Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fertilizer Billionaire Alexander Rovt's Townhouse Shuffle



SELLER: Alexander Rovt
LOCATION: New York City, NY
PRICE: $27,000,000
SIZE: 11,400 square feet

YOUR MAMAS NOTES: The extreme upper end of the real estate market in Los Angeles has unquestionably kicked into high gear the last few months: Financial services widow Iris Cantor's sold her behemoth pile La Belle Vie in Bel Air in April for $40,000,000–in cash–to Goldman Sachs bigwig Gene Sykes; Rom-com queen Jennifer Aniston unloaded her recently rehabbed Bev Hills mansion for around $37,000,000 to Orange County mutual fund manager Bill Gross; And showbiz widda Candy Spelling's monster mansion in the Holmby Hills has widely been reported to be in the process of being sold for around $80,000,000. Most reports say The Manor is being acquired by London-based heiress Petra Ecclestone but a couple of Your Mama's sources have suggested the buyer may actually be Indian multi-billionaire Mukesh Ambani. We shall see...

Anyhoo, the demand for sprawling apartments and titanic townhouses in New York City with astonishingly high prices seems to be equally if not more electric than out on Tinseltown. Last summer Mexican telecom bazillionaire Carlos Slim Helú–said to be worth more than seventy billion bucks–acquired the gloriously gaudy Beaux Arts-style Duke Semans Mansion on Fifth Avenue for $44,000,000 and just last month the big spender spent another $15,500,000–in cash–for a Midtown Manhattan townhouse where Elizabeth Taylor reportedly once lived with third hubby Mike Todd and has more recently housed Felissimo Design House. In early in 2011 Columbus, OH-based retail magnate Leslie Wexner sold his 16-room Thierry Despont-designed digs at the inhumanly swank 834 Fifth Avenue to real estate tycoon Larry Heyman for $36,000,000;

As shocking as a $36,000,000 co-operative apartment sounds to our frugal ear, Russian composer Igor Krutoy and Band-Aid heiress Libet Johnson both make Moneybags Heyman look like a real estate cheapskate: He shelled out $48,000,000 for a condo at the Plaza Hotel Residences in March (2011) and she is said to be in the process of forking over $48,000,000 for a 33-foot wide townhouse on East 69th Street owned by Beauty.com founder Roger Barnett and his telecommunications heiress wife Sloan Lindemann Barnett.

The latest bone-chilling deal in New York City went down a couple weeks ago when a Ukrainian-born former jewelry salesman turned fertilizer magnate named Alexander Rovt coughed up $33,000,000 for a hulking fixer-upper on East 68th Street known as the Sloane Mansion. The fetching 36-foot wide Beaux Arts-style mansion, designed by high-society architect C.P.H. Gilbert, was built in 1905 for Henry T. Sloane, heir to a high-end furniture and upholstery fortune. The seven floor residence has an ornate carved limestone façade, encompasses more than 18,267 square feet of interior space and–as per at least one previous report–includes 15 bedrooms, 17 bathrooms, 7 fireplaces, a grand marble staircase (plus a modern-day elevator), a stained glass sky light, and a paneled ballroom with herringbone pattern wood floor and original oil paintings. At some point in its history, the humongous house was divvied up into 11 small apartments with dazzling original architectural details.

Property records are somewhat confusing but as best as we can tell the property came to be owned by prolific theater director Peter Glenville and his long-time man-companion Hardy Smith. Mister Glenville went to meet the Great Director in the Sky in the mid-1990s and in 2003, the Sloane Mansion was sold for $7,600,000 to a group of investors named in the New York Observer as Dominion Management.

