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S. Christopher Halstead

Lic. R.E. Salesperson
Office:(212) 381-3220
Mobile:(917) 284-0849

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Majestic Mash-Up

A two-apartment combination at The Majestic has majestic views of The Dakota and Central Park.

Forty years ago, give or take, I spent a week in a Manhattan luxury apartment for the first time. Though born here, I’d been raised in the ‘burbs and had never seen anything like that place. It was perhaps the source of my realty obsession.
A current listing a few floors higher up in the same building recently price-chopped from $50 million to $45 million- took me back in an instant to that borrowed apartment. It was spacious and gracious, but what I remember best is the shower. It had nine nozzles that hit you from all sides.

Over the course of that week, I learned a bit about the building. It was on the corner of Central Park West and 72nd Street but wasn’t as old as the dark, brooding Dakota, within view from “my” living room’s windows. The luxe apartment building was called The Majestic and occupied the same corner as a turn-of-the century hotel with the same name. It and several more residential hotels like it were the inspirations for the Stentorian, the hotel where Edith Wharton’s social-climbing anti-heroine Undine Spragg (The Custom of the Country, 1913) began her assault on New York society.

The Dakota was the first apartment house in the neighborhood, but it was soon joined by the Beresford, a six-story family hotel across Manhattan Square from the American Museum. The Beresford proved so popular, it was enlarged in 1892 to take up the whole block between 81st and 82nd streets. Next, in 1890, came the Hotel San Remo, on 75th street; and in 1894, the Hotel Majestic, with a grand restaurant, dancing salon, and roof garden. It was built on an empty lot facing the Dakota, by developer Jacob Rothschild, a German-born milliner-turned-developer, and his German-educated architect Alfred Zucker.

Those hotels may have occupied the same corners and born the same names as today’s grand Beresford, Majestic, and San Remo apartment houses, but they were not the same. Those luxury apartment houses all rose within a few years of one other, just before and after the great stock market crash of 1929, and replaced what by then seemed like puny buildings. The first, designed by Emery Roth, was a new Beresford, which opened in September 1929. The next year, Roth’s Italian Baroque 27-story Sam Remo opened. But neither caught the tenor of the times as well as the new Majestic, a stream- lined Art Moderne building, which opened in 1931.

Designed by Jacques Delamarre for builder Irwin S. Chanin, the Majestic was already under way when the market crashed, and Chanin quickly had it redesigned to reflect the new economic reality.

Originally planned as a 45-story edifice with a single tower and apartments of 11 to 24 rooms, The Majestic shrank to 29 floors, with four-to 14-room apartments, but grew a second tower, allowing those smaller homes to have more corners and open views. Among the construction workers was Bruno Richard Hauptmann, later executed for the kidnap-murder of the famous flyer Charles Lindbergh’s baby. Hauptmann didn’t come to work the day the ransom was paid and quit without notice two days later. Some believe the unrecovered ransom might still be hidden in the building.

Chanin lost control after defaulting on his mortgage not long afterward. The building was converted to a cooperative in 1958 and declared a landmark 30 years later.
The Majestic attracted the prominent from the start. Over the years, residents included the gangsters Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello, who would be shot and wounded in the lobby in 1957. The entertainment world was represented by Milton Berle, Zero Mostel, and more recently, Conan O’Brien. The gossip columnist Walter Winchell also rented an apartment. He would have been intrigued by the current $45 million listing. The 12-room apartment, with a 100-foot-long terrace facing the Dakota and another small terrace overlooking Central Park, is a combination of two apartments, one floor up from Costello’s pad (which was later sold to William and Karen Lauder ) and next door to Mostel’s. Its recent owners have been as diverse and accomplished as the floor plan is awe-inspiring.

In the late 1960s, Dr. Wilbur J. Gould owned apartment 19F. A throat specialist, he treated Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti, Elizabeth Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, and presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. After Gould’s death in 1994, the apartment was sold to Gary Gensler, then a Goldman Sachs partner known for advising media companies like Knight Ridder and the Newhouse family’s Advance Publications. Another doctor, Harold Wise, lived next door in 19E. “He was the emergency doctor for the building,” says his widow June, a former opera singer, who recalls that they moved in on the same day in 1980 that John Lennon was murdered across the street in front of the Dakota.

After a year of avoiding contact “because we were so afraid of not liking each other," the Wises and Genslers became “great friends,“ she continues. Then, in 1997, the two couples agreed to market their apartments simultaneously, even though Gensler didn’t think they’d find a single buyer. He’d just retired from Goldman at age 39, and been named Bill Clinton’s assistant secretary of the Treasury. Still in Washington, he’s now the chairman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.
Somehow, June Wise learned that Ian Schrager, the Studio 54 co-owner who’d gone on to become a hotel magnate, was looking at an apartment a few blocks south; she recalls how she told the brokers at the time, “He’ll like this better.” Indeed, at the end of that year, Schrager paid $9 million for the two apartments, setting a record on Central Park West. But three years of renovations later (with Philippe Starck as his designer), Schrager, who was getting divorced, listed it for $22 million instead of moving in. It’s traded hands twice since then, bought first by investment manager David Mimran in 2004 for $12.2 million, and then by Susan Soros, ex-wife of the billionaire George, who paid more than $20 million for it in 2006. Christopher Halstead, the broker, wasn’t available to comment on the listing, but from the one photo of the apartment available on Halstead’s website, it’s no longer Starck but it’s still stunning.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013