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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Furrowed Brow

I was walking with two friends, touring them by what I felt was the most beautiful prewar building in Greenwich Village: 43 Fifth Avenue. This architectural gem is a grand and elegant 1903 Beaux-Arts building which sports a distinctive mansard roof. The property just screams PARIS. I have learned that this building is not just my little secret but also, in fact, highly coveted. There is little turnover/availability of apartments, and a number of celebrities, past and present, have called it home.

At the time, an entire floor was available at the unfathomable price of $17 million dollars (reduced from $25 million). That's a lot of money for an apartment. It does however, buy you 13 rooms - 5 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, and everything imaginable, even with a recording studio.

On the same evening, we strolled down my favorite block in the center Village: 11th street between 5th and 6th Avenues. As my friend Bill, also a long-time Village resident, and I concurred on the number of reasons that made this block special, a For Sale sign appeared for a small, exquisite townhouse. I joked that he and I would be buying the building in partnership, splitting the floors, and that he look up the price immediately on his iPhone. A quick search of the broker's listing returned the bad news very quickly: asking price, $14 million for the small townhouse.

And so it goes in Manhattan. Many non-city residents, accustomed to the idea of owning a house, are unaware that this cornerstone of the American Dream - private home ownership - is essentially unattainable here except for a very few who are able to come up with 10-40 million dollars. Even in the outer boroughs, single-family homes are quickly becoming unaffordable for any except the very well heeled. With few apartments currently under one million dollars in Manhattan, these prices for entire townhouse should come as no big surprise.

So sales of these homes have become newsworthy events, often purchased by notables. Spending time at the Central Park boat pond years ago, I learned that Woody Allen had decided to join the ranks of home ownership, making the move from a Fifth Avenue penthouse apartment to the purchase of a property at 118 East 70th Street. From a Streetscapes article by Christopher Gray of the New York Times:

In 1939, Fortune magazine called it “probably New York City’s most beautiful residential block,” and Paul Goldberger, in his 1979 book, “New York: The City Observed” (Random House), described it as having “a perfect balance between individuality and an overall order.”

Regarding the property purchased by Woody Allen in 2006 for $26 million:

The neo-Georgian house at 118 East 70th was designed by Trowbridge & Livingston in 1900, with a spectacularly wide fanlight; the rippling surface of the glass dances and glistens in the sun.

So I toured the block in 2006 to see for myself what all the hoopla was about and why this one city block, between Park and Lexington Avenues, has been considered by some to be one of New York City's finest. Today's photos are from that visit. At the time, construction was under way on Woody's house (lower left and center photos).

I know what many of you are thinking. Manhattan is a very nice place, and 70th Street looks like a very nice block, but $26 million for a small house? Even as a long-time resident of New York City, and inured as I am to the lust for this borough and stratospheric prices, I share A Furrowed Brow :)

Related Posts: Old New York (Part 1 and Part 2), The Feeling Passes, When Worlds CollideAir Rights, 121 Charles, Grove Court, The Dakota, Kerbs Boathouse


Leslie said...

I'm seeing on another site that it sold in April of 2006 for $22,625...a small price to pay for a man with a great deal of money who requires a great deal of privacy.

Anonymous said...

Stunning! What's the location of the first house? the 5 story Georgian house