SELLER: Estate of Victor Shafferman
LOCATION: New York City, NY
SIZE: 17,150 square feet, 15 bedrooms, 7.5 bathrooms
YOUR MAMAS NOTES: We are, perhaps, more than fashionably late to this particular real estate party so we ask that all you New York Times and New York Social Diary readers bear with Your Mama while we exercise our own thoughts about an immaculate and opulent New York City townhouse dropped on the market last weekend to great fanfare and media attention with a hefty asking price of $49,000,000.
Just after the turn of the century–we mean when the 1800s became the 1900s–a banker and railroad baron named Henry Cook built himself a right-proper robber-baron style townhouse directly on Fifth Avenue with a dignified Stanford White-designed limestone façade and Central Park views. Of course, when the palatial pile was built, Fifth Avenue was a charming tree-lined idyll bustling with carriages and buggies. Today it's an impressive tree-lined urban-idyll with a near constant flow of honking yellow cabs and idling black town cars.
The New York Times labeled the house an Italian Renaissance Palazzo sort of thing, which is probably exactly what it is. The august-looking townhouse was completed in 1907 but, sadly, Mister Cook went to meet the big bidnessman in the sky in 1905 so never saw his real estate fantasy in its final and exquisite form. He lived, and died, in a house a few doors down that was eventually razed and replaced by a Horace Trumbauer-designed monument to the wealth and power of tobacco and power tycoon James B. Duke, daddy of the legendary heiress Doris.
The townhouse in question last changed hands, according to property records and previous reports, in 1977 when a man named Victor Shafferman acquired the exceptionally well-preserved mansion for just $600,000. That's right, kiddos, six hundred thousand dollars, less than the price of a good one bedroom apartment in today's New York City. You have to remember, pets, that in 1977 N.Y.C. was not the glittering temple of consumerist gentrification that it is today but rather a nitty-gritty city suffering desperately through a tight economic squeeze. Back then a person could pick up prime real estate in The Big Apple for what is now just pennies on the dollar. Sort of makes a person rue the day they nixed the purchase of a $100,000 classic-six co-op on Central Park West in 1978 that today would be worth more than enough to maintain a luxurious early retirement.
Mister Shafferman, who went to meet his maker in the fall of 2009, was a somewhat odd character about whom not a lot of details are known by many. According to the New York Social Diary, Mister Shafferman scooted about town in a chauffeur-driven burgundy and black Rolls Royce and frequently told people he was an heir to the CIBA-Geigy pharmaceutical fortune. He was not, apparently, an heir to that particular fortune. It was later revealed to those who run in that uptown crowd that Mister Shafferman was actually born in Palestine and educated at public school in Canada. It's not entirely known how he came to his financial station but he was, later in life, a real estate investor who owned a building or two and plainly had the dough-re-mi to bed down in a vast private house on one of the most desirable and expensive streets in the world. He was also, incidentally and according to a pal we'll call Patty Cake, a Friend of Dorothy with a long-time significant other 30 years or so his junior.
Together the refined and somewhat mysterious man-couple did up the day-core in a flamboyant splendor rare even for über-urbane New York City. It's not really possible for a rube like Your Mama to speak with any kind of education or knowledge about about the fine particulars of Mister Shafferman's sumptuous old-school day-core that's peppered with 18th-century marble-topped gilded consoles, hand-stenciled commodes of terrifying value, bèrgeres by the dozen, elegant hand-milled boiserie–no doubt some of it shipped over from some 17th-century French chateau, monumental plaster moldings and scads of antique chandeliers that we'd bet our long-bodied bitches Linda and Beverly each cost more than Your Mama earns in a year.
The townhouse, one of precious few remaining single family homes situated directly on Fifth Avenue, sits near the busy corner of East 79th Street sandwiched between the Ukranian Institute housed in the majestic Charles P.H. Gilbert-designed Fletcher-Sinclair mansion and the French Consulate, designed by Stanford White for American scion Payne Whitney.
