The 25ft-wide New York mansion near Central Park comes with its own elevator
by James Tarmy / photo credit: Sotheby’s International Realty
When hedge fund manager David Berkowitz — now of RiverPark Capital Management — and his wife Nancy began to house-hunt in 1999, they didn’t look hard for a real estate agent.
“Bill Ackman’s mother-in-law was my broker,” he says. Ackman, currently the CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, co-founded the fund Gotham Partners with Berkowitz in the early 1990s.
Keeping it in the extended corporate family paid off: “When this house came on the market, she was super-aggressive in getting us in.”
Once Berkowitz walked into the Upper West Side townhouse’s second-floor dining room, with its 14ft (4.27m)-high coffered ceilings, he says he had an “Oh, my God” moment.
The couple immediately put in a full-price offer, but were told that the seller was considering an offer that was already on the table.
“I did some investigating and found out who the seller was,” Berkowitz says. “It turned out he was a guy in my business, working at Bear Stearns, and like me, Jewish and philanthropic,” he continues.
“So I increased my price a little bit, but I offered to make a US$100,000 contribution to a Jewish charity in his name if he sold the place to us, and I think that was what carried the day.”
Berkowitz and his wife paid what he says was a little more than US$5.5 million (RM22.77 million) for the building, steps from Central Park West.
“The house had just been renovated, so we bought it on a Tuesday — and a month later, we were living in it.”
Exactly 20 years later, the couple has put the house on the market, listing it with Cathy Taub of Sotheby’s International Realty for US$23 million.
“The house has been a great place to raise children, but we’re not in the business of raising children anymore,” Berkowitz says. “We’re looking forward to — I guess the contemporary term is downsizing.”
The house is 25ft wide, with a little more than 10,000 sq ft spread across six floors. After Berkowitz bought the house, he and his family lived there for six years and then, in 2005, embarked on a more than two-years-long, nearly US$3 million renovation.
They installed an elevator, redid the entire kitchen and all the bathrooms and back garden, and finished most of the basement, installing a home theatre, gym and wine cellar.
Today, the garden floor has a massive eat-in kitchen and family room, while the parlour floor has a formal living room and an ornate dining room.
“We’ve accommodated 70 people in the dining room,” he says. “And we had a string quartet in the music room next door, playing Beethoven.”
The third floor comprises a large library and a master bedroom suite with a bathroom and two dressing rooms that respectively measure
128 sq ft (11.9 sq m) and 160 sq ft. (Berkowitz notes that technically, his wife’s dressing room could be turned into a bedroom.)
The floor above has two large bedrooms with en-suite baths, plus a third, smaller bedroom currently configured as a playroom.
The top floor contains Berkowitz’s wood-panelled home office, along with two additional bedrooms.
“My office was meant as a bedroom when we bought the house,” he admits. “But we had enough bedrooms with six already, so we didn’t need another.”
Berkowitz and his wife bought the house with an eye toward hosting family events, particularly on Thanksgiving.
“I have no evidence to the contrary, so I’m going to stand by the assertion that I’m the only person in Manhattan who routinely deep-fries a turkey in his backyard,” he jokes.
“One of the arguments for buying a place like this is that I wanted to have a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving.”
The house is steps from the path of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, “so we go out to the street, watch the parade, and if it’s cold, we come inside for coffee and hot chocolate, and then I go into the backyard to deep-fry the turkey”.
Each year, he says, his family hosts about 40 people for Thanksgiving dinner.
Now that he’s decided to sell, Berkowitz says his greatest hurdle is figuring out what to do with 20 years’ worth of stuff.
“Most people in New York have a certain discipline forced on them because of the challenges of space,” he says. “You can’t save a lot of things.”
With a house that has, according to floor plans, at least 20 closets (which doesn’t include the basement storage room or those dressing rooms), self-editing wasn’t an issue. “For a time, it was a
blessing, and then it has become a bit of a curse.” As he’s begun to purge his belongings, he says, most of the objects he’s unearthed falls under the “I can’t believe we kept this” category, but the process has been healthy, he says.
“There really has been some catharsis associated with having to go through and cull everything except what we really want.”
Whoever buys the house next, though, will benefit from amenities Berkowitz says he did his best not to take for granted.
“I hope that someone gets as much enjoyment out of it as we have.” — Bloomberg