Thursday, December 16, 2010

River House Round Up

YOUR MAMAS NOTES: We recommend y'all snatch up a snack, pour yourself a stiff one–better make that two–and buckle up your safety belts because this is going to be a long and bumpy haul through some of the recent real estate doings at River House, one of New York City's most illustrious, discreet and rarefied co-operative apartment houses.

See, sugar cookies, Your Mama always misses New York City this time of year. We don't miss the bitter cold–the wind child was 14 damn degrees last night–or that angry ladee in the first car of the F-line who gave always us the stink eye. We do miss the kind of magic that only happens in the En-Why-Cee during the holidays. We were downtown people so December was one of the few times of year we would shove ourselves into a crowded subway and haul our fat ass above 23rd Street to see the uptown lights and sights. We'd swing by and ogle the big tree in Rockefeller Center on our way to Tiffany to buy a bangle for Your Mama's momma. We'd shoot a few blocks north to gawp at the precarious looking giant snowflake that dangles prettily over Fifth Avenue at 57th Street during the holiday season. After than we'd cross the street and head up to have a look-see at Linda Fargo's dee-voonly decadent windows at Bergdorf Goodman while we noshed on a greasy bag of hot candied cashews.

Next came a quick spin through the lobby of The Plaza–this was when it was still a hotel and not condos–and maybe, if we'd put on a good pair of shoes, stop in for a drinky-poo at the Oak Bar downstairs. After a quick glimpse of the park and falling prey the stench of those poor horses that pull people around Central Park in covered buggy-things, we'd cross over and around to soak up the genius that Simon Doonan does in the windows at Barney's. Finally, spent, we'd stand there in the ice cold, our bubble jacket coat pulled tightly against our shivering body and know our brief visit to the Rich People and Tourist Zoo was over over over and we'd wish we could twinkle our nose like that ladee on Bewitched and be instantly transported back home in the more familiar environs of lower Manhattan.

Anyhoo, all our nostalgia for New York City led us to a $19,500,000 listing at River House, located on the east side of Midtown and one of New York City's most iconic, storied and gossiped about buildings. As legendary as the building may be, in March of 2010 Dana Rubenstein over at The New York Observer went where no (wo)man dared go before and called the pre-war dowager a "has been" notably fallen from its position at the tippy-top of the city's co-op heap. The fall from real estate grace was precipitated, according to Rubenstein's article, in part by the rise of the super-swank condo (i.e. 15 Central Park West) that don't require approval from a rogue band of high-nosers as well as the slew of wealthy residents who listed an unusually large number of sprawling apartments at River House in 2009 and 2010.

All buildings have turn over but conventional (if convoluted) co-operative wisdom and desire is that at the best buildings turnover should be very slow and–even more importantly– very quiet. In fact, the famously difficult to crack River House board is so reserved that it prefers River House residents, if possible, refrain from listing their apartments on the open market at all. If an owner does list their unit on the open market, it has been widely reported, the board by-laws disallow the listing actually name the building or list the street address, which is 435 East 52nd Street in case y'all didn't know.

The bulky and sober Art Deco style pile was designed by Bottomley, Wagner & White and put up in 1931. At that time, the posh building filled with palatial apartments meant to woo the wealthy out of private (town)homes was virtually surrounded by tenement style buildings, a situation that surely created tension between the working stiffs and the newly arrived swells. The immediate area around River House eventually transformed into an upscale if somewhat isolated enclave bounded by uppity Beekman Place to the south and swank Sutton Place (South) to the north.

The building, located at the cul-de-sac end of East 52nd Street, has two 14-story wings that flank a 26 story tower and overlooks the East River with amazing views of the 59th Street Bridge that connects midtown Manhattan to the borough of Queens. A very rare, private and gated motor court at River House leads to the the main entry of the dour dowager where residents enter through an elegant if old-fashioned lobby with glossy black floors, river views and large cloak rooms where guests can stash their coats before heading upstairs to visit a River House resident.

Before the FDR was built–that's the bizzy bizzy bizzy freeway that runs along the outer edge of Manhattan's east side and hard up against the rear of River House–the fancy pants building boasted a private yacht marina where residents could park their boats. The marina was accessible directly from the building/property without ever having to step onto a public street but the FDR now divides River House from the water's edge and residents must park their boats elsewhere. The building had and still has a 5-floor private club–called the River Club, natch–that reportedly includes its own garden, swimming pool, tennis court, squash courts and dining facilities.

