Tina Fineberg for The New York Times
By JOSH BARBANEL
THE Plaza Hotel, long a symbol of style and sophistication, has opened its doors as a condominium, and the first owners have turned out to be, well, people of unusual style and accomplishment.
The first buyer to close is Giuseppe De’Longhi, the chairman of De’Longhi S.p.A., the Italian manufacturer of stylish espresso machines, coffee makers and pasta makers, along with air-conditioners, heaters and irons. He paid $11.2 million in early June for a three-bedroom apartment on the 15th floor with sweeping park views.
The second buyer listed in city records is Bernard Spain, a Philadelphia businessman, who is credited with his brother, Murray, with popularizing the smiley face icon in the 1970s. Mr. Spain and his wife, Joan, bought a two-bedroom apartment on the 16th floor for $7 million. Mr. Spain paid substantially less because the apartment faces to the south and east, not northward toward the park, according to the condo plans.
Although many of the sales at the Plaza were negotiated months ago, the closings and those that follow over the next few quarters are likely to push up average sale prices in Manhattan that are reported later this year. And over the summer, apartments across the park at the limestone-clad 15 Central Park West will begin closing, adding further juice to the market.
The Plaza sales include two transactions above $50 million that are likely to create records for the most expensive apartments in Manhattan, depending on the order in which they close, brokers say.
Mr. De’Longhi’s broker, Jill Sloane at Halstead Property, said that Mr. De’Longhi, like many European buyers at the Plaza, had stayed there when it was a hotel. By the time he began looking in October, only three apartments there met his requirements, and he chose the one with park views from every room. (Ms. Sloane declined to discuss Mr. De’Longhi’s purchase until after his name appeared in city records.)
“The apartment goes across the whole building on the 15th floor,” she said, “and the 15th floor is the only one with stone balustrades framing the park views out of every window.”
Though Mr. De’Longhi signed his contract in December, after other buyers, he was the first to close, through an accident of the construction schedule.
Lloyd Kaplan, a spokesman for the Plaza, said that construction would be completed on two floors at a time, starting with the 15th and 16th floors, and that sales would close as the city issued temporary certificates of occupancy for the floors.
Mr. Spain and his brother were looking for cheerful fad items to market as the 1960s drew to a close, and hit upon the smiley face, which has been used off and on in advertising campaigns for years. Murray Spain added the slogan “Have a happy day,” and it soon began appearing on stickers and T-shirts nationwide.
They operated a chain of card stores in Philadelphia and developed a regional chain of dollar-only stores known as Dollar Express. In 2000, the chain merged with the much larger Dollar Tree Stores chain.
Renovations Done, Time to Move On
MOBY, the downtown D. J. and vegan rock musician, has just put his four-story tower apartment atop the El Dorado, a classic prewar co-op at 300 Central Park West, at 90th Street, on the market, and the listing provides a window into the way he lives.
The apartment is traditionalist, one might almost say bourgeois, furnished with period Art Deco lighting; a large antique Turkish rug bought at auction in soft reds, beige and cream; antique and period furniture; a celestial globe; and a framed handwritten note from Karl Rove on White House stationery. There are a piano and a guitar, leaning against a wall, but no sound system.
“It would’ve seemed absurd to fill the apartment with synthetic Philippe Starck modern pieces,” Moby, also known as Richard Melville Hall, wrote in an e-mail message. “I guess I wanted to honor the Art Deco spirit of the building.”
Within the 589 pages of his journal on his Web site moby.com, Moby complained over the years about the stifling heat and occasional foul odors in his downtown digs on the top floor of a Mott Street building.
So in September 2005, he paid $4.5 million to buy a two-bedroom apartment in the El Dorado’s south tower, spread over four levels connected by a combination of conventional stairs and cast iron spiral stairs, rising above the rest of the El Dorado and surrounded by terraces with terra cotta tiles, stone parapets and big views.
Moby spent some time there but then began a 14-month renovation to restore the space, installing central air-conditioning and a new kitchen with its own terrace. Accompanied by his interior designer, Sara Bengur, he began buying an eclectic mix of older furniture, like a chair with claw feet and a 1950s modern table. “I didn’t want to turn it into a weird Art Deco time capsule, but I also wanted to focus mainly on furniture from the early 20th century,” he said.
He moved into the apartment in April, but then, like many apartment renovators, he said he discovered the renovation more fun than actually living there. He said he was spending a lot of time overseas on tour and found that it didn’t make sense to have an extravagant New York apartment. Living uptown, too, was “far from just about everyone and everything I know,” he said.
So he hired two brokers, John Edwards of the Corcoran Group and Joan McArdle of Prudential Douglas Elliman, to put the co-op on the market with an asking price of $7.5 million.
The apartment has some extraordinary selling points, like the graceful terraces off all major rooms, but also some disadvantages. You need to walk up a flight of stairs across a long corridor to get there, and be prepared to climb up and down interior stairs. There is no internal elevator. It is more suitable, perhaps, for spry young single hedge funders than a family with strollers and young children.
Luxury Market Still Hot
HERE are some dispatches from the luxury real estate battlefront, where prices are up and wealthy buyers are fighting over apartments.
James Q. Whitman, the Ford Foundation professor of comparative and foreign law at Yale Law School, beat out half a dozen other bidders to snap up a co-op described as a “state of the art prewar classic celebrity penthouse.” The apartment was listed by Wendy Maitland, a broker at Brown Harris Stevens.
It was the 2,700-square-foot, four-bedroom home owned by the actor Treat Williams, who obligingly appeared in listing photographs.
Although brokers have been known to exaggerate the value of an apartment to get a listing, Ms. Maitland’s listing price of $4.75 million for the 10th-floor co-op on West 78th Street off Amsterdam Avenue turned out to be on the low side, even though, she said, she provided the highest estimated value of several brokers who competed for the listing.
“One of the other brokers told me that I was crazy and that I would never get that for it,” she said.
But Ms. Maitland said that she had two offers by the end of the first day, and that by the end of the week, she and Mr. Williams decided to ask each potential buyer to submit a “best and final offer.” Mr. Whitman won, and paid $5.7 million, 20 percent above the asking price, according to property records. The second bidder was close behind, Ms. Maitland said.
The highest sale in recent weeks was $29 million, paid by Daniel L. Nir, a hedge fund manager at Gracie Capital, and his wife, Jill E. Braufman. They bought a 7,000-square-foot apartment, in one of the legendary Fifth Avenue prewar co-ops, at 4 East 66th Street. It has a private elevator and was refinished “in perfect Georgian taste with the finest amenities,” the listing said.
The apartment was the home of Robert H. Burns, a founder of the Regency Hotel chain. He put it on the market in November 2005 for $37 million and cut the price twice, eventually to $29 million last August.
Guilliame Cuvelier, the creator of the Swedish vodka brand Svedka, put down $13.4 million for a seventh- floor apartment at 30 East 71st Street, near Madison Avenue. In March, he and Alcofinance S.A., a Belgian-based ethanol producer, sold the brand and its American marketing unit for $368 million to the Constellation Group, which owns liquor brands.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
Sunday, July 08, 2007