Sunday, October 31, 2010

Real Estate Rundown: 927 Fifth Avenue

Last week, while settin' around sippin' on a gin & tonic contemplating the obviously misguided but somehow still kind of brilliant choice for our friend Hunny Bear to dress up as Justin Bieber for Halloween, we received a typically breviloquent query from another friend and informant Hot Chocolate who asked Your Mama if we knew the dish and dirt on a dee-luxe apartment at the fayn-cee and famous 927 Fifth Avenue building in New York City that recently hit the market with an ear piercing asking price of $26,000,000.

We didn't.

So we did what we always do when our real estate interest gets piqued. We gathered a few provisions (some booze, a nerve pill and a small cache of candy), fired up the interweb and went for a peep and a poke around property records and past reports. Our search was short. The New York Times, much to our delight and chagrin, had already identified the seller of the high floor twenty-six million dollar cooperative apartment as the estate of fairly recently deceased multi-billionaire Bruce Wasserstein, brother of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein and former Chairman and CEO of the white shoe investment banking firm Lazard Frères. Mister Wasserstein went to meet his great investment banker in the sky in October of 2009.

In addition to his duties with Lazard Frères, Mister Wasserstein also owned the eponymous private equity concern Wasserstein & Co. through which he owned, among other bizess entities, New York magazine. At the time Mister Wasserstein bought the magazine in 2004, it was an arguably increasingly stale and quickly becoming irrelevant publication into which some say he breathed new life and renewed success and prominence among the publications and papers that devote themselves to all things New York City.

The slender and handsome limestone clad building at 927 Fifth Avenue, competed in 1917, was designed in the Renaissance Revival style by Warren and Wetmore, the same accomplished architects who designed the architecturally outstanding Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. Built with just one 14-room 6000-ish square foot apartment per floor, the intimately scaled 927 Fifth Avenue offered residents both high luxury and the luxury of privacy. It still does.

Exclusive, expensive and favored by big money Wall Street types, 927 Fifth Avenue is unquestionably one of the very good cooperative buildings that line Fifth Avenue but not, butter beans, one of the very best. Those aristocratic real estate honors, which many will surely decry as outdated and outrageous, belong to cooperative buildings with addresses such as 834, 820, and 1040. For the sake of simplicity, let's just call 927 a solid a-minus building with a board that, despite a couple of past "celebrity" residents, prefers a less attention seeking sort of occupant; They allegedly, many years ago, rejected Barbra Streisand when she sought permission to live up amongst their hoity-toitiness.

While a piece of cake to sort out the identity of the owner of the $26,000,000 apartment currently on the market, Your Mama found it far more difficult to sort out just who owns each of the other 11 full floor apartments at 927 Fifth Avenue. We dug at, pulled on and carefully cajoled the interweb until we were blue in the face and four and a half gin and tonics into the wee hours of the morning. (See how we do for you, children?). Listen here to Your Mama now, carpet tacks, because we're about to impart a cliche nugget of wisdom: Persistence does indeed (sometimes) pay off because after quite a few false starts plus the generous help of a very informative article in Vanity Fair Your Mama finally managed to piece together what we're pretty darn certain is a complete list of the current residents at 927 Fifth Avenue.

Some reports indicate that real estate developer and coop board president Richard Cohen owns the eighth floor apartment at 927 Fifth Avenue. He does not. Our research reveals that Mister Cohen owns the second floor unit, an apartment he shared with tee-vee achor Paula Zahn until sometime in 2007 or 2008 when the long married couple went splitsville. An acrimonious dee-vorce ensued and all sorts of lurid allegations got tossed about and reported in the gossip columns: Miz Zahn (allegedly) told people that her marriage was sexless. Mister Cohen accused Miz Zahn of hooking up with his pal Paul Friburg.