Your Mama, who don't know a fig tree from tomato, happens to agree with Miz Rubenstein's assessment in regards to the decline in River House's position among the relatively small collection of exceedingly elite New York City co-operative buildings. There is no doubt River House was at one time the real estate equivalent of solid gold but this is how we described the current state of affairs at River House in a March 2010 discussion of romance novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford's 15 or 16 room spread:

The relative dearth of services (in the immediate area) might help to explain why River House, once the cream of the co-operative crop in Manhattan, has declined in residential desirability over the last decade or so. There is no question that River House, built in a stunning Art Deco style in the early 1930s, is impressive and by most people’s standards prohibitively and ludicrously expensive. However, Your Mama sees Old Ladee River House like an aristocratic blue blood living in reduced circumstances who still shows up for lunch in an expensive but very old couture suit from Chanel, a pair of scuffed up Ferragamo pumps, and the only emerald choker she hasn’t had to hawk in order to keep the lights on and pay her pinch-faced housekeeper Helen to keep her from seeking employment with a younger and wealthier woman.

We realize that was, perhaps, a wee bit dramatic but given the number of listings for large apartments that have recently failed to sell or sat on the market for a very long time, it's clear that the apartments in Old Ladee River House aren't quite as coveted by uppity rich folks as they once were.

Some of River House's earliest residents included prominent, old-money New York names like Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, retail tycoon Marshall Field III, William Rhinelander Stewart, Jr., James A. Burden, Jr., and Huntington Hartford, the entrepreneurial heir to the A&P supermarket fortune and the man who once owned the land that is now the dog walking paradise of Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles. More recent former residents have includes actress/heiress Dina Merrill (her mother was Mrs. E.F. Hutton, dontcha know) who moved out in the late 1990s, former head of Tiffany & Co. Walter Hoving, and Susan and John Gutfruend who decamped from River House for a beast of a doo-plex at seriously swish 834 Fifth Avenue. The Gutfruends, in case you might be interested, put their palatial pied a terre in Paris on the market in the spring of 2010 for an undisclosed asking price.

Current residents of River House, according to city records and previous reports, include a lot of bankers and various financiers such as Jeffrey Leeds who paid $10,000,000 for the apartment of Blackstone Group's Pete Peterson in June of 2008. Financier Sir Evelyn de Rothschild–of the Rothchilds–is said to live with his blond wife in a Michael Smith designed apartment and Henry Kissinger, the ol' political coot, has lived up in River House forever and a day. Also in residence are, according to 2008 political campaign contribution information revealed on the gossip juggernaut Gawker, ad man Peter Georgescu and William McCormick Blair, Jr.–the former ambassador to both Denmark and the Philippines–and his very socially active wife Deeda. The younger set at the decidedly stodgy River House includes, according to prop records, old New York money scion Kiliaen Van Rensselaer and young socials Brook and Ferebe Taube.

There are scads of stories about rich and famous folks who wanted to live up in River House with the hoitiest of New York's toitiest but didn't pass muster and were nixed by the board. Actress Diane Keaton is said to have been turned down in the 1970s because she was a single woman dating Woody Allen. Legend has it that former board president (and former CEO of Coca Cola) Robert Woodruff put the kibosh on a purchase by steely Oscar winning actress Joan Crawford. Miz Crawford, not one to take rejection kindly, allegedly flipped the proverbial bird at the board by having a famous and ginormous Pepsi-Cola sign installed directly across the river from River House in Long Island City where all the residents of the regal apartment house–specifically Mister Woodruff–would be visually assaulted every time they glanced out one of their high-priced windows. Socialite turned denim mogul Gloria Vanderbilt–the mother of CNN's virtually hairless silver fox Anderson Cooper–famously sued the board of River House in 1980 after the board denied her an interview. The scuttlebutt on that bit of real estate scandal is that the publicity eschewing board didn't care for the the unwanted attention Miz Vanderbilt's fame garnered and–probably even worse to all the rich whitey's up in River House–at that time she palled around with the late great African American singer/pianist Bobby Short and dated the great African American photographer Gordon Parks.

