Last fall, Sanford I. Weill, the former CEO of Citigroup, sold his penthouse apartment at 15 Central Park West to the 22-year-old daughter of Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian fertilizer kingpin, for $88 million—more than twice what Weill had paid for it. The sale was the largest ever for an apartment in New York, far exceeding the $48 million paid in 2011 for a twelfth-floor unit in the Plaza Hotel. It seemed inconceivable the record would soon be broken again.
And then, just a few months later, it was, not by another property on the East Side or West Side, but by the penthouse duplex of One57, a not yet completed tower on West 57th Street, near Carnegie Hall. Speaking to a reporter in May, Gary Barnett, the head of Extell, which is developing the property, confirmed that the duplex was in contract for a price upwards of $90 million. He refused to disclose the name of the buyer, saying only that it was recognizable name with a “nice family.”
Historically, each marquee property in New York has been a brand unto itself. There was 740 Park Avenue, with its Candela-designed limestone façade and its scent of old money. There was the Trump International, on Columbus Circle, a glimmering, garish protuberance reminiscent of a bar of gold. Most recently, there was 15 Central Park West, which was completed in 2008 but looks much older—a conscious decision by the architect Robert A. M. Stern, who hoped to achieve a symmetry with Manhattan’s Gold Coast and the stone borders of the park itself. Hedge-fund titan Daniel Ochs has made a home at 15 CPW, as have Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein and at least six senior Goldman employees. The place is chunky, stolid, and elegant in an unsurprising kind of way.
One57 is sharp, vertiginous. Where 15 CPW sought to blend into its surroundings, One57 seems determined to stand out—it looms over the drab commercial buildings and hotels on West 58th not so much like a waterfall, as the French architect Christian de Portzamparc has it, but as a gleaming, tumescent phallus.
When the building is completed sometime next year, it will stand 1,005 feet tall. That’s taller than the GE Building, taller than the Trump World Tower, and 41 feet shorter than the Chrysler Building. From the penthouse at One57, on the 90th floor, you can see past the verdant rectangle of Central Park, over the knobby sprawl of upper Manhattan, and all the way into Harlem and the Bronx, which recede, on clear summer days, into a fine blue mist. It is the ultimate “fuck you” perk, for the buyer with the ultimate mound of “fuck you” cash—a view that no one else will have, a view designed to reassure a man that he is in fact a lord among serfs, a new king of New York, encased safely in the parapet of his castle.
Because let’s be clear: Although Extell is happy to open the doors of One57 to old Manhattan money—in fact, three residents of 15 CPW are reportedly interested in jumping ship for One57—the building is not really for New Yorkers. It has been built for the fresh-faced global elite and their riptide of foreign money, which swirls every month out of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and straight into New York City. And foreign buyers don’t want old. They don’t want lived-in. They want new. They want glass. They want steel. Or, as someone involved with the construction of One57 puts it, “Flash matters far more than tradition.”
Extell will sell only 92 residential units in One57 (the first 30 floors will be occupied by a Park Hyatt hotel). This is a very small number. The floor-through units in the top eleven floors start at approximately $50 million; a duplex on the 75th and 76th floor, dubbed “the Winter Garden,” was listed for $115 million. (It went this summer for an undisclosed sum.) These are very big numbers. The contrast has not escaped the marketing team at Extell nor the brokers involved with flogging the units. Pamela Liebman, the president and CEO of the Corcoran Group, which is consulting with Extell on One57, says the tower is the real-estate equivalent of Augusta, the famously exclusive golf club. “You don’t talk about who’s a member,” she says. “You don’t ask who’s a member. But if you can pay the price, you can be a part of the club.”
When 15 CPW first went on the market, the press kept track of every new resident. Extell, by contrast, has repeatedly refused to identify its buyers. Barnett says that his clients want it this way—“I’d love to identify them,” he says. “It’d only help us”—but the protestation comes off as a little disingenuous, and it’s hard not to see the whole cloak-and-dagger thing as just another way to play up interest in the building.