To some very wealthy architecture-lovers, including Calvin Klein, Nicole Kidman, and Martha Stewart, the idea was a dream come true-a customized apartment in one of two glass towers designed by the renowned Richard Meier. Four years later, the buildings have generated more nightmares than far less glamorous New York addresses: leaks, heating problems, security lapses, and endless construction. With a third of the units on the market, VICKY WARD hears from high and low about the problems behind Meier’s facades.
On a bright, cold day in March, the actor and movie director Vincent Gallo stood in his newly purchased $2.15 million condominium, a raw concrete space on the seventh floor of the glass tower that is the northernmost of the pair on the far west end of Perry Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
The towers look out over bustling West Street to the Hudson River beyond. In Gallo’s apartment, three of the eight-foot walls are made entirely of glass and offer a panorama to the north, west, and south. To the north you see the Empire State Building; turn to the south and you see the Statue of Liberty. You feel as if you were in a boat, floating on top of sparkling water-which is just as the building’s architect, the world-renowned Richard Meier, intended.
Gallo, 42, is an elf-like man with curly black hair and luminous, intense blue eyes. Passionate about architecture, he has lived in houses by John Lautner and Craig Ellwood, and of his new apartment he says, “This is the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen in New York. If I dreamed about it and thought I could make my own place in New York, this is how it would be. It’s a masterpiece.”
He wasn’t the only one to feel this way when, in 2000, word seeped out that the 69-year-old Meier, who is perhaps best known for the Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, was going to design his first-ever ground-up structures in New York. Their 28 units, all with raw interiors, would be available for a minimum of $2,000 a square foot-meaning asking prices starting at $2 million, sums that hitherto had been considered more appropriate for Park Avenue than for Greenwich Village.
A handful of wealthy architecture connoisseurs, many of them celebrities, leapt at the chance of customizing their own space in what they fondly call their “glass house.” “New York,” one of them explains, “has very few buildings of architectural significance, so this was a real opportunity if you were into design and light and air and all the things that Richard Meier is about.”
First among them was fashion designer Calvin Klein, 61, who took the snowy-haired Meier up with him in a helicopter to hover precisely at the spot where the 4,000-square-foot penthouse of the south tower was to be built. “It was wonderful and very unusual to be able to see what the view is like before the building is up,” recalls Meier.
Klein was ecstatic and paid $8 million for the top two floors-a considerable discount from the market price, but the developers knew his name was marquee and would lure other rich buyers. Klein later bought a third floor, just below the other two, for $6 million. He has since hired the British minimalist architect John Pawson, who did Klein’s Madison Avenue store, to design the raw space, due to be finished sometime next year; Pawson has constructed life-size models, in muslin stretched over two-by-four planks of wood, of his interiors-every countertop, every chair, every light fixture, even a bed. One person who saw Pawson’s model for Klein described it as “like a film set.”
Klein’s plans included a screening room and an exercise room. In all, he’s reportedly spent close to $20 million. “It’s going to be so much fun,” he kept saying at Manhattan cocktail parties to another owner, Paul Sinclaire, now a partner in JM and A, an investment conglomerate, and formerly the executive vice president of Club Monaco. Sinclaire had bought the second-floor apartment in the north tower.
Nicole Kidman bought the apartment below Klein’s for $8 million from Meier, who, as an original investor in the building, had been able to buy it for around $3.8 million (a discount of $1,000 per square foot). Beneath Kidman is Phil Suarez, another of the building’s original investors and the business partner of internationally famous chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a co-owner of the Manhattan restaurant 66, which Meier designed. Suarez bought for around $4 million, and his apartment is currently on the market for nearly $7 million.
Beneath Suarez is Bill Joy, the co-founder and former chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, who initially wanted the penthouse but, when told Klein had already taken it, bought the 8th and 9th floors and then the 10th, for which he paid $15 million. Joy’s triplex is the largest apartment in either of the buildings, which narrow near the top. He put it on the market last year for $19.5 million, partly, he told Vanity Fair, because he was going through a divorce. No one bought, and so now he has paid Meier-for a second time-to come up with plans to finish the interior.
