What a Manhattan apartment block tells us about the American economy.
House of Outrageous Fortune: Fifteen Central Park West, the World’s Most Powerful Address. By Michael Gross. Atria Books; 394 pages.
“Limestone Jesus” is the nickname of 15 Central Park West, Manhattan’s residential building of the moment, and not just because its 201 extraordinary apartments are clad in expensive rock.
“It represents the resurrection and the life of our era’s aristocracy of wealth,” writes Michael Gross in “House of Outrageous Fortune”, the “story of the property-lust-making building and the cohort that calls it their tower of power”.
If anyone needs convincing that the richest of the rich have continued to get richer, unaffected by the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequently misfiring economy, here is the proof. In 2005 when Carl Icahn, a septuagenarian billionaire activist investor, was outbid for a penthouse in the then-unbuilt building, his successful rival, Daniel Loeb, a younger hedge-fund boss, paid $US45m. In 2011 Sandy Weill, a former boss of Citigroup, sold his slightly smaller penthouse for $US88m, twice what it had cost him four years earlier and the highest price ever paid for a Manhattan apartment.
15CPW, as it is known locally, has special appeal to the new-money types frowned upon by the sniffy blue-bloods across the park on Fifth Avenue.
There are hedgies and investment bankers galore, especially from Goldman Sachs, which helped the Zeckendorf brothers finance the development, and got a discount for its boss, Lloyd Blankfein, when he splashed out $US26m on a duplex. Russian oligarchs, left out of the initial sales process due to concerns about their character, have been busy buyers in the secondary market.
Celebrity residents include Sting, Denzel Washington and Alex Rodriguez, a steroid-pumping batter for the New York Yankees who, one anonymous neighbour tells Mr Gross, is “not a nice guy, an unfriendly narcissist” and is thus the “exact opposite” of the delightful Mr Blankfein. (For anyone expecting serious tittle-tattle, this is about as good as Mr Gross gets, alas, along with his account of Mr Loeb’s failed attempt to lower the temperature of the water in the swimming pool and subsequent resignation from the building’s gym committee.)
When the Occupy Wall Street movement heard that Mr Blankfein lived in the building it organised a protest outside, and Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor, got elected last year by attacking the sort of wealthy people who call 15CPW home.
If only Mr Gross had made a serious attempt to analyse whether their rise is really due to policies that simultaneously harmed the less well-off, and whether there have been more of the sort of special favours for residents like those apparently extended by the police to the triple-parked limos out front. Still, he demonstrates conclusively the abiding truth of Clare Boothe Luce’s observation, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable.”
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