Sunday, December 25, 2011

And now for something completely different: Park Slope townhouses.

Manhattan is not the center of the universe.

Okay, it is the center of the universe.  But there are plenty of reasons to be just a little bit away—close enough so you can get there when you want to, but not right in the middle of the heavy traffic one finds at the crossroads of the world.

A lot of those reasons are in Park Slope, the parallelogram-shaped area in Brooklyn defined by Flatbush Avenue and the Prospect Expressway, Prospect Park West and 4th Avenue. 

Prospect Park runs along its long eastern border, gorgeous and green, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.  By way of rehearsal, they had designed Central Park.

Brownstoner photograph

You'll find charming little gathering places like Sweet Melissa Patisserie on 7th Avenue near 1st Street, which offers pastries so light they float off your plate if you don’t hold them down. 

And there are excellent restaurants including but not limited to Rose Water, for locavores, on Union Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, and al di la trattoria on 5th Avenue near Carroll Street, where you can enjoy saltimbocca alla romana for a trifling $17.00, and braised rabbit with black olives and polenta for $25.

But I was going to talk about townhouses.

Park Slope is the home of the genuine brownstone.  Yes, I know there are those who will casually refer to an 1823 federal style brick row house as a brownstone.  There is a special place in hell reserved for these people.  

But in Park Slope, you’ll find  block after tree-lined  block of beautiful and historic examples of the real thing, far more than on Manhattan’s upper west side, many with much of their original detail, a few with all of it. 

Most of a five story mansion on Prospect Park West of more than 5000 square feet appears to have rested untouched since as early as the 1920s.  The rooms are of a magnificent scale, the paneling and floors are for the most part intact.

Montgomery Place

Most were built in the 1880s and ‘90s when Park Slope became seriously popular after the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883.  The 1890 census showed Park Slope to be the richest community in the United States, and the houses built in this era reflect that.

The predominant style is Neo-Grec, a late version of Greek Revival. says  Like the Italianate style, with which it is often combined, the Neo-Grec style row house has a smooth brownstone front, with a pronounced deep cornice, heavy entryway and window details…….Neo-Grec is very masculine in its severity, with angular incised lines and forms, geometric and precise.

"The curved window and door frames [have] squared off edges, the large lintels equally large rectangular blocks. On the steep steps, the large balusters end in squared off cast iron and stone newel posts, with incised ornament, and geometric detail.

"The most striking and signature aspect of Neo-Grec brownstone architecture is the incised carved detail, appearing on window ledges, door frames, and most grandly and beautifully, on the flat surface of the brownstone building. The two most popular styles were an incised flower and vine design…”   for more on this.

Urban sprawl and declining local industries led to the decline of Park Slope in the mid-20th century, but in the ‘60s and ‘70s, young people and artists began converting what had often become rooming houses back to single and two or three family homes.  Thus began Park Slope’s renaissance.

Today, the median age is 34 and the median income is just shy of $100,000 a year.  

Prices for townhouses in Park Slope are minuscule compared to prices for similar houses in Manhattan.  Some recent sales of single family houses:

sale date
square feet
price per square foot
375A 12 STREET
420 7 STREET
387 6 STREET
532 3 STREET
369 8 STREET
395 7 STREET
621 3 STREET
355 14 STREET
588 5 STREET
311A 15 STREET
235 14 STREET

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What are the "best" co-ops in Soho? (Some will actually pay you to live there.)

Third in a series on what it costs to live in Soho and what you get for the money.

There's a bigger difference between Soho co-ops and Soho condos than there is between co-ops and condos in the rest of the city.

Condos in Soho have doormen.  They have exercise rooms.  They may have pools, or wine cellers, or dog spas, or all of the above.  Many of them are newly constructed.  Some have the cachet of a famous architect's name attached to them.

If a new building was built on a parking lot, the city does not require  its residents to be artist-certified.

The co-ops are actual loft buildings which were once factories or warehouses.  They're the original residential buildings of Soho, converted by artists in the long ago '60s and '70s.  For more on this subject, see

325 Lafayette Street

The buildings are usually five to seven stories tall, and the units are usually full floors, with (today) an elevator that opens into each loft.  Sizes vary, but you won't find anything smaller than 1200 square feet, and few if any that are that small.  Most are about 2000 square feet.

And none of them have the bells and whistles that the condos have.

141 Prince Street

Few sell for more than $5,000,000, although the penthouse at the top of 141 Prince Street traded for $27,500,000 in June of 2010, and again for $25,000,000 in April of 2011.  It has always been an interesting space.  More than twenty years ago, it was an actual farmhouse:

But extreme luxury and popularity with the rich are not the only things that qualify a building as "best."

There are several co-ops in Soho that, because of the income they derive from the retail space on the ground floor of their buildings, have little or no maintenance charges.  Owners in a few of these co-ops not only pay no maintenance but actually get income.

(Yes, of course I'm going to tell you which co-ops these are; at least some of them.  I am not mean enough to keep them a secret!)

325 Lafayette Street, which sits on a trapezoidal plot of land bordered by Lafayette, Mulberry and East Houston Streets, has no underlying mortgage and owners pay a maintenance fee of $600, or 30 cents per square foot, per month for each unit.  Units also derive income from the commercial space on the ground floor.

307 West Broadway, between Canal and Grand Streets, is another such buildling.  Maintenances here are about 50 cents per square foot, and unit owners also derive income from the commercial space.

473 Broome Street

The Gunther building, at 473 Broome Street between Greene and Wooster, has a beautiful castiron facade, some units have wraparound windows, and nobody pays any maintenance.