Mister Shafferman's mansion stands six stories above ground and, according to earlier discussions, retains the original bifurcated layout defined by a baronial and mesmerizing floating elliptical staircase at the center of the house. The gracious haute-glam staircase, lined with leaded glass windows and carpeted in a plush, near lurid red winds with a taut sensuality from the ground floor all the way to the fifth floor. An elevator, able to lift and lower the infirm, lazy and/or glutially weak from the basement to the sixth floor, is discretely tucked into the hallway(s) off the stair landing(s) .
At about 25-feet wide and with seven full floors of living space plus a partial sub-basement with wine cellar, the mouth-watering mansion measures in at a titanic 13,775 square feet above ground with an additional 3,375 below street level. Wooden doors with lion head knockers open into a street level vestibule that in turn give way to into a hardcore impress-the-guests-style foyer that features the first of the mansion's many fireplaces; We counted nine fireplaces on the floor plan. Just beyond the foyer, the aforementioned high-drama stair hall, and beyond that a living room with fireplace. One flight up on the parlor level, a generous room-sized stair landing and barrel vaulted corridor separates the formal dining room at the rear of the house–with fireplace, natch–with an elegant if somewhat turgid mint-colored paneled drawing room with marble fireplace surround, gilded ceiling and moldings and towering windows that reach almost to floor and allow an over the tree tops view of Central Park
A small kitchen–blessed with a generous pantry uniquely located on a mezzanine level directly above–is wedged into a tight cranny behind the staircase, elevator and staff staircase. Yes, puppies, this house has a separate staircase for the staff so the filthy rich residents and their pampered guests won't have their eyes sullied by the paid help as they huff and puff up and down the architecturally righteous main staircase with armloads of a linens and terlit cleaning supplies. Floor plans show a second, larger kitchen in the basement, but it does not, unfortunately, show a dumb waiter that would connect the two kitchens and provide a direct link between the kitchen in the basement and the formal dining room two long flights up.
The more intimate and casual–if still a wee bit fussy–third floor library has paneled walls, wood-beamed ceiling and carved stone fireplace surround with what appears to be a hulking faux-stone chimney breast. Two over-sized windows offer park views and built-in bookcases filled with actual books, the sort of books that look like someone might actually have read them. Call Your Mama old fashioned–and goodness knows we've been called things far more vulgar–but we far prefer the warmth of books displayed this way, in their "natural" state, as opposed all covered the same colored paper jacket as done by so many of today's most popular decorators, i.e. Mary McDonald of Million Dollar Decorator. Far be it from Your Mama to knock a decorative trend promoted by many top designers but we think covering books in the same color paper jacket is little more than a cheap trick that sucks the soul from the books and downgrades them to decorative props.
A quick pass over the floor plan included with the property's marketing materials shows the monumental mansion contains a total of 15 bedrooms and 7.5 bathrooms. There are four principal bedrooms divvied up nicely for privacy on the third through the fifth floors. Each of the four main bedrooms has its own dressing room and private facility. The two largest bedroom suites–one on the third floor and another on the fourth–are connected via a secret spiral stair. When this house was built it was not uncommon for the Mister and Missus of the house to maintain separate boo-dwars. This clandestine spiral staircase, let's just call it a "nookie stair," made it possible for the homeowners to make booty calls without the live-in staff–who see everything and we mean every-damn-thing that goes on in a house–catching wind of their activities.
A children's suite at the back of the fifth floor contains three smaller bedrooms that share a single bathroom. The rabbit warren-like sixth floor–the staff quarters–encompasses 8 small bedrooms that share just two bathrooms. There's also a kitchenette and several walk-in closets for storing out of season uniforms. There is not, however, a communal lounge where the staff can all get together and gripe and gossip about their wealthy employers. Any of you people with live-in staff who thick they don't whisper about you behind your back are just being foolish. Of course they do.
Anyhoo, no doubt there's a short parade of high-toned, well-shod and financially-qualified buyers–some of them, no doubt, just filthy rich looky-loos–who are lined up to tour the Cook-Shafferman house. At the rate things have been going in the increasingly brisk extreme high-end of the real estate market, Your Mama would not be the least bit surprised if the listing agent called in all offers next week due to the significant and intense interest. We shall see, butter beans, we shall see.
listing photos and floor plan: Brown Harris Stevens