Into the Woods

Into the Woods

Banned by the city, wood-frame houses have left Geraldo’s ex, Edmund Wilson, and Fort Greene buppies burning with desire.

Nineteenth-century Manhattan got hit with a Great Fire every decade or so: In 1835 alone, twenty blocks went up in smoke. Gradually, the city banned new wooden houses, replacing the tinderboxes with brownstones. In 1871, the city’s inspector of buildings declared that wood homes “retard the progress of better improvements … and increase immeasurably the fire risks of a city.”

Tell that to C. C. Dyer, Geraldo Rivera’s ex. After their split, she paid $6.8 million for the 1866 building at 128 East 93rd Street, one of only four clapboard houses on the Upper East Side and just eight between 23rd Street and Harlem. The Village has about two dozen, all but two retrofitted with brick façades.

Dyer’s 5,000-square-foot spread last sold in 1989 for just under $2.6 million but has since been restored. William B. May’s Suzanne Sealy sold one at 122 East 92nd Street in 1994 for $1.2 million; 124, next door, sold for the same amount in 1996. The woodies at 312 and 314 East 53rd Street, once the homes of Lincoln Kirstein and Edmund Wilson, respectively, date to 1866. This summer, 314 survived Harry Macklowe’s attempt to raze it for an apartment tower.

“I used to get, ‘No frame, no frame,’ ” says Eva Daniels, whose eponymous firm sells in clapboard-heavy Fort Greene, Brooklyn. But fire fear has receded – she recently sold a “really quaint” 1847 wood house on Adelphi Street for $390,000: “I tell people I’ve seen more fires in brownstones.”

And though one broker remembers a deal falling through for a wooden house because the buyers couldn’t get fire insurance, Darren Cohen of insurance agents Hiram Cohen & Son says as long as the electrical and roof have been updated in the past ten to fifteen years, a wood house is insurable, though “the rate might not be as competitive as for a regular brownstone.” No house can be insured against termites, he adds.

On the Move: Alluring Fifth Avenue

Allure editor Linda Wells – not so long ago the subject of Condé Nast’s who’ll-be-fired-next rumor mill – is moving to Fifth Avenue. Sources say she and her husband, Charles Taylor, sold their two-bedroom at 21 East 90th Street for just under $1.3 million. They bought a nine-room at 1165 Fifth Avenue, at 98th Street, with park views from two of three bedrooms (their two kids can fight over one), which was on the market for $3.3 million. Litigation-attracting It-decorators Sills and Huniford are said to be gussying it up, though it’s in “mint” condition. Wells didn’t return calls for comment on whether her boss, Si Newhouse, who often subsidizes his editors’ real-estate joneses, had put his money (or at least repeated assurances that Allure’s not shuttering) where his mouth is and helped her out on it.

Big Deals

Park Slope
476 13th Street
Two-family, 2,700-square-foot townhouse. Ask: $849,000. Sell: $810,000. Six weeks on market.

Seth Kamil, founder of Big Onion Walking Tours, and his wife’s original home-shopping itinerary focused on classic six- and seven-room co-ops. “But we agreed it would probably make sense to buy a house, where there could be some rental income,” says their broker, William B. May’s Rosalie Weider. Which meant Brooklyn. The Kamils’ renovations include moving the tenant apartment to a different floor and building a deck out back, replacing a two-story extension where termites have been conducting their own far too thorough walking-and-eating tour.

Upper East Side
170 East 87th Street
3-bed, 3-bath, 1,706-square-foot condo. Ask: $1.185 million. Sell: $975,000. Charges and taxes: $1,673. Six months on market.

This was the model apartment Zeckendorf Realty, the sponsor of the Gotham condominium, used to lure Wall Street youngsters into buying condos here. Think beige marble bathrooms and simple, tightly upholstered furniture. The recession slowed sales after it opened in 1992, but a renewed selling effort was begun last year. It worked: “This was the last remaining unit,” says Prudential MLBKaye’s Marysue Bailey, who sold it to a couple getting ready to welcome their second child.

Into the Woods