Now that we've had a brief and unscientific overview of River House, let's get on back to the apartment that recently grabbed our real estate attentions and set this entire ship to sail. Information available on Streeteasy reveals that the very large but not humongous apartment was first heaved on to the open market in June of 2009 with an asking price of $24,500,000. The 4,806 square foot unit was de-listed in August of 2010 and re-listed a few weeks later with a new and lower price tag of $19,500,000.

The the 13-room river view residence, according to the peeps at Property Shark, is owned by Alexander Navab and his wife Mary Kathryn Norman-Navab. Mister Navab is not likely to be a household name for many, but in the world of high-finance he's quite the bigwig. He currently holds the high paying position of General Partner and co-head of the North American Private Equity Business at the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company. Your Mama doesn't not even know what that job title means other than that it makes the man a mountain of money.

The apartments at River House don't compare size-wise to many of the super-sized apartments in New York City such as the gigantic duplexes at 740 Park Avenue and the 18-room prairie-like simplexes at 4 E. 66th Street. They are, none-the-less, quite grand. In the case of Mister Navab's low floor 4 bedroom and 3 pooper pad (shown above), amenities include a small circular foyer, 30-foot long living room with direct river views, 27-foot long formal dining room, three working fireplaces and at least 16 closets. There are also extensive kitchen and staff quarters that include an unusually generous double maid's room with private bath and private sitting room. We don't know if the Navabs have live-in domestic help but Your Mama knows from our imperious house gurl Svetlana that any staff person living up in this apartment is, as she said, "damn lucky" to have not only a large bedroom and private pooper but also an honest to goodness sitting room.

Mister and Missus Navab's large apartment has loads of desirable outdoor space that includes two river front balconies and a south facing (if not terribly private) terrace with an oblique view of the river.

Lest one be under the impression that Mister and Missus Navab are selling due to pressing financial issues, be aware that they own at least two more apartments at River House. Their most recent acquisition was in October of 2009 when they paid $4,900,000 to purchase Robin Chandler Duke's narrow 2 bedroom and 2.5 pooper unit (floor plan above) that has a less than ideal layout that snakes right through the center of the building. The children will now that Miz Chandler Duke's residence–now part of the Navabs property portfolio–has two staff rooms, pooper and laundry facilities located separately from the apartment.

We don't, of course, have an iota of what their plans actually for are Miz Duke's old digs but it's very possible the Navabs will connect and combine it to the river view doo-plex right next door that they snapped up way back in October of 2004 for $6,000,000. Records reveal they bought the apartment from Barbara and Gerald Levin, the former Time Warner bigwig who (in)famously engineered the not entirely successful merger of Time Warner with AOL (now AOL-Time Warner) in 2000.

In addition to their trio–soon, they hope, to be a pair–of apartments at River House, Mister and Missus Navab also own a 3-story house on in Southampton, NY bought in Sept. 2006 for $12,000,000.

Unfortunately for Mister Navab–and probably to the deep chagrin and embarrassment of the building's board–there are a number of other large units available at River House giving the Navab nest some serious competition. Your Mama most recently dealt with River House in April of 2010 when we dissed and discussed the fussy apartment of romance novelist extraordinaire Barbara Taylor Bradford. At that time Miz Taylor Bradford had the apartment listed at $18,995,000. The price tag has been subsequently lowered significantly to $16,900,000. That's a not inconsiderable $2,600,000 less than the current price of the Navab's similarly sized unit.

Even more unfortunate for Mister and Missus Navab than Barbara Taylor Bradford's apartment is that there is yet another very similar unit in the same line listed at $14,900,000 (shown above). That's fully $4,600,000 less the the price currently stuck on the Mister Navab's apartment. Iffin we're being truthful, and we always are, we'd tell The Children that we don't know who owns the apartment but listing information shows the 10 room residence has 4 bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms plus 2 additional rooms and a pooper in the staff wing behind the kitchen.

