No Vacancy: Inside the Emptying of Manhattan's $64 M. Mansion

The 18,500-square-foot, 103-year-old townhouse at 18 East 68th Street just went on sale for $64 million, the most expensive officially listed house ever in New York. Dazzlingly, the place was sold to developers in 2003 for just $7.6 million, who sold it only last May for $20 million to an investment group managed by the banker Joseph Ingrassia.

How did $7.6 million turn into $20 million and then $64 million? The tenants of the mansion’s 11 apartment units, some elderly and rent-stabilized, were slowly lured away by a sharp 60-something man named Silvio Galterio.

Mr. Galterio had been trying to empty the place since his days working for the last owners, Dominion Management. “They really didn’t believe that I could get these people out for 10 zillion dollars,” he said. “I mean, the fact that I did it is a miracle.”

Now the mansion is being marketed as a single-family mansion—all the buyer has to do is renovate it back from apartments.

Mr. Galterio finished his work in January, when the society columnist Aileen Mehle, who wrote for decades as Suzy Knickerbocker, was bought out. “It was my job to understand what would motivate someone who has been living here for 35 years—the most splendiferous apartment in New York. Get her out, alright?”

“Sure, money has a lot to do with it,” he said—but, then again, so does understanding the tastes of tenants, who want to find new homes just like their old ones.

Ms. Mehle’s septuagenarian neighbor was harder to remove. “He was retired,” Mr. Galterio said, “had friends in the local neighborhood, what would he do with the money? He had no family. You know what I mean?” Just one tenant would ruin any potential single-family sale. “We had a fortuitous event happen! He had a new girlfriend … she had bigger aspirations.”

Ardor has been crucial to the house for a century. In 1899, Henry T. Sloane’s 17-year marriage ended, and his ex-wife remarried five hours later. He left their house and built this one with haute designer C. P. H. Gilbert, preventing his daughters from seeing their mother until she led “a moral life,” according to the listing with Brown Harris Stevens managing director Paula Del Nunzio. In 2006, the broker sold the Harkness Mansion for $53 million, a townhouse record.

A source involved in the deal told The Observer this week that Mr. Ingrassia’s partners include John R. Rice III, who is the other managing member at Capstone, a billion-dollar venture merchant banking firm that funds companies behind kosher foods, ladies handbags and even Danny DeVito’s Premium Limoncello. A third partner is Stephen Zoukis, formerly an executive for a German-U.S. real estate investment firm.

Despite the $20 million deed, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the current sellers paid $39 million for the mansion. Two sources agreed that that figure was too large; the discrepancy might be explained by the sum the owners had to spend on removing tenants.

“I wouldn’t call it a game, but it’s like a game of poker to some extent,” said Josh Zegen, whose firm Madison Realty Capital lent the sellers $25 million, some of which went to buying out tenants. “You don’t know what’s going on in the other side’s head.”

“I’m almost like a tenant advocate, because I empathize with their position in a lot of cases,” Mr. Galterio said. “In some cases I don’t, because they’re taking advantage.”

No Vacancy: Inside the Emptying of Manhattan's $64 M. Mansion