Of Mice and Men at Work

The elegant Apthorp was built by the Astors but named for Charles Ward Apthorp, owner of a farm by that surname that in the late 18th century encompassed about 300 acres of what is now the Upper West Side. Despite asking prices averaging $3,000 a square foot, the ill-fated Renaissance Revival building currently has more in common with its ranchland roots than the Pitti Palace it was modeled after.

If you think bedbugs are bad, then wait until you see the rodent traps in the Apthorp’s famous courtyard (they are hidden in plain sight under Disneyland-like plastic rocks, the kind an idiot hides his keys beneath). The Apthorp’s contaminated living conditions–think lead exposure and construction-revealed walls of asbestos–have been aired before in places like New York magazine, but fast-tracking rodents take it to a whole new level.

The flurry of Apthorp closings–and relistings and rental listings–have been press-popular in the past several weeks (including financier Jon Pollock’s third ninth-floor apartment purchase and the swift re-listing of a barely-two-bedroom fifth-floor unit). The attorney general’s May decision to finally green-light the condo conversion marked the beginning of closings on 37 units in contract at the time. Superbroker Dolly Lenz was hired in July 2009 by the then-developer, a partnership between Africa Israel and Mann Realty, to accomplish the superhuman feat of selling 25, or 15 percent, of the condos–a requirement for the conversion’s state approval. She did. (Ms. Lenz did not respond to a request for comment.)

Residents recently took The Observer on a tour of the ballyhooed conversion, beset as it is by tenant complaints of mice and waterbugs. Exterminators arrive every six weeks only to hand out paper mouse and insect traps without so much as surveying the apartments. 

In the catacomb-reminiscent basement, a fire hose lies sadly on the floor detached from its wall fixture, and the recently relocated laundry machines line a narrow hallway with a makeshift sink and barely enough room to unload the dryer (the assumption is that converted condos will house their own washer-dryer system).

The apartments are being marketed as is, with buyers accepting the responsibility and cost (roughly $1,000 per square foot) of renovation. Tenants say the building’s manager has not instituted any construction protocol. That has led many to wonder what perils face them next when renovations begin in earnest on the recently purchased apartments, and lead and asbestos exposure becomes dangerously high–not to mention that “anytime the construction starts,” the resident said, “the mice start scurrying.” 

The storied complex, which has counted Nora Ephron, Al Pacino and Conan O’Brien as residents, has garnered a reputation for being just that–complex. With the trials and tribulations of the condo conversion turning the limestone arches into a classier Melrose Place, it’s no wonder Curbed has a lengthy thread on the subject titled “As the Apthorp Turns.” However, the problem with this soap opera seems to be heavy operatics and not enough soap. — Chloe Malle

Of Mice and Men at Work