Your Mama don't know anything about those things but we do know that in 2004 Mister Cohen–and by extension Miz Zahn–was embroiled in an even more public brouhaha over the building board's desire to "evict" Pale Male and Lola, a pair of red-tailed hawks who had built a nest atop some of the building's decorative stonework overlooking Central Park. It's a long and sordid story, puppies, the details of which are another story for another day. Suffice to say that Mr. Cohen, as head of the board, successfully led the charge to remove the nest in 2004. Under intense pressure from the public, it wasn't long before the board built the lovebirds a new nest but alas, as far as we know, Pale Male and Lola have yet to produce a single winged shorty in the new nest. The story, should any of y'all be interested gets hashed out in the aforementioned Vanity Fair article.

In May of 2000, shoe purveyor Kenneth Cole and his wife Maria Cuomo-Cole–daughter of former New York State governor Mario Cuomo–paid $11,200,000 for the 3rd floor apartment at 927 Fifth Avenue, which they bought from private investor Laurence Schneider. As the story goes, the couple renovated the apartment but, due to a classic case of the mysterious The Real Estate Fickle, never moved in. The renovated residence was hoisted on to the market and snatched up in 2003 by hedge hog Lee Ainslie of Maverick Capital. We were unable to ferret out the sale price but, in case any inquiring minds want to know, in March of 2008 the Cole-Cuomos shelled out $14,500,000 for a cooperative apartment at the seriously stiff lipped One Sutton Place South.

In 1998, former Bankers Trust president and CEO Frank Newman–who received a severance package worth a reported $100,000,000 when he left the financial juggernaut in 1999–bought the 4th floor spread at 927 Fifth for around $9,750,000. He put the 14-room residence back on the market in 2000 for eighteen or $19,000,000. In the spring of 2002 word began to slip-slide down the real estate gossip grapevine that an offer of "almost $13,700,000" offer had been made. The buyer was Goldman Sachs bigwig Thomas B. Walker III. At least one report says the purchase price was $13,000,000. At the time of the sale, the apartment has high ceilings, ballroom sized public spaces with park views, fireplaces and restored gold leaf details.

The fifth floor, as best as Your Mama can surmise from our spin through the interweb, belongs to long time resident Claire Edersheim, the widow of financier Maurits Edersheim, an early and long time employee of the once venerable investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert. Mister Edersheim became rich as he climbed the corporate ladder, but in the wake of Drexel's 1990 bankruptcy, he migrated over to Smith Barney.

In addition to an entire house in Scarsdale, NY, in 1970 Mister and Missus Edersheim had the chutzpah to have their pre-war digs at 927 Fifth Avenue completely done over by Brutalist architect Paul Rudolph. The result was a sleek 1970s glam meets a throaty 1930s whisper with lots of suggestively curving walls, shiny surfaces, exotic lighting, Lucite tables, and an army of tufted arm chairs in the corner living room that overlooks Central Park. Numerous and delicious pictures of both projects can be seen here. Since a couple of the photos of the Edershiem's spread at 927 Fifth Avenue show they were taken in the summer of 2010, it appears that precious little has been done to mar the genius of Paul Rudolph.

By a process of elimination we're fairly well certain that leveraged buyout billionaire Marc Rowan and his wife Carolyn own the sixth floor. Like the now deceased Mister Edersheim who lived for many years the apartment below, Mister Rowan is a former big shot banker at Drexel Burnham Lambert. He founded and now heads up some other money making operation called Apollo Management.

Petroleum pasha Robert Belfer and his wife Renée own the seventh floor at 927 Fifth Avenue. Your Mama hears from someone we trust, someone who orbits in the same social milieu as Mister and Missus Belfer, that although Mister Richard Cohen may be the president of the board at 927 Fifth Avenue, it is Mister Belfer who is the gatekeeper. According to our source, the man can single handedly nix a potential buyer with the wee tic of the eye.

Big time philanthropists and patrons of the arts, Mister and Missus Belfer gave enough money to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City that there is now a Robert and Renée Belfer Court for the display of early Greek art. They also handed over enough dough to Harvard University that there exists in their name something called the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Despite his large philanthropic gifts, Mister Belfer may in fact go down in the Wall Street history books for something else entirely. We doubt there will be much sympathy from the common folks who work hard to gas up their car and pay their cell phone bill because the Belfers are still crazy rich, but Mister Belfer was once a major shareholder and director of the doomed energy juggernaut Enron and when that colossal corporate turd swirled down the financial terlit he and his family reportedly lost up to two billion bucks.

