"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.
In 2014, as acting editor of Avenue, sitting in that chair for just a few months, I faced a challenge. The October cover had been promised to David Koch, the right wing zealot and social figure, on condition the story be focused purely on his philanthropy, which was a legitimate subject–and ignore his more controversial political activism and influence. So I faced the question, how to package a story I hadn’t assigned when I had issues with its content. Koch himself provided the solution when he posed for the cover at the American Museum of Natural History, one of his favorite causes, with a dinosaur skeleton, wearing a dinosaur tie. The resulting cover (above, click it to see it full size) made my point perfectly (yet Koch and his family showed up at a party to celebrate the issue, chez Wilbur Ross). Koch was the King of the Dinosaurs.
The apartment with the best back story at 740 Park has changed hands, according to the real estate mavens at The Real Deal. Developer Will Zeckendorf, who bought it in 2011 for $27 million, has now sold it to LBO kingpin Peter May and his wife Leni for $29.5 million, hopefully breaking even.
The flat was originally occupied by a prominent lawyer and Appeals Court justice, Clarence J. Shearn, whose wife Dorothea, a complex and riveting character, was the neighbor-from-hell to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who lived beneath her. Then, the 17th floor simplex (shown in a 1930s photograph) became a shuttlecock after Dorothea was forced out of the building, with Rockefeller, “Big Bill” Zeckendorf, Will’s grandfather and a real estate legend himself, and Chrysler heiress Thelma Foy, all vying for it.
Will Zeckendorf, a major character in my subsequent book, House of Outrageous Fortune, about his equally iconic 15 Central Park West, has consistently denied that his grandfather’s failure to enter the hallowed 740 was part of his motivation for buying it. So it’s doubly curious that buyer May, partners in Trian, which owns companies like Snapple and Arby’s, finds himself in a similar so-there position. In 1972, his Trian partner, Nelson Peltz, was rejected when he tried to buy a home in the notoriously picky co-op (it went instead to conglomerateur David Mahoney and his wife Hillie Mahoney). And hat’s just a footnote to a saga so strange, I sometimes felt I could have written an entire book just about the Shearn and Rockefeller apartments. You can read all about this in 740 Park.
I first met Lee Radziwill, who died Friday at her home in Manhattan, more than thirty years ago when she handled public relations for the Milanese designer Giorgio Armani. Years later, when I wrote about her childhood at 740 Park in my book on the storied apartment house, she told me of the time her sister Jacqueline Bouvier (later Kennedy Onassis), saved her life after she tried to crawl out one of its sixth floor windows to escape the stifling atmosphere caused by her dissolute father, Black Jack Bouvier’s profligacy, and their parents’ failing marriage. Window guards were subsequently installed to prevent a recurrence of her great escape. But my favorite Lee anecdote is contained in a column I wrote for Avenue about the Southampton home of one of her boyfriends, the lawyer and man-about-town Peter Tufo. Read it here and learn about the moment when vengeance against a misbehaving man was hers. Lee was soft-spoken but high-spirited and will be sorely missed.
Tomorrow night, ABC broadcasts The Last Days of JFK Jr., a new documentary. My voice is in the trailer, so I suspect I’ll be in the show, talking about my two cover stories on the American prince. The first was for New York Magazine in 1989 and appeared as the man I called “Just John” was going to work for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. The second, for Esquire in 1995, caught up with John as he launched his political magazine George. Like his death, that mag, which sat at the intersection of politics and celebrity, came too soon.
The news that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has listed his sprawling A-Line duplex at 740 Park Avenue made headlines this week. Besides the Wall Street Journal’s scoop by Katherine Clarke (shown), Forbes also featured the listing, citing the book that remains the primary source on the world’s richest apartment building.
The most notable residence in the most notable apartment house on the Upper East Side, 740 Park, has lately been much in the news. A few weeks back, the New York Times’ T Magazine referred to the former residence there of Saul and Gayfryd Steinberg, Apartment 15-16B. In tomorrow’s Styles of the Times, in a profile of its current occupants, Steve and Christine Schwarzman, the apartment also figures prominently.
Though it’s really unnecessary, both articles inflate the apartment’s many virtues. T called it a triplex. The writer of the Styles profile referred to it as a “17,000-square-foot, three-floor penthouse.” In fact, while fabulously grand, it is none of those things, as Times editors partly acknowledged when they corrected that T article: “An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the apartment of Saul and Gayfryd Steinberg; it was a duplex, not a triplex.”
So here we go again. The apartment, built for George Brewster, a descendant of the leader of the Plymouth Colony, and long occupied by John D. Rockefeller Jr., is a duplex occupying a portion of the building’s 15th and 16th floors (click the links to see floor plans) with a mezzanine containing servants’ bedrooms wedged in like a loft bed over the home’s lower service rooms (a servant’s lunch room, laundry and the kitchen).
It is also, as I wrote here nine years “somewhat larger than 20,000 square feet (although its exact dimensions, like those of most cooperative apartments in New York City, have never been given).” And, as that Offering Plan also notes, while the ingeniously complex building has two penthouses, they sit above the floor on which the Schwarzmans live.
To quote the late great George Bernard Shaw, “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time. “
Walt Disney said that, and yesterday’s real estate news shows it’s still true. On both the east and west coasts, trophy properties with remarkable histories have gone on the market and attracted attention for their inherent quality–as well as their sky-high asking prices.
In Bel Air, California, Variety’s brilliant Realestalker Mark Davidreports, soap opera mogul Bill Bell and his wife Maria, an arts philanthropist have listed a mansion prominently featured in my book on West Los Angeles, Unreal Estate (which is currently out of print). Designed by Wallace Neff for film producer and studio mogul Sol Wurtzel, it was later home to a celebrity psychic and astrologer-to-the-stars and is said to have been sublet to to Howard Hughes, Prince Ranier of Monaco and Elvis Presley. Later owned by British character actor Reginald Owen, it was acquired in 1962 by owner Dolly Green, daughter of oilman Burton Green, a co-founder of the city of Beverly Hills. Her estate sold it to the Bells for $4.775 million. Bell is now asking $37.5 million for it.
On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, an exquisite jewel-box duplex pied-a-terre with remarkable provenance, spelled out in my book 740 Park, has gone on the market for $39.5 million. Listed by banker John Thain (as the last chairman and chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch before its merger with Bank of America, he wasone of the central characters in the last decade’s economic collapse), it has had only three owners since 1933, when it was first occupied by Blanche Brownell Grant, a W.T. Grant Stores heiress and Gurdjieff disciple. Its second owner was Annenberg heiress Enid Haupt, who lived there from 1967 until Thain bought the apartment from her estate for $27.5 million in 2006, shortly after 740 Park was published.
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