The Apthorp, So Close but So Crazy

The Apthorp, one of the Upper West Side’s most iconic and colossal buildings, is three weeks and six days from the biggest moment of its 103-year-old life. If 25 apartments haven’t been sold by Sept. 15, the building’s long, zigzagging, tortured condo conversion will have to end and start anew, according to state rules.

On the one hand, the Apthorp’s chances are looking tantalizingly good. According to a source at co-owner Africa Israel, a building notice will go up on Wednesday, Aug. 19, announcing that either 22 or 23 units are in contract. That figure is astonishing, considering that the most recent public tally had been 11. “We’re very close,” the source said.

On the other, the state of affairs there is typically melodramatic, fraught and tangled: Weird subplots of the Apthorp soap opera continue to unfurl, and the feud between rival owners rages on.

The drama started in November 2006, when a group headed by a mid-level New York landlord named Maurice Mann agreed to spend about $425 million, a U.S. record, on the block-long building. Africa Israel, the firm controlled by the Uzbek-born diamond billionaire Lev Leviev, a Chabad-Lubavitch titan and a close friend of Vladimir Putin, took a 50 percent stake. The two sides immediately began publicly squabbling over whether the Apthorp, with its own court and fountain, would remain a rental. It didn’t.

Things started dicey—they took out gargantuan mortgages, one with a bank whose CEO and chairman would soon resign over secret transfers of loans—and got more operatic by the month. Take the Apthorp lady who was apparently evicted over red ants spreading from her plants; she sued, and Mr. Mann’s main associate showed up to a deposition with a gun on his belt. By late last year, the feud between Mr. Mann and Africa Israel had become so epic that the sides even quarreled over what kind of rabbi (from a court known as a Beth din) would arbitrate their differences.

The Apthorp, So Close but So Crazy