Due to it's relatively small size, the turnover rate for apartments at 927 Fifth Avenue tends to bend towards molasses slow. The most recent recorded transaction of a residential unit was in May of 2005 when iconic actress Mary Tyler Moore and her cardiologist huzband Dr. Robert Levine sold their 8th floor unit for $18,o00,000 to asset management fat cat Robert Goldstein and his wife Stephanie.

On the 9th floor, radio and tee-vee tycoon Judith Hernstadt, the ex-wife of former Republican senator from Nevada William "Bill" Hernstadt.

Former Lazard Frères Chairman and CEO Bruce Wasserstein paid around $11,500,000 for the 10th floor unit at 927 Fifth Avnue in 1997. As mentioned previously, he added the 11th floor to his property portfolio in 2001.

The 11th floor unit, the one currently on the market at $26,000,000, was purchased in 1996 for around $10,000,000 by investment banker Richard Gilder. He bought from a ladee named Augusta Berin, the widow of clothing deisgner Harvey Berin who was best known for dressing former first ladee Pat Nixon. In May of 2001, Mister Gilder sold the apartment for around $15,000,000 to his downstairs neighbor, Bruce Wasserstein.

It's not clear if Mister Wasserstain planned to combine the two apartments–which one real estate broker claimed in some article we can no longer locate would be difficult because of the layout–but if he had done so he would have wound up with an almost unimaginable 20+ room 11,000 square foot beast with some of the best views of Central Park that money can buy.

Listing information, although slim on photos, shows the mansion-sized co-op crib includes 4 bedrooms, 5.5 renovated poopers, at least 3 fireplaces, a paneled formal dining room with three exposures, a living room with views over Central Park and as far north as the George Washington Bridge, a library and a "state of the art" kitchen with three huge windows and a separate dining area. The original 14 rooms have been winnowed down to 9 and the maintenance and common charges run, according to listing information, a stomach churning $14,777 per month.

The very quiet Harold and Judith Winters own the top floor unit at 927 Fifth Avenue. Iffin we're being honest, and we always are, Your Mama has no idea who these Winters people are or why they have the dough-re-mi to reside in the top floor of one of New York City's better and most costly cooperative apartment houses, but they do. It was outside Mister and Missus Winter's apartment, atop the arching pediment above the window and below the elegant and ornamental cornice, where the famous Pale Male and his ladee Lola made their original nest.

In addition to Mister Wasserstein's $26,000,000 apartment on the 11th floor, 927 Fifth Avenue's maisonette unit is also on the market with an asking price of $8,900,000. Currently configured as a doctor's office, the 4,000+ square foot ground floor space has been on and off the market since at least August of 2007 when it was listed at $12,950,000.

According to the Columbia University Archives, the maisonette was originally designed as a 10-room residence with a private entrance on East 74th Street. Formal living and dining rooms and a breakfast room spanned the width of the apartment a long corridor off the entrance hall lead back to two family bedrooms with Jack and Jill pooper and a master bedroom with private facilities. The kitchen, tucked into the dark belly of the building, was flanked by three cell-sized staff room that shared two small closets and one closet sized pooper.
Marketing materials for the maisonette include a potential floor plan (above) for the transformation of the the doctor's office's current warren of rooms into a luxurious 3 bedroom and 4.5 pooper residence with a grand 45-foot long living room, formal dining room with built-in bar, library, and a windowless kitchen with butler's pantry an adjacent staff suite comprised of 2 small bedrooms that share a single windowless pooper.

Like every other real estate gossip who cares about such trivial things, Your Mama waits on pins and needles to hear who buys the apartment and whether the Wasserstein estate will opt to sell the tenth floor spread as well.

photo (building exterior): Property Shark
floor plan (maisonette): Brown Harris Stevens


Anonymous said...

Dear Mama:

Much, much thanks for your fabulous 927 Fifth Avenue expose! And do say "yoo-hoo" to Hot Chocolate for us; it's been forever since we've spoken.

The Trenton Five

Carla Ridge said...