Underneath Joy is Vongerichten, who was supposed to run a restaurant seating 50 on the ground floor of the south tower, according to the condominium offering plan. Currently, however, the restaurant is a pile of rubble, and Vongerichten, who has been busy with other projects, is said to be on the fence about it.
Hugh Jackman, currently starring on Broadway in The Boy from Oz, and his family are subletting the sixth-floor apartment for a reported $35,000 a month from legendary commercials director Bob Giraldi. (He also directed the 2000 film Dinner Rush.) Jackman has swiftly become the building’s biggest attraction. At least one person in the north tower says that he has friends who come over just to watch, through binoculars, the actor stride around his apartment. In fact, a reporter observed, you don’t need a lens. Jackman’s bedroom is in plain view. The Jackmans are known to give good parties with such guests as John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Glenn Close, and Barbara Walters.
Beneath Jackman, on the fifth floor, is Scott Resnick, the wealthy scion of a New York real-estate family, who has an exquisite art collection. The buildings’ developers were particularly proud to have Resnick there because he is one of their own. Beneath Resnick are Michael Long and his wife from Connecticut. Beneath them, Rita Schrager, a Cuban-born former ballet dancer and the ex-wife of hotelier Ian. She and her children were among the first to take up residence in the towers when the buildings neared completion, in the summer of 2002. Finally, on the second floor, above the planned 50-seat restaurant, are Canadian architects George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, who bought in the summer of 2003.
The north tower is generally preferred by single people and couples, since its floors are only 1,800 square feet or so, meaning that its units are cheaper, beginning at around $2 million for the lower floors. “We call it the poor persons’ tower,” jokes one of the residents.
Currently, Martha Stewart owns the top two floors, though her duplex has been intermittently on the market since 2002 for $7.2 million. (She bought it for more than $6 million in 2000.) A deal to sell to Peter Thiel, the co-founder and former chairman of the Internet service PayPal, fell through in March.
Beneath Stewart is Richard Schlagman, the European-based British entrepreneur who owns Phaidon Press, an art-oriented publishing house, and who, like Stewart, has not yet finished his space. Beneath him, the 12th floor has just been sold by Joe Daly, an investor in the building, to the developer Herbert Sambol. A California couple named Neely is on 11. Underneath them is Ira Drukier, a co-developer. Beneath him is Joe Castaldo, the owner of the Style Council, a textile company. Beneath him, on the eighth floor, is the British-born head of Universal Television Group, Michael Jackson, who bought his unit late last year for around $2.6 million.
Beneath Jackson is Gallo, who is perhaps most famous for his 1998 indie hit, Buffalo 66, and who moved up to the seventh floor from the third last fall. On the sixth floor is New York filmmaker Gavin McFarland’s apartment, which has been listed for $2.75 million. Beneath him is a real-estate development tycoon from the Midwest named Michael Kojaian, who bought the apartment unseen, on the phone. Kojaian quickly became the building’s enigma. He is hardly ever there, since his business and main residence are in Michigan. “He never says hello or good night,” says one of the residents. “He always enters late at night-and has been seen with a supermodel by his side.”
Beneath Kojaian is a Manhattan doctor named Noaman Sanni and his wife, and beneath them, an Iranian named Jacob Moheban and his wife. Finally, on the second floor, above the gym, is Michael Holtz, the dark-haired thirtysomething C.E.O. of the Smart Flyer, an exclusive travel agency. Holtz paid in excess of $2 million for his unit in the summer of 2003.
Holtz bought it from Klein’s friend Paul Sinclaire, who was the first of the people who’d actually moved into the buildings to move out. That Sinclaire did so less than a year after moving in should perhaps have been a warning to the other owners that something was amiss. Slowly, in the past year, the buildings’ troubles have emerged to the point that none of the owners, even those who don’t yet live there, can ignore them. Everyone has noticed that nearly a third of the original owners are trying to sell their apartments. Most of the sellers have made a small profit; one sold at a loss; some, like Joy and Stewart, have been unable to sell quickly. Now, adding insult to injury, it turns out that a third Meier tower is going up at 165 Charles Street, right next to the south tower, cutting off a third of the view that Klein paid so much for. Built by different developers, it will be larger and more luxurious than its neighbors, containing, among other things, a 50-foot swimming pool with a waterfall.
