At Old Stanhope, Sales—Finally

The holiest principle of Manhattan real estate—the omnipotence of location—was defied from November 2005 to April 2007. For that span, nearly all the apartments at 995 Fifth Avenue went unsold, even though the hotel-turned-co-op was directly across the street from the hallowed Metropolitan Museum of Art.

(And never mind that the building was designed by Rosario Candela, the saint of 20’s-era Upper East Side architecture.)

But those days are over: The massive developer Gary Barnett, who renovated the old Stanhope Hotel into $10 million-plus apartments, told The Observer that all but five of the 26 units have gone to contract since April. “This is super,” he said.

And three apartments have already closed, city records show. Cristina Carlino, the founder of Philosophy cosmetics, paid $11.97 million for the first unit. She may have Oprah Winfrey to thank for her spread: In 2003, the TV guru gave away Philosophy’s Gingerbread Man Hot Salt Scrub, sending sales into a tizzy.

Two other buyers spent about $13 million each, though the second dropped part of that amount on an $848,000 one-room, first-floor maid’s studio. Mr. Barnett said the other maid’s rooms (“we prefer calling them our staff rooms or offices”) will sell for even more. And those 18 proper apartments in contract upstairs will start closing next month when the co-op opens.

But one year ago things were terrible, even though sales had been handled by broker doyennes Sharon Baum (who drives a Rolls Royce) and Deborah Grubman (wife of mega-attorney Allen Grubman). “We didn’t have a sales center; we were trying to sell out of a suite in the Regency, and it didn’t work,” Mr. Barnett said.

The ghosts of the non-chic old hotel lingered! “We had the connotation of the former Stanhope,” Mr. Barnett said. “There were small rooms and low ceilings because they dropped them for air-conditioning and stuff.” Those connotations ran deep: In May 2006, The Observer sniffed that a low-ceilinged space there could “seem a bit like a massive Hobbit-hole.”

Things changed in April when a two-unit spread finally opened up as model apartments. There were taller ceilings (nine feet instead of eight), plus the work of two designers (995 Fifth’s architect John Simpson designed a big fluffy addition to Buckingham Palace). Ms. Carlino, the salt-scrub magnate, liked those model units so much that she bought one.

And most importantly there was a new building name, taken from the address instead of the hotel. Yet the biggest listing at 995 Fifth, the custom-built, five-bedroom penthouse, still sits on the market for $47.5 million. At least two potential buyers have sent in architects, according to lead broker Beth Fisher. “Some of them have been looking at it,” she said, “for a longer period than we would have liked.”

At Old Stanhope, Sales—Finally