"Compulsively readable."Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times
"Jaw-dropping apartment porn."Fortune
"[A] great read... gossipy... revealing."People
"As rich as his subjects."Forbes FYI
"The Lolita of shelter porn."New York Observer
"Life after folly-filled life flashes forward like Park Avenue canopies viewed from a speeding town car."New York Times
"The is social history at its finest."Dominick Dunne
"Finally! A look inside the golden tabernacle of high society."Kitty Kelley
For 75 years, it’s been one of the most lusted-after addresses in the world. Even today, it is steeped in money, the kind most of us can only imagine. Until now. The story of 740 Park Avenue sweeps across the twentieth century to today, and Michael Gross tells it in glorious, intimate and unprecedented detail. From the financial shenanigans that preceded the laying of the cornerstone, to the dazzlingly and sometimes decadently rich people who hid and hide behind its walls, this is a sweeping social and economic epic, starring our wealthiest and most powerful old-money families — Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Bouvier, Chrysler, and Houghton — Greed Decade symbols Ronald Perelman, Henry Kravis, and Saul Steinberg, and the names in today’s scary financial headlines: David Koch, John Thain, Ezra Merkin and Steve Schwarzman.
The New York Times tomorrow offers a compelling argument for taxing the owners of the often-empty pied-a-terre luxury condominium apartments that have filled Manhattan and coincidentally raised the price of real estate beyond the reach of many who actually want to live here. Bravo.
Biddle Duke, son of Robin and Angier Biddle Duke, once residents of 740 Park Avenue (that’s the late Angier in the photo with JFK, whom he worked for), came to my book on the building a few years late. He takes belated issue with several sentences in it, so I offered to print his note to me verbatim here, and he agreed. He writes:
Dear Mr. Gross,
This is mostly a useless exercise, because the ink’s long dry now on 740 Park. All I can say is that I wish you’d called me about Mom and Dad, Robin and Angie Duke. That building and apartment was way before my time but, regardless, some of your reporting was incorrect, and pushed some [of] my buttons enough to get me to send you this note.
There’s no way in hell that Dad inherited half of what 10 years ago amounted to $108 million. You, like so many other reporters, have picked up the fiddle that’s been played about Dad and his brother, and simply played it again.
The true story of his (and his brother’s) inheritance is far more interesting. But casting him as some great heir looking for his purpose in life had a good feel to it. Both his brother Tony Duke and Dad made great lives, but the truth on the money piece is that they were almost entirely cut out of their Duke inheritance by their father. In a dispute with his wife at the time (my grandmother, Cordelia, whom you also mention in your book), Dad’s dad (Cordelia’s husband, Angier Duke) rewrote his will only days before he died in a boating accident. The will cut her out, and left a small trust for his two boys. I assure you the trust was not worth half of $108 million when your book was published eight years ago. More like a fraction of that. Both those men parlayed their inheritance into big lives, pretending all along — or at least not loudly disabusing people of the notion — that they were heirs to a great Duke fortune. They were no such thing.
All this is briefly explained in Tony Duke’s biography, Uncharted Course. But only briefly, as both men believed correctly that it would be undignified to be anything but grateful for their lives and their wonderful ancestry.
There is more to the story, but suffice to say that to read in your book that dad inherited what amounts to $54 million in the 30s made me laugh out loud at the absurdity of it, and wonder, for a few seconds “where the heck is the money?” Then I returned to reality, and my life running a tiny Vermont media company to pay the bills.
As for your reporting that Mom was a model who landed a job at the state department when she met and married my father, I am less amused. That description might have a nice ring to to it, but it’s total baloney/bad reporting. My mother moved to New York as a teenager with no high school degree and went to work as a clerk at Lord and Taylor. She was in a few photo shoots in her late teens. She then became a reporter, and later an editor, with the New York Journal American, a city daily; then went to television news as the first woman on the Today Show with Dave Garraway. That would be even before Barbara Walters.
Loathing the show business feel of TV news and the sexism she encountered, she went to night school and studied to be a broker, which she became, eventually specializing in commodities and trading sugar. One of her accounts was Pepsi Cola. That eventually landed her a marketing job with Pepsi, and it was as a Pepsi exec that she met dad in Moscow where she was sent by Pepsi in the early 60s. At the time, she was raising two children as a single mother, aged 38. She would go on to have a bunch of other careers, one of which was as a crusader for women’s reproductive rights and family planning. But that came later.
So, your description of her in 1961 as a model who’d recently landed a job at the state department was an insulting, inaccurate brush-off that I deeply resented.
This is all an academic exercise. Your book is out and being read, and your reporting about Dad simply mimics a convenient and repeated narrative. As for the treatment of my remarkable mother, no one probably cares much. Except her children. I am one of three. I was offended as her son and as a reporter, and needed to let you know.
The October issue of Avenue is out this week and is now available to read online. In today’s New York Post, Richard Johnson previews the cover story on 740 Park resident David Koch‘s philanthropy. The controversial conservative demonstrated his considerable sense of humor when he posed for us wearing a dinosaur tie (click the cover at right to see it) in front of two dinosaur skeletons at the American Museum of Natural History, one of the institutions he favors. The issue, which I guest-edited, also features this year’s Avenue A-List (are you on it?), a previously unpublished interview with the late Lauren Bacall, and my latest Unreal Estate column, revealing how I first came to write a real estate column.
Hedgie Israel Englander‘s purchase of the French government’s duplex at 740 Park Avenue for a co-op-record-setting $71,277,500 hit public records over the weekend. Assuming he plans to combine his new palace with his existing one, a flight above, to create a massive triplex, Englander will likely top upstairs moneybags neighbor Stephen Schwarzman , and be able to claim ownership of the most impressive spread in the luxury building. Square footage in co-ops is difficult to compute, but his current fourteenth floor apartment (shown at left), one of the building’s few simplexes, which he’s owned since 2000, sprawls across 740′s entire Park Avenue front, while the former residence of the French UN ambassador sits just below in the corner ‘B’ line on the twelfth and thirteenth floors. The combined unit acccounted for 4,000 shares of the cooperative’s stock, while Schwarzman’s represents only 2,500 according to the original offering plan. Englander’s next door neighbor on twelve and thirteen is another financier, Howard Marks, whose combined apartments in the ‘C’ and ‘D’ lines are larger than Schwarzman’s but look out on East 71st Street. Marks holds ten more shares than Schwarzman, according to the offering plan. The building’s only other triplex, a penthouse on floors seventeen to nineteen, is considerably smaller and belongs to George David, the former head of United Technologies.
Business Insider touts 740 Park as the Billionaire’s Hive this week. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.
Hedgie David Ganek bought the 740 Park duplex where Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy grew up (in an apartment provided to her father “Black Jack” Bouvier by her grandfather, 740 developer James T. Lee) just before 740 Park was published. Now, having purchased a loft at Jared Kushner‘s renovated Puck Building just after Departures published my story featuring the lavish home, Ganek’s put his 740 unit on the market via Sothebys’ broker Serena Boardman, asking $44 million.
I just learned that fashion modeling pioneer Eileen Ford, 92, died today. Her life story is fully told in Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, which can be ordered via links on this web site. UPDATE: Here are obits from the Los Angeles Times (which was so nice, they did the obit twice) and the New York Times.