The new building, however, is the least of the problems. Vincent Gallo sums up the mood that many of his fellow residents are feeling: “You won’t believe what’s going on in these buildings. It’s a microcosm of everything ugly in human beings-beautiful, beautiful architecture desecrated by scandal, greed, conniving, and gluttony.”
Only a few steps into the interior of each of the towers reveal that the residents have plenty to complain about. The buildings are clearly not finished, although the offering plan stated they’d be ready for occupancy by April 2002. The lobbies are unfurnished save for a desk in each, behind which sits a doorman, trendily attired in a black suit and white shirt.
The space is cloaked in a layer of dust, thanks to the tribe of contractors endlessly riding up and down the elevators. (The congestion is particularly bad in the north tower, which is served by a single elevator, whereas the south has two.) On the ground floor in the south tower the restaurant site lies filthy and abandoned. The paving stones outside the building are being ripped up and re-laid. The fountain outside does not work. When, on one occasion, a reporter visited the buildings with Richard Meier, the architect was visibly frustrated at the mess and lack of progress. “If you can’t find white light fixtures, just paint the current ones white,” he told the buildings’ superintendent, Jose Alvarez. Meier was so annoyed to see equipment out of place in the gym of the north tower that he tried to move an enormous weight machine himself. One of the reasons he never moved in, he later confided, was that he knew he’d never be finished if he lived there; he’d never escape it.
More seriously, both buildings have been plagued with leaks and heating problems. Several apartments in the north tower have had to have their expensive floors replaced-twice-because of water damage. And several of the north-tower apartments visited by this reporter had had the flooring of their balconies ripped up for the same reason, and they were still awaiting re-installation.
Easements that allowed owners to move plumbing outside the core, where Meier’s design had placed it, expired in May 2003; now, if you want to move your plumbing-which many people do, since designing an apartment with three walls of glass is not easy-you have to ask the person beneath you if you can drill through his or her ceiling. The answer, nearly always “no,” has led to tensions between neighbors.
One of the reasons Gallo exchanged his third-floor apartment for the one on the seventh floor was that Paul Sinclaire, on the second floor, had told him he could not drill down; Sinclaire had, after all, already spent tens of thousands of dollars getting his apartment professionally designed and decorated. This spring, after he’d moved up, Gallo in turn told Michael Jackson, the new owner of the floor above him, the same thing. Insignia, the building’s managing agent, which was fired as this article was being written, had reportedly failed both to mention to Jackson that it might be a problem to drill down and to communicate his intentions to Gallo. The first Gallo says he heard of it was when Jackson notified him that work was about to start. Insignia has not returned calls for comment.
Another thing that upset Gallo in his third-floor space was that, out of his windows to the south, he looked directly into Rita Schrager’s apartment and saw that she, alone of all the residents in the building, had ignored the stipulation that the electronic white window coverings installed in every apartment had to be used as the outermost curtain layer, thus giving the building a uniform appearance. Instead, Schrager has white curtains in her windows, which to Gallo-and to others-looks like “little Bombay.”
While a majority of the other residents agree that Schrager’s curtains look inappropriate, most thought there was nothing they could do to force her to use the window coverings. Gallo, a man of extreme passion, went as far as to make letters that spelled rita schrager is a whore and planned to paste them in his windows, but refrained, at the last minute, from doing so “in case I have children … to save their dignity.”
In December 2003 a new board for both towers was elected, replacing the old board, which had been composed mostly of the buildings’ developers. The new board consisted of Calvin Klein as president, Scott Resnick as vice president, Bill Joy as secretary, Martha Stewart, and Rita Schrager.
