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828 Fifth Avenue in Park/Fifth Ave. to 79th St.: Review and Ratings | CityRealty

85
Carter Horsley
Review by Carter Horsley
Carter Horsley Carter B. Horsley, a former journalist for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Post. Mr. Horsley is also the editorial director of CityRealty.com.
 

Not the grandest "Millionaire's Row" mansion extant, nonetheless this very robust and impressive building at 828 Fifth Avenue on the southeast corner at 64th Street abounds with lively and fine detailing that makes it one of the most interesting on Fifth Avenue.

It was constructed for Edward Berwind, a major owner of coal mines, and this was his "town house" and his country house was the legendary "Elms" in Newport, R. I.

It was completed in 1896 and designed by Nathan Clark Mellen in a Victorian/Edwardian-like style and Horace Trumbauer added dormers in 1902.

Originally the Berwind residence, it became the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences before being converted in 1978 to condominium apartments when a modern glass penthouse was added.

Bottom Line

An impressive Edwardian-style mansion, it occupies a very prime corner location at 2 East 64th Street, very close to the entrance to the Central Park Zoo and a few blocks north of the southeast corner of Central Park.

Description

Whereas other millionaires opted for neo-Georgian, or neo-Classical, or Italian Renaissance-palazzo, or Beaux Arts confections, this building has one of the city's most elegant railings, a heavily rusticated limestone base with arched windows on the first floor, a less rusticated limestone second floor with an unusual and quite pronounced arched window overhang, a large bay on the lower three floors facing the avenue, an arched side-street entrance, and three floors of lovely deep red masonry with white window reveals with arched windows on the fourth floor and a fifth floor with considerably lower ceilings than the lower floors.

Its fenestration of the side-street façade is asymmetrical and the building has a nice "moat."

The building is an Edwardian exercise in muscularity and eccentricity. It has eloquent passages – the deep, pillowy, first-story limestone rustication, the blue-green patina of the moat’s railings, the Parisian-style angled, glass entrance marquee, and the gently bowed balcony above the third story on the avenue – and some awkwardness such as the deep-red and deeply grouted brick façade above the limestone base, the glass penthouse that is not in context with anything.

This is not a pristine masterwork of architectural consistency such as The Frick Collection a few blocks to the north on Fifth Avenue, or the seamless expansion of The Jewish Museum even further north.

It is almost “homey” in comparison with Andrew Carnegie’s massive limestone and deep-red brick pile with very large garden at 91st Street on the avenue.

What it lacks is the grace of the very fine Georgian-style ensemble for the former George F. Baker residence on 93rd Street and Park Avenue and the wildly eccentric and very romantic red-brick house on the southeast corner of Park Avenue and 85th Street.

Is it therefore just a hodge-podge?

No.

It is a marvelously intriguing structure of great individuality that conveys a real sense of power, especially given its very prime location.

With its moat and rusticated limestone base, it projected a strong sense of security, but the deep red masonry of the upper floors and the energetic dynamism of the overall composition manifest a delightful urbanity.

One almost expects young ladies with corsages to flit about the fourth floor balcony on the avenue or the third floor balcony on the side-street.

Here, one felt, was the charmingly eccentric, rather than the disgusting, decadent, rich.

Amenities

The building has a doorman and permits pets.

Apartments

Maisonette B has an 19-foot-long entrance gallery that is next to a 11-foot-long angled den and a staircase, a 12-foot-long dining room across from a 12-foot-long kitchen and leads to a 26-foot-wide living room with fireplace on the first floor and two bedrooms, a 21-foot-long sitting  room conservatory and a 38-foot-long grotto/garden on the lower level and a 25-foot-long wine cellar.

The 6th floor has 2,470 square feet of interior space and a 225 square foot terrace overlooking Central Park.

History

In a September 23, 1999 article in The New York Times, architectural historian John Tauranac wrote that the house “consists of two floor-through apartments, two slightly smaller duplexes, and four more conventional-sized apartments (the old servants’ quarters.)” "What is extraordinary about the house today is how many of the rooms have remained miraculously untouched in the two decades since it was converted into co-ops," Mr. Tauranac observed.

The house was built in 1896 for Berwind, a coal magnate, who, starting as an ensign in the United States Navy, wound up supplying coal not just to the Navy for its fleets but also to most of the railroads on the East Coast and the IRT subway trains. (Not coincidentally, Berwind served on the board of the IRT). 

The Berwind house was nothing less than a palace. There were ceremonial areas for receptions on the first two floors, with the family quarters safely sequestered on third floor.  A formal staircase greets visitors as they entered from 64th Street. Off the landings, which played the role of grand foyers, were east and west wings stretching along the side street.  The ground floor had three major rooms: a library and dining room in the east end, and, overlooking Fifth avenue building’s bowed front, a formal reception room or picture gallery.  The second floor essentially had only two rooms: a ballroom and a sitting room overlooking the park.”

“The only major structural change occurred in 1945, when the central staircase was removed after the house was sold to the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences (for an estimated $300,000, which might buy one 15th of a full-floor apartment today). The house was sold by Julia Berwind, Edward’s sister who was the last person to occupy it as a single-family residence ... The institute used the house as its headquarters, then sold it to the American Heart Association. It was restored to residential use in 1978.”

“The story is that when Madonna was considering buying the apartment, she laid down on the floor of the former bloom. For 15 minutes or so, she simply gazed upon the ceiling. (She didn’t take the apartment, not because she didn’t like it but because she could reach a garage directly from the interior)

The second floor ceiling is 18 feet high. In October, 2013, the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom reported that Roman Abramovich, “the steel tycoon and owner of the Chelsea Football club,” had paid $75 million in September to buy most the Berwind mansion and was “just short change away – relatively – from owning it,” adding that “he has just two more apartments to acquire and another $23 million to stump up.” The article said that PageSix.com noted that “two people still stand” in his way, adding that “a fifth-floor apartment which according to public records has been owned by Eugenia Olazabal since 1961, is causing the billionaire problems.”  PageSix.com, the article continued, “claims the Russian has offered her $15 million but she is holding out for $23 million” and “meanwhile, fashion designer Adolpho Sardina, who owned a duplex in the mansion, caved in to the billionaire’s offer” and agreed to move out in a year. The article said that the 46-year old tycoon, who is worth $10.2 billion, will share the eight-bedroom home with Dasha Zhukova, the mother of his two youngest children.”

Mr. Abramovich’s goal of converted the building back to a single-family residence was also the goal of Howard Ronson, a British developer who became very active in Manhattan commercial real estate in the 1980s. When he died in 2007, he only had three apartments in the building but his family would go on to buyer the penthouse and intended to get all 9 units. In 2012, however, Josh Barbanel reported in The Wall Street Journal on May 22 that “the Ronsons are giving up” and put their holdings in the building on the market for $72 million. The article said that “two of the original co-ops have been combined into a triplex with interiors designed by Alberto Pinto” that “includes a 34-foot-long, 17-foot-high ballroom with elaborate Louis XV plaster ceilings, along with a pair of angels hovering over a fireplace mantel.”

Mr. Ronson’s company, the HRO Group, built 12 office buildings in the city with about 5.5 million square feet of space. His portfolio included Tower 56 at 126 East 56th Street, 380 Madison Avenue and Financial Square at 32 Old Slip, the 30-story Broad Financial Center on Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan. He also partnered with the William Kaufman Organization to build 767 Third Avenue.

Mr. Ronson’s widow, Angelika Ronson, sold a 14-room co-op on the 11th floor at 2 East 67th Street in July, 2008, to Jonathan Tisch, the chairman and chief executive of Loews Hotels.

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