Hedge Fund Condo Has Blankfein, Potash King: Manuela Hoelterhoff

A rent-controlled sulky senior held out so long at the site of future 15 Central Park West that the exhausted developers finally gave him millions and a new apartment (which he immediately cluttered up with junk).

That last obstacle out of the way, 15 Central Park West rose steadily into the sky by Columbus Circle until the happy day when Sandy Weill and his wife moved into the biggest penthouse in 2008.

Neighbors would include Daniel Loeb, Sting, Daniel Och, Lloyd Blankfein, plus that Russian potash king (or his daughter) and many members of the wandering global elite.

Michael Gross, an author with a delicate appreciation for bloated egos and wealth, makes them glitter in “House of Outrageous Fortune: Fifteen Central Park West, the World’s Most Powerful Address.”

The intersecting strands of money, politics, greed, taste, ambition shine brightly.

We spoke over lunch at Bloomberg’s world headquarters in New York.

Hoelterhoff: Anything green about this building?

Sandy Weill

Gross: Don’t think so. Wait. There is a lawn above Sandy Weill’s penthouse just so the people up above have something nice to look down on. No AstroTurf.

Hoelterhoff: You describe how the Zeckendorf brothers, Arthur and William, came to choose Robert Stern after dropping such contenders as Daniel Libeskind, too flashy, and Hugh Hardy, too boring. This is an intentionally traditional building.

Gross: Stern looked at architects like Rosario Candela and the limestone facade evokes his era. It’s really very beautiful where it meets the street and nice to walk past.

Hoelterhoff: Say you are shopping for an apartment today at 15. Advice?

Gross: The Zeckendorfs thought the A line, which faces south, was more desirable than the D line, which faces north. What do I think? The A line has Trump International plunk in the middle of your view.

D Line

Hoelterhoff: Give me the D line. Since 15 opened, scary spikes have been rising on 57th street. Same buyers?

Gross: No, not really. All the towers on 57th Street are glass buildings. That’s so 1999. Who wants to live in a glass box with the sun pouring in at you?

At 15 CPW, the Zeckendorfs set out to build a place where people would want to live with families even if they have houses, many perhaps, elsewhere. They don’t want to be looked at. Fifteen is a fortress.

On 57th street, you have a significant element of private flight capital.

Hoelterhoff: That makes me think of Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Perm-born potash king, who has some problems back home and also with his wife. After nearly signing at 100 Eleventh Avenue, he bought Weill’s penthouse for $88 million.

Bank Vault

Gross: Allegedly for his daughter, though his wife, who is divorcing him, says he bought it as a way to hide money from her. If the daughter is living there, the lights are never on. I think it’s just a bank vault.

Hoelterhoff: Well, as you note, she takes a lot of courses online. Is that $88 million a record for a condo in New York?

Gross: It topped the $50 million sale of a number of combined apartments to a reclusive Mexican financier named David Martinez at the Time Warner Center a few years ago.

Hoelterhoff: A feature I find very seductive in its old-style way is that 15 comes with a restaurant. Most co-ops and condos don’t offer that any more.

Gross: At the turn of the century, the Central Park West buildings all had restaurants and ballrooms, because they were considered to be kind of for transients and called residential hotels. To get certain zoning which allowed them to build in certain ways, they did not have kitchens in the apartments.

Kitchen Fixation

Hoelterhoff: Why is there such a kitchen fixation these days and not only here? These folks don’t cook.

Gross: Everyone likes to make their own breakfast and so of course you need a six burner!

Hoelterhoff: Unlike in yesteryear, none of these apartments are designed for live-in help it seems.

Gross: There are studios and one bedrooms for staff. Sandy Weill actually lived for a while in a one bedroom staff apartment while he was renovating. He paid $900,000 for it and it’s now on the market for $5.65 million.

Relative Bargain

Hoelterhoff: So what else is for sale?

Gross: Let’s check StreetEasy. There’s a rental probably on a high floor for $78,000 a month and a relative bargain, a two bedroom, for $19,500 a month.

It seems there are 13 active sales. The most expensive is $65 million. It just had a price drop.

Hoelterhoff: What’s that buy?

Gross: Eleven rooms, five bedrooms, five baths, five half baths -- 6,000 square feet and helicopter views.

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is an executive editor at Bloomberg News. Any opinions are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.