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Wall Art Included

A Soho loft turns out to contain a surprise from the neighborhood’s artistic past.


In this multilayered city, finding evidence of a building’s previous incarnation is nothing new. This summer, the Times reported that developers at 151 Wooster Street had uncovered a long-lost graffiti mural by Fab 5 Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat and managed to peel it off the wall for a planned exhibition. And not too far away, at 260 West Broadway, the architects Todd Ernst and Frank Servidio knew that the spot in which Ernst was building a maisonette might also contain a treasure. It had once been exhibition space for the School of Visual Arts, and they’d heard that a painting by one of its most famous students, Keith Haring, was buried somewhere within. As soon as they got the job in 2001, the architects began to search, and it didn’t take long to confirm the rumor. “It was like discovering an Egyptian tomb,” says Ernst. Within a week, they’d found a wall of those famous chunky curlicues, hidden behind a closet used for coats and AV gear. “The fact that it actually survived is amazing,” says Ernst. “It’s next to a sprinkler pipe and it’s made of shoe polish and alcohol, and it’s water soluble.”

Six years and one heavy renovation later, the 8,000-square-foot triplex is on the market. The long delay was, in part, caused by the death of the original buyer in the September 11 attacks; his widow subsequently sold the apartment to a group of investors that includes developer Richard Saunders. “When we bought the place, she reserved the right to move [the painting], but they couldn’t,” says Saunders, explaining that the painting is on a concrete wall, and trying to remove it would turn it into gravel. “Because it’s not movable, it’s really just part of the space,” he says, “like the ceiling height or the view.” He adds that the discovery was not without its headaches. “We thought it was something that needed to be preserved, but we didn’t know how to. The more we spoke to people, the more different the options were. Some wanted to actually add to it, others wanted to Plexiglas it, but it was all too scary for me.”

This brings about a peculiar question: How do you price such an apartment? On canvas, the work would easily cost millions. On the wall of a condo? “It’s probably another $100,000,” suggests listing broker Lee Summers of Sotheby’s International Realty, who says she’s fielded tons of calls since the property went on the market on Thanksgiving. “It’s valueless except for the person who lives there.” After all, she explains, the apartment has to work as a living space, mural or no mural. Buyers who can afford the $16.995 million asking price “can always buy a Haring. But they have to live in the apartment.”


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