For once and for all, can any of the children enlighten the denser among us as to the etymology behind the term "White Show Law Firm"? It always seems to refer to the snootiest of the blue-bloodied, lock-jawed, Auchinclossian types...but the ONLY people I ever see wearing white shoes (men, I mean) are denizens of the less snazzy sectors of the Palms (Beach and Springs). Or Reno. Or Encino. So, what gives?

Countess De Lave said...

splendiforous reportage as per usual, Mama. I do know how a wee drinkie helps the research process. As for hawks, I'd prefer them over Barbra Streisand any day!

Anonymous said...

Confidential to Ms. Ridge:

White buckskin shoes ("bucks") were once popular among patrician New Englanders. The terms White Shoe Law Firm and White Shoe Investment House originally referred to "old" family practices that were definitely not Jewish.

Rabbi Hedda LaTess

Anonymous said...

i can't wait to read all these stories that are set aside for "another day"!

Madam Pince said...

Thank you, Rabbi Hedda, for the definition. I'm glad Carla asked, because I've been wondering forever about that term as well.

I'd not want to live in this building; the bad karma from the Pale Male & Lola fiasco would be overwhelming.

Anonymous said...

Your Mama,

I like most of what you cover, especially when you include more architecturally significant items like the Paul Rudolph apartment. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Good work here! Never ceases to amaze me how many really rich people there are that live incredibly sumptuous lives on the down low in these buildings.

As far as the best buildings on Fifth, I would not include 1040 (where Jackie lived). However, I would most definitely add 960, which is arguably the most exclusive of them all (Anne Bass now, Claus Von Bulow formerly). I would also add one, possibly two, buildings that do not have Fifth Ave addresses but are in fact on the street. That would be 2 E. 67th, where Evelyn and Leonard Lauder occupy the duplex or triplex penthouse with one of the most magnificent private outdoor spaces in the city, and also 4 E. 66th.

Anonymous said...

Great reporting! It was like a puzzle that we couldn't have thought up or figured out without your loving support! Poor Bruce Wasserstein, the whole time I was reading about his apartment, I kept wondering why Mama wasn't talking about the wife that looks like a cat, only to realize later that I was thinking of Jocelyn Wildenstein! Oops! Now, may Bruce rest in peace!

lil' gay boy said...

Great sleuthing on 927, Mama!

I had the honor of being one of a few staff hired by New York Magazine right after Wasserstein acquired it; during his tenure it was a fun, exciting place to work (albeit hardly a think tank). His son worked there, semi-incognito, as an editor for a while.

Bruce wisely stepped back from the day-to-day and left most of the staff intact, with the notable exception of bringing Adam Moss on board. Very much hands off, I don't recall ever seeing him around the offices in the six years I was there, and the only intervention I recall was the refusal to review the book Window On The Park, a coffee table tome depicting apartments surrounding Central Park (his duplex was featured in one chapter). Rumor also has it he was secretly quite fond of the feathered interlopers.

The need to pay Primedia $55MM in cash for New York Magazine was reputed to be one "excuse" as to why the duplex conversion never happened; that and dumping his wife for a newer (and much younger) model who apparently did not care for the apartment (to quote Charlene from Designing Women, "I'm sure Mary Joe has some old underwear she doesn't want anymore ––– that doesn't mean she wants to see you in them."). At 61, he was less than a year older than my hubby, and entered the hospital as a precaution days before he suffered his fatal heart attack there.

John J Tackett said...

Ideally, a maisonette would also have an entrance accessible from the building's main lobby for obvious reasons of convenience. But perhaps the mail, in the case of 927 Fifth Av, would be left at the service entrance.

Anonymous said...

I visited the Cohen-Zahn apartment in the early 90s. Mister was living in Boston at the time. The most memorable feature of the decor was the numerous portraits of the owners, most full size.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great as always.

Special thanks for the link to the Edersheim house, which I think is actually Larchmont, just past Scarsdale. This house isn't far from me, and I've driven by it a few times, and I've always thought it was amazing. I never knew it was a Paul Rudolph house, although now I'm not really surprised. It's so unusual for the general Sacrsdale/Larchmont area, where the stock of houses is overwhelmingly traditional colonial and tudors built in the 1920's (although the immediate area has a greater number of a newer homes, but of course, few are modernist designs).

