On That Famous Thoroughfare

The portrait studio on Park Avenue near East 83rd Street had been there for as long as Bellmarc broker Julie Friedman could remember. As a teenager in the eighties, she used to admire the gilt-framed paintings in the battered old building’s window while passing by on walks with her black Lab. In the nineties, she and her new husband almost bought an apartment overlooking it. Then one day, the portraits disappeared from the window and the building—one of the last small commercial structures on the avenue, its neighbors long since replaced by limestone apartment houses—went away, taking with it a version of Park Avenue life that had always been slow to change. In its stead will soon rise 985 Park, the first brand-new condominium to be built in the immediate vicinity in decades. In keeping with the requirements of this ultratraditional neighborhood, it’s an extremely contextual structure—classic limestone, modest height, and as much restraint as the architects (Costas Kondylis, in a departure from his usual high-gloss idiom) could possibly muster.

Early buzz on the fifteen-story building, developed by the Icon Group and featuring just seven apartments, hints at a warm welcome for the newcomer. “Without any advertising and just from people seeing our sign, we already have 200 names on our call list,” confirms Reba Miller of Fox-Miller, the marketing firm handling the sales of 985 Park’s units. It’s no surprise given that “new construction on Park Avenue is virtually unheard of,” says residential-real-estate appraiser Jonathan Miller, who predicts prices to reflect as much. “High-end co-ops there are priced around the mid-$2,000s-per-square-foot range, and condos tend to be higher, at least 15 percent more on average in Manhattan,” he says. (Conversions nearby—like the painstakingly restored 823 Park and P. Diddy’s former townhouse, now sliced into three big apartments, at 813 Park—are generating tons of interest, too. Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Daniela Kunen, who represents 823 Park, says three apartments sold quickly once they hit the market.)

So is this building going to be called an interloper? “It’s paradoxical. On one hand, how cool is it to have a sleek new construction on Park Avenue?” says Friedman. “On the other hand, it’s the bastion of traditionalism, and these two worlds don’t always collide. Most of my clients who buy on Park Avenue like to know their views will stay the same.”

House of House Arrest
A twenty-room duplex in United Nations Plaza made headlines last fall when it appeared on the market at—given its opulence—a fairly reasonable $14.5 million. Months later, it still has no buyers, however, and the asking has been reduced to $12.495 million. Could the problem be its provenance? Its owner, the opera-loving philanthropist Alberto Vilar, faces fraud charges and is reportedly under house arrest at the apartment. (Vilar, best known for pledging $20 million to the Met’s endowment, then reneging, has denied any criminal wrongdoing. There’s a multi-million-dollar lien on the apartment.) Any buyer who can overlook the drama will take over an unabashedly luxe space, with river and city views, a private gym, and—no surprise—a corner music room. The lower floor is also available on its own, through listing brokers Gerald Crown and Doug Russell of Brown Harris Stevens, for slightly under $5 million. If just the downstairs sells, Vilar is likely to stay put on the upper floor.

The Open-House Log
3 East 85th Street, Apartment 5D
Two-bedroom, one-bath, 875-square-foot co-op.
Asking Price: $785,000.
Maintenance: $1,160 per month.
Broker: Dana Eggert, the Corcoran Group.

Who: Allison Kahn, accessories designer for Frank & Kahn, and Fred Kahn, investment banker (pictured).
What are you shopping for? ALLISON: We want a two-bedroom. FRED: Washer and dryer, A/C that doesn’t have to be pulled out of the window. A: We’ve been looking for, like, four years. We made an offer on two, but they didn’t work out. F: In New York, basic stuff seems to be premium stuff.
What do you think? A: I like prewars with beams. F: But the ones I like are the $5 million ones. A [to F]: So you’re not interested? F: The day has just begun.

Who: Molly Swyers, merchandiser, and Matt Swyers, sales executive.
What are you shopping for? MOLLY: We sold our place on the Upper West Side two years ago and moved to Nashville, but we missed the city, and now we’re renting in Trump Place. MATT: This is our first time looking on the Upper East Side.
What do you think? MOLLY: The market’s gone up quite a bit! MATT: We love this space but it won’t allow dogs. We have a golden retriever, Hayden.

Who: Walter Tomenson III and Marisa Saur, insurance brokers.
What are you shopping for? MARISA: I’m not, he is. WALTER: I kind of just started. I’m looking for a one-bedroom.
What do you think? W: I like how close it is to the park. She runs and I do, a little. M: I think it’s beautiful. There’s more character in older buildings. We’ve seen a lot of postwar one-bedrooms, and they’re pretty gross.

On That Famous Thoroughfare