The new board almost immediately decided to raise maintenance charges
from $2,000 per apartment per month to approximately $4,000, in order to run a “first class building.” It asked Insignia to send out a letter to owners detailing the
changes it planned. The letter stated that
“the board is also currently reviewing other alternatives which include setting up
a reserve fund over the next few years. This will likely be done through an assessment (i.e., an additional charge). The amount should be determined at the planned February board meeting on February 11.” Better security was promised, along with improved service (since employees would be part of a union) and “outsourced access by vendors to heating and plumbing problems.” The letter also said that an engineering firm was conducting a detailed survey of the buildings, and that it would soon report its findings.
Gallo was not alone among those in the north tower in feeling that the dramatic rise in maintenance charges was an insupportable act of autocracy by the ultra-wealthy people in the south tower. Further inflaming him was his recent discovery that Martha Stewart, the only resident of the north tower to be on the board, was intending to sell her apartment at the time she got voted in. How could this make her seriously responsible for the other owners’ interests?
“I fail to see how this is not going to go before (New York State attorney general) Eliot Spitzer,” says Joe Castaldo, the amiable dark-haired owner of the ninth floor in the north tower. Castaldo meant that, facing litigation from the new board, the developers would have to explain to the attorney general how, so soon after the buildings went up, the new board had felt that the running and building costs so dramatically exceeded what had been laid out in the offering plan. Richard Born, one of the developers, responded, “The people who live there are very high-end people whose demands are greater than usual. I’m shocked they’ve raised the costs by 105 percent, but they clearly want an exceptionally high level of service.”
Castaldo, in turn, was bracing for his own legal battle, with Richard Meier and his firm, whom he had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to design his interior space, but who inexplicably, from Castaldo’s point of view, had failed to finish the job. The white, modern-looking gas knobs on the oven, which the architect’s company insisted on, do not work, he says. Among his other complaints: the paint on one of the walls at the back is cracked and peeling, the white paint on the doors does not match the white paint on the walls, and the glass in the bathroom door is sufficiently see-through to be embarrassing. A spokesperson for Meier says that the problems in Castaldo’s apartment have to do with the relationship between Castaldo and his contractor. The architect and his firm say they are doing their best to mediate between them.
Like Gallo’s, Castaldo’s balcony floor lies in a ripped-up heap. Castaldo is miserable that a building into which he put such high hopes should have turned into such a fiasco.
It is a rich irony, perhaps, that the Perry Street towers were conceived of almost by mistake. The troika of developers who formed West Perry L.L.C. were Richard Born, Ira Drukier, and Charles Blaichman. The first two made a decent reputation for themselves renovating the Stanhope hotel, on the Upper East Side, and developing others, such as the Chambers in Midtown and the Mercer in SoHo, where they had first done business with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his associate Phil Suarez, who rent the restaurant space there, the Mercer Kitchen. The others who joined the consortium included developers Joe Daly and William Schaffel. Once they had the building site-this included the Perry Street garage which sits behind the towers-Suarez was the one who suggested they approach his old friend Richard Meier.
Meier was thrilled by the idea of doing something in New York. “It took him about 20 minutes to sketch out the original concept,” remembers Born. Prone to wearing Prada suits, he is a former surgeon with steely eyes and a smooth demeanor, who says he went into real estate “because in real estate if you make a mistake, you don’t kill anyone.”
The idea back then was that the garage space would contain a hotel with around 100 rooms and the adjoining condominium towers would have two restaurants-one on the first floor of each of the two buildings. But as they got ready to build, the market changed. “We realized,” says Drukier, a soft-spoken man, sometimes described as the “good cop” of the partnership, “that if we built it as a hotel we would be subsidizing that hotel by the sales of the condominiums, which is not a smart thing to do… The value of the garage as it stood was equal to that of a developed hotel.”
So they left the garage alone and asked Meier to design just the two condominium towers. They fell in love at once with the drama of his vision, knowing, as they did so, that the project was outside their area of expertise-and that of most construction firms in New York. No one in this city had ever before built a curtain wall-one that does not support the building structurally-of these proportions in an apartment building. Even so, the execution of the project was trickier and more expensive than they could ever have envisaged.