Anonymous said...


I agree with anonymous 8:41 p.m. concerning the deletion of 1040 Fifth as a top building: this glorious Candela edifice features sumptuous duplexes, set back terraces on its upper floors, a wonderful duplex penthouse, and a distinctive architectural profile; however, the board approved my ex-brother-in-law for residency many decades ago. Four East 66th, designed by Carpenter and adjacent to Temple Emanuel, and 2 East 67th and 960 Fifth, by Candela, are all magnificent.

Real estate history speaks volumes about society: through the 1960s, Upper East Side buildings advertised as good or exclusive were codes for no Jewish admissions. Consequently, Jewish department store CEOs, playwrights, producers, and composers occupied grand buildings on Central Park West, West End Avenue, and Riverside Drive.

And speaking of exes, Ms. Ridge and Madam Pince have me reminiscing about Milton, my second husband. I always wondered about his "orientation," and now he and Sydney, his business partner are sharing a condo in West Palm and running around in white Gucci loafers. Thank goodness I don't have to worry about my Studly, who favors Tony Lama cowboy boots with pointy toes, and even sometimes suede riding chaps with fringe!

Rabbi Hedda

commentator said...

More information on the "white shoe" law firms and banks:

The shoes weren't worn in the city, of course, but rather at country clubs while summering, etc.

I find it satisfying that a Wasserstein would head a white shoe firm, because decades ago "-steins" and "-bergs" were nowhere near these places.

Carla Ridge said...

Mercy buckets for all that excellent edification, everyone!

Anonymous said...


i'm new to your great blog, doing some research and just starting to learn about the good buildings. collecting floor-plan porn and finding that aside from the great maisonette pic you posted here, i can find only one very blurry upper-floor picture of 927 fifth. any others available?

in thinking about fifth avenue (for no more than a week thus far), i divide the upper east portion (from the plaza to mount sinai) into four zones, which i call midtown, the sweet spot, the met, and carnegie hill. i use the term "midtown" pejoratively, not because those buildings aren't great, but just because if i had the dough-re-mi, i wouldn't want to live there, as it's too busy. i also wouldn't want to live in the met zone (79th-85th) because it's too busy and i'd rather not have the view obstructed by the museum. finally, i wouldn't want to live in carnegie hill, because i don't like the way the park rises up from the street, and there's no park there anyway, only the reservoir. admittedly the views might be good, given what they say about water being nice to look at. that leaves what i call the sweet spot, from 66th to 79th, which is by far where i would prefer to be.

i'd like to hear from you and your excellent readership on a couple of questions. within the sweet spot, the consensus seems to be that 4 east 66th, 2 east 67th, and 960 fifth are the best. mama, do you agree? and to all: which ones come next?

also, i don't think i would prefer to live in 1040, on busy 85th street and with somewhat less park immediately accessible. i take it that hedda was joking in her assessment of the buidling. does anyone share my reservations, which are admittedly a first impression? anonymous (November 1, 2010 8:41 PM), you are somewhat negative, but i'd like to know why.

thanks to all.

- rg

Anonymous said...

While admittedly fascinated by the RE porn that you collect and present so brilliantly, reading about all these plutocratic "bankers" in the wake of what so many of them have done to our economy and especially the "lower orders", I can't help but get a rather putrid taste in my mouth. Do gin and tonics help remove that, or can you suggest something else?

Fonda Richmen said...

why don't meet for drinks to discuss this matter some evening?

Jimbo said...

Harold Winters?? I can't believe anyone can believe anyone can live that far below the radar in the Interrnet age. There is one viable reference to this couple, but strange. It comes from the Pale Male debacle.

"Harold D. Winters [212.988.XXXX] listed as owner BUT Cohen and Zahn apparently live on the 12th floor;

"Richard D. Cohen & Paula Zahn
12th Floor
927 5th Ave.
Manhattan, NY 10021"

Very strange indeed.

Anonymous said...

Hope to read more updates on your site soon

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