February of 2008, I was inspired by a building. It was the first time that a building sang to me. When I looked at it, I heard Brahms: lush, innovative chords of the nineteenth century
Romantic Period. Seriously, every time I saw it, even from a distance, it reminded me of J.B’s Symphony No. 4. I never really pictured myself living in this pinkish-colored building nor did I desire for it to be my home. It just moved me, serving as a musical real-estate metaphor for my life. And for the most part, way back then, I had never day-dreamed that one day I would list—and then sell, an apartment in this building, for $11 million, near the end of 2009—and during a Great Recession.
But, I did. I sold it—something that had once inspired me, and sang to me, producing an amazing feeling, changing my life, in many ways…Today, I call it–that experience with a building, My Brahms.
Now I know confessing, here on this page, that buildings “Sing to me,” makes me sound, well, a bit crazy. But they do at times and not all of the time. Most of the time, I hear nothing. On those other rare occasions, a building will remind me of a Miles Davis riff, or a Sting croon (post The Police), or even an old Rodgers & Hart tune, and then, the soundtrack in mind, clicks. Play.
Last Friday, I had shown five buildings before that click-to-PLAY:
Our driver, slowly turned off of West 78th Street onto Broadway, and then turned another ninety degrees, travelling under a wrought-iron gate, displaying APTHORP. We rolled by limestone cornices, marble statues, and old-world sconces, until the black Lincoln stopped.
The driver opened the car’s door for me, and my customer, who exited most gracefully;
and we were greeted by the building’s courtyard of greenery and fountain. It was at this time, I started to hear that subtle, humming Reverie of Debussy: light and flowing, repeatedly. I glanced at my customer, and then at her seven-year-old daughter, wondering if they were hearing–feeling alikeness. I couldn’t tell, nor was I going to inquire…
The gate-keeper escorted us to the southern entrance, while I informed my customer that the building encompassed a full-city-block, was built by William Waldorf Astor in 1908, inspired by the Pitti Palace in Florence, and was named after businessman, Charles Ward Apthorp, who was known for entertaining, lavishly. (I chose not to mention that Apthorp made his fortune by importing Spanish gold for the American Army, then selling the Army supplies, receiving huge commissions on both ends.)
Getting off the elevator, on the sixth floor, we noticed that there were four apartments per floor, and instead of a long shared hallway, like most apartment buildings, there was a roundish-sqaured entry way, almost like a little rotunda, linking a common foyer area for neighbors to share. That’s different.
We entered apartment 6A, finding ourselves in a real foyer, which was roughly fifteen feet by fourteen feet, with original-restored mosaic tiles of powder blues, whites, and earthy peach, framed by inlaid wood, below our feet. The ceiling was plastered with a floral medallion, and the motif, dancing off the woodwork was floral and ivy-wreathed. It’s the kind of foyer that Edith Wharton wrote about in Old New York, where visitors entered, handing the house-servant a richly embossed calling card and gentlemen callers wore top hats. Oh, so divine!
Of course apartment 6Ais completely restored, and nicely furnished to attract buyer-callers, and it’s impressive. It’ll cast a spell on you, to say the least, and that’s the mission of any developer for a model apartment. After we sauntered through the massive 3,000 square feet model apartment, we headed to an un-renovated apartment, located in the eastern portion of the building, on the eleventh floor, for which, prior to closing will be a renovated luxury home, selling to a new buyer for $4,950,000.00, approximately.
The current condition of apartment 11M is what we, in the business, by all appearances call: A wreck. Of course, we had the re-configured layout, in our hands, as well as what kind of high-end finishing touches would be added to the unit, with those very special kind-of-appliances and bathroom fixtures that are in multi-million dollar homes. It had great, strong bones, I could see: inlaid flooring, moldings and moldings galore, intricate plaster detailing, ceilings nearly eleven-feet high, and the original rooms were still stately, to me. While Justin, the agent representing the developer, was helping my customer see beyond the wreck-about-to-be-reborn into something spectacular-spectacular, I followed her daughter into the living room, so that she, the buyer, could concentrate.
There, as the seven-year-old sweetie swirled, dancing around, I stood in the middle of the 23 ft. X 19 ft. room, and had one of those, 1908 E.M.-Forrester-Room-with-a-View moments, and it wasn’t the for the view. It was the apartment—wrecked, down to its bones and all. It sang to me with full voice. I heard, “O mio babbino caro,” while I looked around, thinking of Paris, and an era of New York that I had only read about in books, all at once. That feeling only lasted thirty seconds, before I had to re-group with the others in the kitchen, and that’s all I needed, to feel something–magical.
Unknown to anyone, who I was with or met that day, the Apthorp cast a spell on me. It has haunted me, so pleasantly, for days. I’m not sure if I’ll ever sell an apartment there, but I just might…Will it be My Debussy or My Puccini? I don’t know.
All I do know is that it sang to me, and I can see myself, actually living in an Apthorp apartment, comfortably until I’m very old and gray, even a wreck of an apartment would suit me, Puccini-ly. Perfectly.
Those who have called the Apthorp home: Lena Horne, Joseph Heller, George Balanchine, Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Kroft, Conan O’Brien, Nora Ephron and Cyndi Lauper…