“We were too naive to realize that his design would cost us a fortune,” said Drukier, sitting in the lobby of the troika’s latest development, the Maritime hotel in Chelsea. “I didn’t intentionally build a building for twice the price everybody else did with the thought I’m going to sell it for twice the price-it just worked out that way.”
Meanwhile, the towers were being marketed in a highly unusual fashion. Veteran real- estate agent Louise Sunshine, the founder and chief executive of the Sunshine Group, an exclusive real-estate firm, was brought in to sell the units once the condominium offering plan was approved. She chose not to advertise them, believing this strategy would make them more desirable. She set up a model of the buildings in an office adjoining Richard Meier’s own in Chelsea and invited prospective buyers to view it there.
Born says now, “Although we could convince ourselves of (selling at) $900 to $1,000 a square foot, no bank would buy it, because banks always want to look at what was comparable-and there was nothing comparable… So we went to our banks and said that we will commit to sell 25 percent of our building for $1,000 a square foot just to demonstrate that we can do it, prior to us moving forward… In the end it was a very bad move, because (the price) turned out to be very cheap-we short-sold the building by $15 million.”
The initial asking prices were considered wacky, according to Born, especially when you took into account that it would still cost tenants a minimum of $300 per square foot to complete their apartments. He and Drukier couldn’t quite believe they’d pulled it off. “It felt like Star Trek,” says Born, “you know, going where no man had before.”
As the buildings went up, the owners called Born with their individual requirements and the sorts of problems that only the very wealthy have. Many people wanted to know where to hang their art, since not only are the walls mostly glass, but very few areas in the apartments are shaded from the light, unless you pull down the window coverings. At least one owner wanted light engineers brought in to test the UV-screening quality of the windows, for fear that his art would be damaged.
Nicole Kidman asked if she could have a passageway built directly from the towers through to the garage. She was denied. Martha Stewart was concerned as to where her drivers could idle. Calvin Klein had the noise and light tested in his penthouse because of the screening room he wanted to install.
The offering plan stated that the buildings would be ready by April 2002, but it was soon clear they were running behind. Paul Sinclaire, one of the first to take up residence, in late 2002, had to spend $24,000 to stay in a hotel because his apartment was not finished on time. In the fall of 2002, Sinclaire invited former Vogue editor Grace Mirabella up to his apartment, on the second floor of the north tower. They had to walk on two planks laid over a ditch containing four feet of water to enter the building. To Sinclaire’s horror, the septuagenarian editor, who walks with a cane, was nearly blown over by the wind. He rang Richard Born and insisted that the walkway be completed.
On another occasion, one evening after dinner, Sinclaire was accompanied into the building by a celebrity, and paparazzi were following them. The condominium offering plan stated that there would be two doormen on duty at all times to work the elevator keys, but on this occasion there was no one, and Sinclaire could not get up to his apartment. It was fully 10 minutes before someone appeared.
That fall someone fired shots at the building-several times, over a few months, always in the dead of night. Sinclaire had an exterior windowpane blown out. Another tenant had three. The shooters aimed-with success-as high as the seventh floor. Fortunately, the bullets or pellets did not penetrate the interior glass. A surveillance camera was installed in each of the buildings. Slowly, the shootings ended.
Then winter came. In Sinclaire’s apartment one of the corners had not been insulated. “When I put my hand on the concrete column nearby, it almost stuck,” he says. He could not get out of bed, it was so cold.
Sinclaire had to move out. Born put him up at the Chambers hotel for $150 a night-a discount from the regular rate, but Sinclaire was only slightly mollified.
While he was living in the hotel, Sinclaire’s Cartier watch and a small flat-screen TV were stolen from his apartment. That was not all. He was attending a dinner party one night when an acquaintance remarked how fantastic his apartment looked inside. He asked how she’d seen it; it emerged that certain doormen (since fired) had been giving tours of the building for a fee.
