The Two Towers

Sandy and Joan Weill have spent $42.4 million on a penthouse in Fifteen Central Park West, according to a city deed filed on Sept. 12. That is only the third apartment sale in the new development to officially close, and the second to close for over $10 million.

The Plaza Hotel, on the other hand, has had four such deals close for above $10 million in the last few months. These include the penultimate: In July, one still-unknown buyer spent $51.5 million on six apartments on the seventh floor—if it holds, it will resound as the single biggest apartment deal in New York City history. (Most of the Plaza's sales have been much less spectacular, some for under—gasp!—$2 million, meaning, in a strict competition of amounts, Fifteen wins so far.)

The Plaza and Fifteen Central Park West together represent the crest of a wave of luxury development in Manhattan that commenced shortly after the turn of the decade. Both have storied pedigrees—the Plaza was an iconic hotel in its past life, and some of it will remain a hotel post-condo conversion; Fifteen was built by the Zeckendorf brothers on the site of the Mayflower Hotel—and both were heavily marketed as pinnacles of luxury living.

And now both have prices that will reliably astound as sales continue to close throughout the fall and into next year. But there’s a difference.

The roster of buyers for Fifteen Central Park West is known to even the most casual real estate voyeur in New York—The Observer, for instance, broke the news of Mr. Weill buying in the building back in July; we just didn’t know the amount. Other notables who plan to buy include rock star Sting, actor Denzel Washington, Jeff Gordon of NASCAR fame, director Norman Lear, sportscaster Bob Costas, and the Zeckendorf brothers themselves, Arthur and William Lie.

In the Plaza, the buyers have been… um, no one you’d know—though, to be fair, these are people paying well above the average Manhattan home price of over $1,100 a square foot, so they must definitely be somebody. The New York Times suggested that developer Harry Macklowe might be the $51.5 million buyer–or perhaps the buyer behind another $50 million-plus deal there that's pending. Otherwise, the unfamiliar fans the flames of speculation about which notables might be eyeing the icon on Central Park South.

Central Park West—and Fifth Avenue on the park’s east—have always attracted the well-heeled and the well-known. The Plaza, in its day as a hotel eminence, did the same.

Perhaps what we’re seeing is a second act for the Plaza both enviable and disappointing, but ultimately democratic: In the age of the $50 million apartment, money really is the in; fame’s merely an exclamation point, nice if you have it. The simply riche—whether nouveau or ancien—have taken the Plaza. Will they one day, a generation or three from now, do the same at Fifteen Central Park West?

With reporting by Max Abelson.

The Two Towers