Roman Abramovich Buyin’ Big at Berwind Mansion

BUYERS: Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova
LOCATION: New York City, NY
PRICE: $72,000,000 (last list)
SIZE: 8 bedrooms and 8 full and 5 half bathrooms

YOUR MAMAS NOTES: First came word via the property gossip gal at the New York Post that Russian bazillionaire Roman Abramovich and his art-minded heiress lady-mate and baby momma, Dasha Zhukova, are in contract to acquire three of the five apartments at the so-called Berwind Mansion, a French Renaissance edifice from the Gilded Age that presides over the busy but plum corner of New York City’s Fifth Avenue and East 64th Street.

Amid much publicity and hullaballoo, the three units—a duplex maisonette (above), a triplex (below), and a simplex penthouse—were first hoisted on the open market, as a group, in May 2012 with an asking price of $72,000,000. They were taken off the market in January 2013 but, obviously, they remained for sale and the New York Post says the Abramovich-Zhukova deal is going down in the $75 million range.

Listing details don’t indicate how many square feet the three units encompass but, based on our rudimentary and entirely unscientific calculations, Your Mama figures they weigh in as a group with about 13,000 square feet with total of eight bedrooms and eight full and five half bathrooms.*

All three units—which amount to a 72% ownership of the co-operative building—are currently owned by the Monaco-based family of the late (and wicked rich) commercial real estate developer Howard Ronson who, among other endeavors, built a dozen or so skyscrapers in Manhattan. Mister Ronson and his family acquired the non-contiguous units, according to our research, in four separate transactions between June 2005 and February 2008 that totaled almost $34,000,000. That’s right, puppies, the three units are not contiguous. The rear duplex maisonette and the triplex (on floors 2-4) do abut but the sixth floor simplex penthouse (below) is separated from the triplex by a the fifth floor. But, have no real estate fear, butter beans, because…

…quick on the heels of The Post‘s mouth watering real estate news came the even more delicious property dish from the fine folks at New York Observer that jet-setting Russians are not only in contract to buy the three Ronson-owned apartments but they also plan acquire the remaining two units in building. The couple have reportedly reached an agreement to acquire the fifth floor simplex for an unknown amount from an as-yet unidentified lady who spends most of her time in South America and they are still in talks with 80-ish year old Cuba-born fashion designer turned licensing powerhouse Adolfo (Sardina) to sell the Fifth Avenue-facing duplex maisonette he’s owned and occupied since 1987 when he bought it from renown sexologist Shere Hite.

The Berwind Mansion, with its two-story rusticated limestone base, bowed façade, polished granite columns and wedding cake-fancy cornice, was designed by the relatively unknown architect Nathan Clark Mellen and built in the mid-1890s for coal tycoon Edward J. Berwind. Mister Berwind hired the esteemed French decorating firm of Jules Allard et Fils to do up the interiors and they did them up, children, in a gilt-trimmed and ostentatiously ornate manner that comfortably befits a Gilded Age robber baron or a modern day multi-billionaire.

The house was sold in the 1940s by Mister Berwind’s sister—the last person to occupy the premises as a single family residence—for about $300,000 to the Institute of Aeronautical Studies who sold it on to the American Heart Association. The building was returned to residential use in the early 1980s when it was cut up into nine apartments that were eventually, thanks to the Ronsons, consolidated in to just five.

Disco legend Donna Summer (allegedly) lived for a time in an elegant suite of rooms on the main floor and, in 2002, former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani (allegedly) declined to purchase the modern-minded penthouse—so the story goes—because it lacks a separate formal dining room. Long before she shelled out $32 million for her triple-wide townhouse on East 82nd Street, Madonna had a look-see at one of the palatial apartments and—so the story goes—laid on the floor for 15 minutes staring at the gilt-trimmed ceiling. (Her Madgesty decided against purchasing the unit as there’s no direct access to a garage.)

In addition to the aforementioned sexologist Shere Hite, previous owners at The Berwind include hotel developer Stephen Brighenti, who owned the rear duplex maisonette—the one with the 4,0000 bottle wine cellar and private grotto garden that was sold to Mister Ronson in late 2006 for $4.7 million. Computer scientist Joel Birnbaum owned the baroquely ornamented parlor floor spread that Madonna (allegedly) peeped and sold it to Mister Ronson in early 2007 for $8,500,000. Property developer T. Richard Butera owned the penthouse, with its high-gloss wood floors, wrap-around wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, and private, park-view terrace until it was sold in early 2008 for $11 million to the family of the (by then deceased) Mister Ronson. (The penthouse also has exclusive access to a kitchenette-equipped private terrace with over-the-tree-tops park view.)

Howard Ronson’s first purchase at The Berwind was in June 2005 when, in a single transaction, he paid $9,750,000 for two apartments on the third and fourth floors. The units were later combined with the parlor floor to create the existing triplex with interiors designed by the late Paris-based high-society interior designer Alberto Pinto. Listing photos show the sumptuously done apartment retains much of its extravagant architectural garnishing as well as a sleek, 33-plus foot long Euro-style galley kitchen on the parlor floor, all new bathrooms and roomy walk-in closets and dressing rooms, and a much more contemporarily decorated 700-ish square foot family room/media lounge that overlooks the park from the fourth floor.

Before the Ronson clan put the three units up for sale they leased them out at premium prices. In September 2009 the penthouse was put out for lease at $30,000 per month (and again in the fall of 2010 for $35,000 per month) and in March 2010 the rear duplex maisonette—the one with the private grotto garden—went up for grabs at $14,000 per month. They were each quickly rented to an unknown tenant at an unknown price for an unknown period of time.

Mister Abramovich’s beig buy in New York City is hardly much of a surprise given that his trophy property purchasing ways are legendary amongst property gossips around the globe. In addition to a couple of ship-sized boats, several jets plus a custom-converted Boeing 767, and a slew of blue-chip artworks—think Freud and Bacon, the lavish living father of seven owns, by his own tally, more than a dozen homes. They include: A 70-acre waterfront compound on St. Barts that cost him almost $90 million; A sea-side villa in Cap d’Antibes near Cannes—the so-called Chateau de la Cröe—that was once home to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, later owned by Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos, and cost him around £30 million; Two substantial ranch-estates near Aspen, CO, including the 200-ish Wildcat Ridge that cost him almost $37 million; Several substantial residences in London including an approximately $145 million manse in the guard-gated and heavily secured Kensington Palace Gardens enclave; And, finally, four homes in Russia including a large estate in Moscow on which sits—so the story goes—the former home of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

*The six-floor (plus basement) building has approximately 30 feet of Fifth Avenue frontage and stretches a bit more than 100 feet along East 64th Street. A few quick and rudimentary calculations on Your Mama’s bejeweled abacus based on the measurements shown on the floor plans shows that’s roughly2,600 square feet per floor and approximately 18,000 square feet over all. The duplex maisonette and the simplex penthouse each have two bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms and the triplex has four bedrooms and four full and three half bathrooms.


listing photos and floor plans: Stribling and Corcoran

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