That winter the first board was elected, consisting of the developers and their friend Joe Daly. Bill Joy was the only non-investor to be elected. Born encouraged Joe Castaldo, by now living in his ninth-floor apartment and unhappy with the lack of progress, to run for a spot on the board. Castaldo declined. “I own my own company,” said Castaldo. “I (already) spent more time on this place than I should have.”
A leak developed in Castaldo’s apartment while he was finishing the interior, and he says he couldn’t get anyone’s attention. When he finally did reach Born, he was told the trouble must stem from poor work done by his interior contractors. In fact, as Don Cox, one of the Meier team who designed the towers, confirmed to Vanity Fair, the fault lay very much with the contractors. “The major problem was that the plumber left … and they continued with the concrete, so they didn’t really make provisions for any kind of drains within the concrete,” explains Cox, who has since left Meier’s firm to set up his own. “And now they’ve had to come back and retrofit some kind of exposed PVC drainage, which I don’t know if it’s working or not. Aesthetically, it’s not very nice.”
Spring turned to summer and with it came some of the worst rains that New York had seen during that time of year. The residents of the north tower were in for the biggest shock yet. The leaks were so bad that the buildings’ management ran tests. During one of these Castaldo happened to be sipping his coffee, idly admiring the rain cascading down the glass walls. He walked closer. Horrified, he suddenly realized the rain was on the inside of the walls.
Then Martha Stewart’s balconies overflowed and flooded the entire north tower. The rosewood floor in Castaldo’s apartment had to be ripped up and replaced. His insurance paid for it, but he had to write a $30,000 check on the spot at first. Castaldo rang everyone: Klein and Gallo, whom he could not reach; Stewart; and Joy, who by now had decided to put his place on the market, and who kindly offered to step down from the board so that Castaldo could take his place. When he did step down, however, Castaldo was unable to join. New members can be elected only at the annual board meeting, so the space remained unfilled.
Sinclaire, who sold his second-floor space that summer, had been complaining, “The trouble is most people were not installed in the building yet, so they didn’t care.” However, Castaldo found an ally in midwestern real-estate tycoon Michael Kojaian, whose rosewood floors had also been ruined by Martha’s flood. Kojaian suggested that he and Castaldo call for a lawyer-free meeting with the developers in which they would try to iron out some of the building’s problems.
In June 2003 they gathered in Kojaian’s fifth-floor apartment. Castaldo recalls that the corporation was clearly intimidated by Kojaian, who began the meeting by telling Born, Blaichman, and Daly, “I know more about building than anyone here, so let’s just get right to it.”
Castaldo’s points, discussed at that meeting and sent to Born, illustrate the difficulties the inhabitants were having.
1. Outside plazas to be completed within six weeks including exterior landscaping as designed by Richard Meier’s office.
2. Completion of the gym, including equipment.
3. The interior lobbies, including furniture, to be completed within six weeks as designed by Richard Meier’s office.
4. Immediate installation of a working drainage system to prevent any other damage to interior of apartments.
5. To reevaluate the effectiveness of both lobbies’ security systems.
6. Clearly redefine the role of the management agent and how it assists the staff in order to provide the level of service expected by the condominium owners.
7. Clean exterior windows.
8. Scheduling of periodic correspondence and meetings to keep unit owners informed.
9. Create realistic budget suitable to the needs of the building and its shareholders.
Castaldo soon came to feel that most of the points on his list were still not being dealt with.
He discovered that the condominium offering plan had actually made no provision for the lobbies to be furnished, although there had been furniture in the models in Richard Meier’s office. Also, there were not sufficient storage facilities in the buildings or mailboxes or a mailbox area.
Castaldo asked Richard Meier for help, and the architect told him they were receiving free furniture from Knoll for the lobbies. Castaldo was horrified by such parsimony. “This is a building (where people on) the outside looking in are thinking, My God, it’s the richest people … the best architect … and this is what was going on!”