Deep pocketed and well connected wannabe residents of River House currently have not only the option of three sizable single floor units, there's also a 14-room doo-plex listed at $11,000,000 (shown above). The dated looking 5 bedroom and 5.5 pooper apartment has a staff wing located up a private staircase that includes three additional cell-sized bedrooms that share a single, windowless bathroom. The apartment belongs to a gal named Arlene Farkas who has a fascinating and sordid story of marriage and dee-vorce.

A few other recent listings at River House include the epic doo-plex mansion in the sky owned by former WorldCom CEO Francesco Galesi. The 8 bedroom and 7.5 pooper apartment has 66-feet of river frontage, 11-foot ceilings, 360 degree views and two small staff rooms with shared facilities. Old listing information we dug up on Streeteasy indicates that at least some of the apartment was done up and did over by esteemed and accomplished decorator/designer Robert Couturier, a man quite used to working over grand apartments and homes all over the world. Incidentally and for what it's worth–and it ain't worth a thing–Mister Couturier bought a few things from Your Mama back in the day we had an itty-bitty showroom in Lower Manhattan where we sold expensive household things to rich and famous folks. But we digress. Mister Galesi first tried to sell his giant doo-plex a number of years ago for a guffaw inducing $50,000,000. When that optimistic price didn't work out as hoped, he karate chopped the price down to $35,000,000. That didn't work either, the huge unit is off the market and, as far as Your Mama knows, Mister Galesi remains in residence at River House.

Broadway producer Marty Richards (Chicago, Sweeney Todd) has been on an epic and public struggle to sell his doo-plex maisonette at River House (shown above). First listed ten years ago in 2000, the 14-room residence is now, thank heavens, in contract. Probably the one-time $25,000,000 price tag was part of the problem and one report states that the board at River House has made it particularly difficult for Mister Richards to sell, "In retaliation for the publicity the years-long listing has generated." Common sense would indicate that the board would be a bit more lenient with a potential buyer in order to get the damn thing off the market, but conventional wisdom does not usually apply to the wacky ways of notoriously capricious co-op boards.

Making matters worse for all fancy pants River House residents with ten million dollar plus pads on the market is that there was only one recorded sale in the building in all of 2010, a small third floor apartment that went for $2,635,000. That's way out of the price range of most people, of course, but peanuts in the scheme of hyper-pricey apartments. The previous year, 2009, wasn't much better with just two recorded sales at River House, one traded at $7,100,000 to a prominent attorney and his wife and the other was the above mentioned 2-bedroom unit Mister and Missus Navab bought from well-known high society doyenne Robin Chandler Duke.

The absolute worst for the selling prospects of Mister Navab and the four other sellers of large units currently on the open market is that, to date and again according to Streeteasy, the most expensive recorded sale at River House was, as we mentioned earlie, in February of 2008 when private equity bigwig Jeffrey Leeds paid $10,000,000 for billionaire banker/biznessman Pete Peterson and Sesame Street creator Joan Cooney's 11th floor apartment. The next most expensive sale at River House was all the way back in May of 2005 when big-shit Wall Street attorney Carl Levitt paid $9,950,000 to buy a 13th floor unit. The short of that long is that no single apartment at River House has ever traded for more than $10,000,000, a huge amount to be sure but child's play compared to some of the newer condo buildings such as 15 Central Park West where upwards of 35 apartments were sold for more than $15,000,000 since the newly constructed building opened in 2008. There have been at least 5 sales at 15 CPW that rang up at more than thirty million clams, making River House look like a poor relation.

As super persnickety–and, let's say, restrictive–as the River House board may be, it hardly ranks among the most expensive (or desirable) apartment houses in New York City naymore. The scenario begs the chicken or the egg question of whether the overly snobby board is, in part, responsible for the prices being much lower than the über-swank buildings such as 834 Fifth Avenue where the average (recorded) sale price over the last five years, according to the well worn beads Your Mama's bejeweled abacus, is a mind bending $26,940,750. Compare that, according to our rudimentary mathematics, to the River House average of $5,405,488 over the same time period. Only time will tell if River House will begin to pull in higher prices or if it will continue to slip and slide on down to the long list of b-list buildings. There's nothing necessarily wrong with a b-list building, but we imagine the board at River House does not want to be on that particular list.

Listing photos and floor plan (Navab): Sotheby's International Realty
Listing photos and floor plan (Unknown): Corcoran
Listing photos and floor plan (Farkas): Sotheby's International Realty
Listing photos and floor plan (Richards): Brown Harris Stevens


Anonymous said...


