Nan Kempner on ballrooms

After the Ball
Whatever happened to the private ballroom? Dividing walls and creeping furniture leave Nan Kempner and friends dancing in the hallways.

“I sure wish I knew more people who have ballrooms,” says socialite Nan Kempner, reflecting on the sorry fate of this vestige of Manhattan’s Gilded Age. Often shrouded in dust sheets for all but one night a year, they provided ample compensation for, as Edith Wharton put it, “whatever was regrettable” in a family’s past.

There must be other compensations for disreputable money these days, because “private ballrooms just aren’t in existence anymore,” says Hall Willkie, executive vice-president of Brown Harris Stevens. At least six survive, however, at places like 44 West 77th Street, and 1107 Fifth Avenue. Douglas Elliman’s Iva Spitzer has one on the market for $6.5 million at the Briarcliffe on West 57th Street that was Earl Blackwell’s. But unfortunately for Kempner, the ballrooms that still exist aren’t really used for balls anymore.

Two have had apartments built into them. The vertiginous ballroom atop the Pierre was converted into a living room, a master bedroom, and two guest rooms with baths for the sixteen-room triplex penthouse. Money manager Martin Zweig bought it last year for $21 million. Corcoran’s Sharon Baum has a buyer in contract for a cheaper apartment-in-a-ballroom in the former Pulitzer Mansion at 11 East 73rd Street (asking price: $3.2 million). Other ballrooms have been demoted to everyday use, including the living room Joan Rivers has shared with her dog Spike for some thirteen years, which was formerly the ballroom of the mansion at 1 East 62nd Street.

People may not hold balls in ballrooms anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have something big enough for that space: their ego. “I have a buyer who saw what Marty Zweig bought, and he wanted that,” says Dolly Lenz of Douglas Elliman. “He doesn’t have a budget. He wanted a grand entertaining space. And what else embodies that? It’s a question of, can you find me a ballroom?”

On the Move
Miller High Life

Watch those duty-free heiresses, the Miller sisters, trade houses! Marie-Chantal and her husband, Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece, spent $7.5 million on a house at 154 East 78th Street this past summer. A new kitchen later, they’ve decided to put it back on the market, for $9.95 million with Sloane Square’s Amy Tucker Meltzer. “It’s crazy,” opines one broker. “Maybe the stock market will knock some sense into people.” M-C’s launching her new “not-inexpensive” kids-clothing line while living at her folks house, next door to Bill Cosby on East 71st Street. The family also owns a place at the Carlyle, where sister Alexandra, wife of Alexander von Furstenberg, used to live before moving to a house on East 80th Street that both the third sister, Pia (married to Christopher Getty), then M-C, lived in before they had kids. The prince and princess now want a place with room for her to run her business.

Big Deals

66 Leonard Street
3-bed, 3 and 1/2-bath, 2,800-square-foot condo. Ask: $1.575 million. Sell: $1.575 million. Ten days on market.

The attorneys who bought this condo weren’t looking to leave the Upper East Side until William B. May’s Susan Carrey suggested the Textile Building. Henry J. Hardenbergh, architect of the Plaza and the Dakota, those turn-of-the-last-century exemplars of gracious living, designed the building; the conversion incorporates the haut-industrial elements that mark today’s prototypical loft – think blackened steel and hammered copper. Not to mention a restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Upper East Side
610 Park Avenue
4-bed, 4 and 1/2-bath, 4,400-square-foot condo. Ask: $7.5 million. Sell: $7.5 million. Charges and taxes: $8,174. Three weeks on market.

Even after the Mayfair Hotel was reborn as a condominium last year, people kept checking in and out. The owner of this nine-room apartment was one of several resellers, buying it for about $6 million and then promptly putting it back on the market. Douglas Elliman’s Amanda Zacharia showed it to a client, a flush financier bachelor looking to rent. He walked into a bidding war to buy it and joined right in. “It was going to go to sealed bids, until he realized he knew someone who knew the seller,” says Gumley Haft Kleier’s Michelle Kleier, who represented the seller. He got it.

Nan Kempner on ballrooms