That summer Karen Fleiss, a hedge-fund manager, sold her third floor in the north tower to Vincent Gallo for $1.7 million-a 15 percent loss on her original investment of just over $2 million. According to her friends, she was relieved to be out. Before Gallo bought it, seven potential sales had fallen through.
In the fall, Calvin Klein called Castaldo in response to a letter Castaldo had sent him. Klein, it emerged, had started to finish the interior of his triplex and had found that his roof was leaking. The designer swung into action. Before the second annual board meeting that winter, Klein faxed Bill Joy and asked Joy to nominate him for the board. Votes are allotted per square foot, so on the board Klein and Joy each carry six times as much clout as the owner of one unit in the north tower. Joy, who has still never met Klein face-to-face, faxed him back and agreed, providing, he said, that Klein nominate him in turn. He had decided to de-list his apartment and finish the interior. Richard Meier would design it.
Around the same time, one of Martha Stewart’s employees, Heidi DeLuca, started to look out for her boss’s interests in the building while Stewart herself was preoccupied with her impending trial. DeLuca sent out letters to all the owners asking them whether they had moved in.
It was as if the buildings’ slumbering giants were awakening.
On the night of December 17, a tense 15-minute owners’ meeting was held in one of the private rooms in Soho House, a private club in the Meatpacking District. Schlagman, Castaldo, and Gallo (who at that point owned two units) say they received no notification of the meeting from Insignia. Castaldo says he knew about it and attended only because he was in touch with Klein.
At the meeting the developers seemed ill at ease, according to one observer. Klein was there, surrounded by his lawyers; Heidi DeLuca represented Stewart. Bill Joy was not there, nor was Rita Schrager, who was represented by Michael Ovington-who works for her ex-husband, Ian. Scott Resnick was there, as were Joe Daly, Castaldo, and Michael Holtz.
“It was over very quickly,” remembers someone at the meeting. “Suddenly the new board was Calvin, Martha, Rita, Scott, and Bill Joy… No one quite knew how it had happened. Clearly there’d been some politicking behind the scenes.” The appointment of Rita Schrager, in particular, was seen as puzzling, since she had previously stated she had no interest in serving. The presence of Ovington led people to believe that, as one put it, “Rita on the board really means that Ian is on the board.” Rita Schrager did not return calls for comment. No one thought it purely coincidental that Ian Schrager is close friends with Calvin Klein. Klein’s entourage of lawyers looked menacing, and the developers, according to a source, looked “humbled.”
The one person who ran for the board who was not elected was Joe Daly-the friend of the developers’-who subsequently sold his apartment to Manhattan developer Herbert Sambol. The developers, however, were still on a board of shareholders in the planned restaurant on the ground floor of the south tower, since that is a public space.
Not all the residents were thrilled about this. “None of us know what is going to happen there. It’s a potential mine of problems,” says one.
To the outside world, the Meier towers still appear a sleek, gleaming triumph. In their wake a rash of subsequent riverside projects with big architectural names attached have sprung up. There are the Morton Square condominiums, designed by Costas Kondylis, where the Olsen twins have purchased. There’s the 497 Greenwich Street Project, designed by the Dutch architect Winka Dubbeldam. The team that built the Time Warner building on Columbus Circle has just signed a deal to develop the site of the former Superior Printing Ink Company building, on the corner of Bethune and West 12th Street. Barry Diller’s new office premises in Chelsea are being designed by Frank Gehry, and the British architect Sir Norman Foster has agreed to design a rental residential building near Battery Park in Tribeca. The Lower Manhattan waterfront is becoming, says Ron Teitelbaum, a New York real-estate agent, “the new Fifth Avenue.”
One of those swift to take advantage of the new boom was Pathfinder Press, a socialist publishing company, which had a large, six-story red-brick building at 165 Charles Street, next to the south tower. In order to protect the view from their towers, Born and Drukier had tried to buy the building when they bought the Perry Street site, but they were turned down. They warned buyers they had no control over the area to the south.