541 Broadway takes the prize, however.  Not only does it have a beautiful castiron facade, not only does it have a maintenance of $200 per month, but unit owners receive an income of $5,000 per month.  Each.

541 Broadway

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Welcome to the stratosphere! New buildings head for the moon.

I'm not exaggerating as much as you might think.

The condo building being constructed at 157 West 57th Street (to be known, cleverly, as One57) will rise 90 stories, or 1000 feet above ground level.  For a while, at least, it will be the tallest residential building in New York.

The second tallest is the Richard Gehry rental building at 8 Spruce Street.  At a piddling-by-comparison 870 feet, its website ( claims, for the moment, to be the tallest residential building "in the Americas."

The Empire State Building is 1250 feet high.  But the Empire State Building doesn't have floor to ceiling windows that, if you press your nose to the glass so you can't see your feet, make you feel like you're floating in space.

A thousand years ago, when I was flying my little two-seater rented Piper Colt (108 horsepower), cruising altitude was 1000 feet above ground.   I’ll have to go to the 90th story of One57 to see if I feel nostalgic.  Or maybe airsick.

157 West 57th Street apartment (Artist's conception--they're not built yet)
Prices will range from nearly $7,000,000 to nearly $100,000,000 for the 95 condos which will sit above a Park Hyatt hotel. 

Here's a link:

But One57 is not the only building on its way to outer space.  

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that, “Four blocks to the east, on Park Avenue, Los Angeles-based real-estate investors CIM Group with developer Harry Macklowe are building a tower that they have said privately has the rights to top off at more than 1000 feet…..Meantime, [a] Houston-based developer…is trying to revived the stalled MoMA tower project on West 53rd Street that has been approved to build up to 1,050 feet.”

The Journal goes on to say, “But Donald Trump, whose east side residential tower could slip to fifth tallest in New York in a few years, wasn’t about to concede ground.  ‘I still have a lot of the tallest buildings in the city,’ he puffed…”

Yes, Donald, we know you have.  I have long wondered why The Donald has been allowed to work out his Freudian problems on the Manhattan skyline. 

What do you want to bet he starts building one 1100 feet high in the next year?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What are the "best" buildings in Soho?

Another in a series on what it costs to live in Soho and what you get for the money.

Well, it would be fair to include the ones that have had numerous sales with prices of more than $5,000,000.  If they can command that kind of money, clearly at least some people consider them the best.

There are other excellent buildings that have sales in the stratospheric price range but don’t have a lot of turnover.

Still others, usually co-ops, may have beautiful cast-iron facades, low maintenances, a great location and more reasonable prices.

Let’s start with the condos.

40 Mercer, northeast corner of Mercer and Grand

40 Mercer, designed by the starchitect Jean Nouvel and built in 2006, has had 19 sales of more than $5,000,000 in the most recent five year period.  Part of the reason for the high number is that it came to market in 2006 and closings began in 2007.  So the whole building has been on the market in the last five years.

Built from scratch on a parking lot, the building is exempt from the artist certification requirement, as the city has waived it for new construction on a site where no building stood before.. 

There are 41 units spread over 14 stories, ranging in size from one to four bedrooms and from 1222 to more than 4000 square feet.  Ceilings are as high as 12’.    Amenities include a 24-hour doorman, concierge, underground parking, pool, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and gymnasium, landscaped courtyard and rooftop terrace.

40 Mercer, complete with red windows

What Curbed calls “the brokerbabble” says,  “The stunning 14-story building on downtown’s best block offers magnificent glass curtain walls with a rhythm of panes in vibrant hues of red and blue.”

It’s not downtown’s best block.  It’s not even Soho’s best block, although it’s gotten a lot better since 40 Mercer was built on it.  It’s in a part of Soho that until 40 Mercer arrived was considered the least desirable because it’s only a block from Canal Street.

And the “rhythm of panes in vibrant hues of red and blue” casts vibrant shadows of red or blue all over everything in the apartments.  If you’re not fond of red or blue, don’t live there.

Regardless of all of this, it’s an incredibly popular building.  Average selling price in the last year has been about $2,600 per square foot.

Another very desirable condo is The New Museum Building at 158 Mercer Street, with 21 units on 13 floors which was built in 1896 and converted to residential use in 1998.  There have been six sales here in the last five years, and only one of the six was for less than $5,000,000.  Top price was $24,000,000 for a penthouse with 7437 square feet inside and a whole lot of terrace.  Average price per square foot was a bit over $2,000. 

These are very large lofts, ranging in size from 2600 to 9000 square feet, with the highest proportion in the 4000-5000 range.  There’s a full time doorman on the Mercer Street side, and an entrance on Broadway as well.

158 Mercer, the New Museum Building
158 Mercer Street in Soho

The Soho Mews, at 311 West Broadway, designed by Gwathmey Siegel and built in 2007,  comprises two buildings, one on West Broadway and one on Wooster, with what the marketers call a “secret garden” in between, designed by the landscape architect Peter Walker.  

The Soho Mews’s 68 units on 9 floors include five duplex “townhouses.”  Developers call them townhouses; everybody else calls them maisonettes, that is, ground floor apartments with entrances both from the street and from the building’s lobby.  These also have some private garden space that’s been extracted from the secret garden.

Of the 58 recorded sales, six have been for more than $5,000,000.  Average price per square foot is around $1,800.  Amenities include 24-hour doorman and porter service, an attended parking garage, a fitness center managed by Drive 495, and an in-building art information advisory service by Art Production Fund.  Just in case you don’t know anything about art and you don't know what you like, either.

The secret garden at Soho Mews

More to come.