Thank heavens you're again reviewing real estate on the Right Coast, the Coast that Counts!

River House is a grand if isolated building: Imagine the weariness when constantly transversing, via personal chauffeur and limousine, the working stiffs'land of Third and Lexington Avenues. One would hope (and pray being as I'm a rabbi) that one's rear seat windows would be sufficiently tinted to prevent the former site of Alexander's discount department store from hurting one's eyes on the way to Bergdorf Goodman.

And Mama, since you've taken us to the Beekman and Sutton Square neighborhoods, perhaps you'll enlighten and update the Children concerning One Sutton Square South, a prominent suicide via leaping, and the fight by that building's board to claim from the City as private property the land in its rear adjacent to the FDR Drive?

Yours in Real Coast Real Estate,
Rabbi Hedda LaTess
Trenton NJ

Mama'sBoy said...

Fun ride Mama! I know pickens are slim, I've been wanting to thank you for keeping us tantalized nearly every day with at least a morsel or two of real estate hearsay!
I also enjoy you're reminiscences of bygone NYC...I suspect we all but crossed paths in Lower Manhattan at some point.

Princess Shotsavodka said...

I have always adored that little East 52nd Street cul de sac. There was a $495K studio listed recently that faced directly into River House's courtyard. I mention this only to further reinforce just how this lovely dinosaur is positioned even in the modern world. It is a pearl among swines, and I trust I'm not mixing my metaphors as much as I've been mixing my I see you have as well, Mama. 69th Street Bridge indeed!

Anonymous said...

Another slightly fun fact, at least for some people, is that Greta Garbo lived in the building on the river immediately south of this one across East 52nd for about the last 30 years of her life.

Anonymous said...

One fact that points to the exclusivity of the River House is that when one lists one's apartment for sale, the listing may NOT include the exact address or that it is The River House in the offical listing. The board is very strict about that.

Your mama forgot one big move into The River House, Gary Trudeu (the genius behind the Doonesbury Comic Strip) and his wife long time Today Show host Jane Pauley sold their apartment on CPW and moved with their 3 now all in their 20s children to the River house around '03. They had previously occupied a gigantic apartment on 88th and CPW for 20+ years before the move.

Mr. Galesi still lives in the River house with his Princess wife. They are known to list the apartment on and off to see if any fish bite. Mr Galesi sold the famous Southampton meadow lane "castle" that featured a shark tank to Calvin Klein a few years back after spending over a decade painstakingly redoing the behemoth beast that the town often complained and restricted about. Now Mr. Klein demolished it to built a smaller more appropriate home for the property.

Anonymous said...

great post. i agree with the rabbi though, one sutton place would be interesting with the perry penthouse and the Jeff Koons on the terrace


Anonymous said...

Gosh, those are lovely apartments! River House may be old dear but, to me, she still has the power to captivate. That courtyard is such an elegant way in which to arrive.

As to the debate whether the building is still as desirable as some of its residence may hope it to be. My Grandmother always said 'birds only pick at the best fruit'. She also said 'the higher a monkey climbs a tree- the more he shows his ass.'.. I think both are appropriate here.

Happy Holidays.

Luciane at said...

Gosh! Tell me you didn't break your fingers after that! lol


Luciane at

Arun said...

A mighty post, Mama, well done. For what it's worth, I've always liked the Beekman Place vicinity. Fairly quiet but you can be in midtown in 5 minutes by car- which is why it was a favorite place for businessman to stash mistresses, I've read.

I suppose like a lot of grand old buildings, there are layout issues.. things that don't appeal to modern tastes perhaps? Like, lots of small interconnecting rooms, floorplans that seem less than ideal. And famously difficult to to major renovs in buildings like that. Only in the summer! Multiple permissions!

I don't think "lack of services" in the area is that big a deal, or even accurate. These people don't do their own grocery shopping, etc. Those service elevators get quite a workout I'm sure.

River House does seem a but shabbily genteel, a little scuffed and frayed. But they probably like it that way. Unflashy.

Anonymous said...

Gurl....that was DELISH. i had to take a break, have a few swigs of wine, then get back at it!