Pathfinder’s management looked at the prices people paid for Perry Street, and in a rather un-socialist maneuver asked for $25 million for its building. Born refused. “Those guys (later) made a lot of money because of us,” says Born, adding, “I also didn’t want to be the person to build that building.”
A flaxen-haired Turkish-born New York builder named Izak Senbahar, the president of a development firm called Alexico Management Group, paid a cool $20 million for the building and mapped out a condominium offering plan that would require a further investment of $60 million-four times what was spent on the Perry Street towers. To make money, he’d have to sell floor space for $1,500 to $2,500 per square foot, but Senbahar was confident he knew how to ensure that purchasers got value for their money.
“I think our building will add value to what’s there because our prices are going to be one of the highest prices ever, unprecedented prices,” he said.
He approached Meier to design the exterior-and, more crucially perhaps, the interiors-and the architect did not hesitate. “I’d rather I do it and make it sympathetic to what’s there than have someone else do it,” Meier told Vanity Fair.
The new tower will be set back slightly from Perry Street’s south tower. It will have 31 apartments, and most floors will be divided into two units of 2,400 square feet apiece. Prices are $5 million and up. If buyers say so early enough, they may combine apartments on the same floor, but Meier will not be customizing each unit.
Last summer an Alexico executive spent an hour grilling Jose Alvarez, the super of the Perry Street buildings, about the failings of the two towers. What he learned may perhaps be gleaned from the subtle changes Senbahar is making in the design of his.
First, there will be storage units available for purchase in the basement of the building. Second, the balcony walls will be made of clear glass, so that owners’ views won’t be obscured from within their apartments. Ceilings will be two feet higher than in the other buildings. Already, according to James Lansill, the Sunshine Group’s senior managing director, there is a waiting list for the third tower.
In December, ground will be broken for a fourth residential building of architectural significance, on Charles Lane, right next to 165 Charles Street. This time the designer will be the Baghdad-born architect Zaha Hadid, a recent winner of the Pritzker Prize. The idea is the brainchild of art dealer Kenny Schachter, who owns a town house and gallery on the site which he is knocking down.
The new buildings don’t worry Vincent Gallo. He still has enough worries about his own.
“I mean, I don’t object if Calvin wants uniformed doormen, because that was in the offering plan, but I do object if he suddenly wants an armed doorman-and I’m supposed to pay for it,” he says.
He is aware that he’s already established a reputation as the buildings’ hothead, and says he has nothing to gain by talking to Vanity Fair, unless it is simply to reinforce his reputation as a contrary character.
“Please help me,” he begs. “I just want a house, I just want to not deal with this crap… If the board wants to make changes, it should consult the owners; it’s as simple as that.”
Calvin Klein did not want to talk to Vanity Fair about the buildings. “He’s put so much money into this, he doesn’t want to dwell publicly about the negative stuff,” says one of the owners. When, at one point, Joe Castaldo threatened to talk to The New York Times about the buildings’ problems, Klein’s executive assistant Richard Norton promised him that Calvin would step up to the plate and sort it all out, Castaldo says. Richard Norton did not return calls for comment.
One board member who prefers to remain anonymous agrees that the drainage problems in the north tower were “indefensible,” and says that other problems are now being addressed so that the building may come into its own. This person agrees that “money has to come from somewhere” to finish the building appropriately, and says that suing the developers is an option the board is considering.
He says that Klein “has some very strong views” about how a building of this kind should be run. One of those views, it is rumored, is to abolish the gym in the north tower and replace it with a mailbox area. This suggestion met with a hostile response from one of the gym users, who says: “I would be absolutely against that-I really love using the gym. It’s all very well for Calvin; he has his own gym.”
Meanwhile, Jose Alvarez-whom everyone describes as indispensable-is working overtime, trying to sort out everyone’s interior-construction problems as best he is able. Down in his windowless office in the basement of the north tower, he keeps a detailed journal of life at 173/176 Perry Street. Tantalizingly, he flipped through it in front of a reporter, but refused to offer up its contents.
Who could blame him? One day it could be worth millions.