SELLER: Leontyne Price
SIZE: 2,800 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms
YOUR MAMAS NOTES: Over the weekend Your Mama received an unexpected missive from a musically-inclined informant we’ll call Ari A. Appreciator who thoughtfully let us know that word had begun to make its way though the international opera community that the New York City townhouse of the near-peerless soprano Leontyne Price has popped up for sale with a $5,000,000 price tag.
Miz Price, long retired and now in her late 80s, picked up her downtown townhouse located in the bustling SoHo adjacent southern flank of the West Village way back in 1962 for an unknown amount of money that we can all be assured was a slim fraction of its current asking price. This real estate acquisition would have been the year after her legendary debut at The Met in January 1961, a debut, children, that brought down the damn house with a electrifying ovation that lasted 35 minutes—or 42 minutes, depending on what one reads. Either way, people hooted, hollered and clapped ’til their palms burned and throats went hoarse with adulation and adoration for Miz Price’s rare, richly fluid and diligently controlled vocal acrobatics.
Among her many subsequent accolades and accomplishments, Miz Price sang at the 1965 inauguration for and 1973 state funeral of President Lyndon B. Johnson and, in 1978, at the invitation of President Jimmy Carter, she gave a nationally televised recital at the White House. She was selected as a Kennedy Center honoree in 1980, was given a prestigious National Medal of the Arts in 1985, and in the late 1990s wrote a children’s book version of the Verdi’s Aida that Elton John and Tim Rice turned into a Broadway musical of the same name. She maintained a recital and concert career well into her 70s and earned herself 13 Grammy Awards plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Oh, and did Your Mama mention Miz Price is black? It might seem like an unnecessary detail to mention nowadays but, children, when Miz Price rose to the pinnacle of the operatic mountain top in the 1950s and ’60s and bought herself a townhouse in New York City, Jim Crow was still the law of the land in the United States. Think about that for a moment, because what Miz Price achieved both on and off the stage was, quite simply, extraordinary.
Anyhoo, current listing information shows the fairly unassuming and clearly down-on-her-heels red-brick Federal style townhouse was originally built in 1829 and asks prospective buyers to note that the “faded beauty” sits within a designated Landmarks District. Its Landmarks District location will require the next owner(s) to seek and obtain permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in order to repair and/or alter just about anything and everything both inside and outside the house. Some people might find the requirements and restrictions of the LPC to be cumbersome and constricting, but preservation-minded people might suggest to those folks they simply ought not buy a building in one of the city’s numerous landmarks districts, thereby sparing them that particular headache and hassle.
As depicted on the floor plan included with current marketing materials, the four-story townhouse measures in at about 2,800 square feet with three bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms, at least 4 fireplaces that may or may not be in working order, four over-sized storage rooms and an unusually deep but pitifully neglected backyard.
The parlor floor living room—with mirrored fireplace flanked by built-in floor-to-ceiling book cases and some truly tawdry, olive green wall-to-wall carpeting that looks like it saw its better days two decades or more ago—is hardly huge but at 24-feet long does stretch almost the full depth of the house. At its rear end, the living room connects to a puny, nine-foot-square study that overlooks the un-tended backyard. Also on the parlor level, just off the foyer that, like the living room, elegantly extends the full length of the house, there’s a privately located half bathroom for guests and a large, walk-in storage room.
Along with a somewhat useless vestibule and a street-side dining room with a fireplace, the kitchen—miniscule such as it appears on the floor plan—is located in the partly below street level basement. There’s also an over-sized utility room and, tucked way way way in the back and accessed only through one of two walk-in storage rooms stuck like warts to the back of the house, there’s a supermodel slender bathroom that has, as far as Your Mama can tell, just two redeeming qualities. The first is that it exists at all—an inconveniently located closet size pooper is better than none at all—and the second is that it offers a wee window for ventilation.
Miz Price’s private chamber—the exact same size as the living room as per the floor plan—occupies the entire third floor and offers a fireplace, four closets plus a linen closet in the hall and a separate dressing room. The master bathroom, with separate tub, shower and street view, appears on the floor plan to only be accessible by exiting the bedroom and crossing the stair landing. This is, obviously, not ideal and—with an o.k. by the LPC, natch—would require immediate remedy should Your Mama and the Dr. Cooter buy this house, which—of course—we aren’t.
There are two more bedrooms and a walk-in storage room tucked tightly under the eaves on the top floor. No doubt due to the sloping roof lines, the lone bathroom on the top floor is only—and unfortunately—accessible to occupants of one bedroom by passing through the other.
It’s not difficult for Your Mama to see how a smart architect—a whole lotta money and the LPC’s approval—could maintain and enhance the architectural integrity of the structure and transform Miz Price’s worn out and chopped up townhouse into a well-organized if somewhat petite townhouse that meets with the demands and requirements of a wealthy New Yorker who isn’t looking for a 12,000 square foot Beaux Arts behemoth with a swimming pool in the sub-basement and a hot tub on the roof.
We have no inside intel on where Miz Price plans to decamp but Your Mama hopes she will realize enough proceeds from the sale of her long-time New York City residence to keep her comfortably for the rest of her life.
listing photos and floor plan: Brown Harris Stevens