seems much grander.”

Some exquisite features of the limestone-clad townhouse include ornate plaster moldings, a grand staircase, 10 fireplaces, French doors and herringbone floors. There is also an English basement, a formal dining room, library, media room and staff rooms. On the third floor, there are two master bedrooms—one in front and one in the back. One floor above, there are two bedrooms, with a sitting room and kitchen in the rear of the house. Originally used as servants’ quarters, the fifth floor includes a trunk room with a ladder to the roof.

However, one of the property’s most notable features is the sun-lit garden, which faces out onto the double-wide townhouse that formerly housed the Jim Henson Company, located on 69th Street. It features an outdoor bench, plentiful shrubbery and a fountain with permanent plumbing lines.

Although Ms. Restivo had a contract out, the deal (in the $3 million range) never took place. In May 1988, Justine Compton-Wentworth purchased it for $3.8 million. A few years later, Ms. Compton-Wentworth put it on the market for $9 million, but the house refused to budge. Eventually, in 1998, it was sold for $6.05 million to the current owners, Martin A. White and his wife, Clare, an antiques dealer. Mr. White didn’t return calls for comment

A year after Mr. White purchased Mr. Allen’s future digs (pending a closed deal), the acclaimed director was also in a buying mood further uptown. In 1999, Mr. Allen and his wife, Soon-Yi, purchased a 40-foot-wide Carnegie Hill mansion for $17.7 million. Located on East 92nd Street, the massive residence was approximately 14,400 square feet.

In July 2004, after a very public dispute with developers building a nearby condominium tower, Mr. Allen sold the mansion for $24.5 million to former Goldman Sachs executive Barry Volpert. That deal broke the record sales price for single-family homes, trading hands at about $1,700 per square foot. So it’s not surprising that Mr. Allen recently told Vanity Fair, “I made more money in real estate than I’ve ever made from movies.”

Since then, Mr. Allen has been reportedly spending about $25,000 a month on a single-family rental at Madison and 85th Street.

Despite rumors that he might relocate abroad, Upper East Side brokers were well aware that Mr. Allen was still in the market to buy—however, there were a few new specifications. Mr. Allen now preferred a much smaller home than the palatial mansion he previously occupied, and he also desired a superb garden, according to multiple real-estate sources.

In the same month that he sold his Carnegie Hill residence, the New York Post reported that Mr. Allen was buying a different East 70th Street property—the Rothschild Mansion—for $15 million. Despite an accepted offer at the time, the deal for the 11,000-square-foot townhouse eventually fell through, as reported two months later. (In the 16 months since Mr. Allen passed on the building, the Neo-Georgian style mansion, with a 33-foot-deep garden, has only increased in price. Currently, it’s on the market for $25 million, listed with Paula Del Nunzio of Brown Harris Stevens).

So if it that townhouse apparently met Mr. Allen’s specs, why did the deal fall through? For one thing, the Century Foundation, the building’s current owner, needed ample time to relocate their offices. Secondly, Mr. Allen would’ve had to undertake a massive renovation to transform the 11,000-square-foot building into a single-family dream home. It can be assumed that such an undertaking for a director and screenwriter already busy overseas would be difficult. (Mr. Allen didn’t respond to several calls for comment.)

Because of the costly and time-consuming renovation, one high-end broker isn’t surprised that Mr. Allen was willing to spend a record amount on this townhouse.

“He paid more than anyone else when he bought the house on 92nd Street,” said Jed Garfield of Leslie J. Garfield Realty. Well versed in catering to the whims of upscale clients, Mr. Garfield recently represented Tamir Sapir, the Russian oil magnate who purchased the Duke Semans mansion on Fifth Avenue.

“[Mr. Allen] wanted something done perfectly, and he wanted it to a certain taste,” said Mr. Garfield. “Even if he did pay a premium of some kind, it’s well worth it to avoid the brain damage of a renovation.”

Its pre-existing configuration as a single-family home is one huge plus, but the location makes another difference. Mr. Allen’s new townhouse is further down East 70th Street, in the middle of a much-coveted block between Park and Lexington avenues. And just around the corner are three of the city’s grand co-op buildings: 720, 730, and 740 Park.

“Some consider it the best street in New York,” said Laurance Kaiser IV, president of Key-Ventures Realty. “It is pretty from the Frick museum [on Fifth Avenue] on down to Third Avenue.”

“It has been considered for years to be the finest block on the Upper East Side,” said Ms. Restivo. “The houses are set back, so there is more light.”

In addition to the $25.9 million listing, there are two other properties on the same block between Park and Lexington that could receive a boost—both from the celebrity cachet and, arguably more important, from the premium price spent on the townhouse.

Anchoring the block is the 40-foot-wide townhouse that formerly housed the late philanthropist Paul Mellon, currently on the market for $24.5 million. Now residing in Virginia, Rachel (Bunny) Lambert Mellon, his widow, has listed the 9,400-square-foot building with brokers Kirk Henckels and Jo Hardin of Stribling and Associates.

Inside, there are two master suites, three smaller bedrooms and five staff rooms. While the frontage of the Mellon House makes it a very unique property, some modern renovations will be needed, according to one broker.

“The Mellons were so secure that they could live any way they chose,” said Mr. Kaiser, referring to the relatively small rooms on the lower floors and the lack of a grand staircase. “If someone wanted to put in $15 million, they would have the most spectacular house around.”

More recently, another nearby townhouse entered the luxury market, this one only four houses down from Mr. Allen’s, on the south side of the street. Priced at $17 million, the 8,000-square-foot residence came on the market about one month ago, listed with broker Suzanne Sealy of Prudential Douglas Elliman. Ms. Sealy declined to comment.

With three houses currently on the market on this East 70th Street block alone, some very big deals could close in 2006. Last year, three townhouses sold for more than $20 million on a block rivaling it: East 64th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues. The late Gianni Versace’s palace sold for $30 million; Roberto and Joanne de Guardiola’s five-story mansion sold for $26.25 million; and the aforementioned 20-footer belonging to Ms. Schlesinger went for $21.5 million.

“Those two are considered the best blocks, from a pure snob-appeal real-estate perspective,” Mr. Garfield noted. Manhattan Transfers