In May 2007 the property was sold again, this time for around $20,000,000, to another group of investors who included bankers Joseh Ingrassia and John Rice III, and real estate executive Stephen Zoukis. The investors famously bought out the rental residents–who included haute society columnist Aileen Mehle (a.k.a. Suzy Knickerbocker)–and flipped the house back on the market in early 2008 as a single family home with an optimistic asking price of $64,000,000. Almost a year later, with no serious buyers on the horizon, the price tag plummeted to $54,000,000. In November 2009 the gloriously decadent white elephant was re-listed with a fancy new broker with a substantially reduced asking price of $39,000,000, a number that later dropped to $37,900,000.

The investors appear to have run into some financial difficulties because by the time Mister Rovt appeared on the real estate scene in early 2011, the property was in default and slipping into foreclosure. Clever Mister Rovt figured out an unorthodox and ass-backwards method of buying the mansion, the details of which are well explained in a recent article in Forbes. He reportedly plans to convert the structure back to a single family house for use as his private residence.

As it turns out, Mister Rovt is no New York City townhouse virgin. In September 2005 the mustachioed billionaire paid $4,700,000 for a 25-foot wide red-brick Georgian townhouse on East 63rd Street that he bought from Benihana restaurant chain founder Rocky Aoki. He spent the next five years on an extensive and expensive renovation of the townhouse that now drips in peacocky architectural frippery. The house was put on the market in mid-May 2011 with an asking price of of $27,000,000. It is also for lease at $65,000 per month.

Listing information for the flamboyant townhouse–dwarfed by banal white-brick post-war apartment towers and located too far east to be considered chic–shows it measures 11,400 square feet and includes 5 bedrooms and 8 full and 5 half bathrooms. Your Mama, however, counts 4 family bedrooms with 8 full and 2 half bathrooms plus two additional smaller bedrooms–probably for live-in domestic staff–each with private pooper.

By far the most desirable feature of Mister Rovt's East 63rd Street townhouse is the attached single car garage with direct entry, perfect for someone who wants to squirrel people and/or things into their home that they prefer the nosy neighbors not see. The street-level foyer opens into a showy central stair hall with checked black and white marble floor, gilt-edged pilasters, numerous coat closets, all-marble powder pooper, and a curving staircase with florid gold-gilded wrought iron banister.

At the rear of the ground floor a glitzy mahogany-paneled library/lounge has herringbone patterned cherry wood floors, built in display cases, gilt-edged architectural details, and French doors to a planted garden outfitted with surround sound–bet the neighbors love that–and a built-in gas grill. Floor plans for the house indicate that a staircase in the library/lounge descends to the cellar level that contains the service and mechanical areas, significant storage space, and a spa facility complete with sauna, bathroom, fitness room, and theatrically-tiled indoor swimming pool and whirlpool area with built-in snack counter/wet bar.

The parlor level has a wide stair landing, living room with fireplace, and Clive Christian designed eat-in kitchen with center island, gilt-trimmed cabinetry, granite floor and counter tops, top-grade commercial-style appliances and what appears to be 24-carat gold fixtures, which may in fact be brass for all we know. The areas of the walls not covered in cabinets were treated with a hand-painted floral mural by Mister (Clive) Christian. What the parlor level does not have is an actual formal dining room. Listing photos show an astonishingly long Neoclassical dining table–sans chairs–sitting on the stair landing, a poor substitute for a formal dining room in a $27,000,000 townhouse.

There are two large bedrooms on the next floor, both with private bathrooms and one with two large walk-in closets and semi-circular balcony. Either suite can be used as the master or, as suggested in the marketing materials, they can be combined into one giant suite with sitting room, bedroom, two bathrooms and six closets. The hitch to that plan, according to our rudimentary reading of the floor plan, is that moving from one part of the suite to another–say from the bedroom to the sitting room–would require traversing a public hall. I don't know about the children, but for $27,000,000 we are definitely not interested in one of the household staff accidentally catching us streaking from the bedroom to the bathroom in the squeak of the early morning.

Two more large bedrooms on the fourth floor each have private facilities and generous closet space, one has French doors to a second semi-circular balcony. A smaller room with private bath in between the bedrooms is probably best suited for staff, a nursery, play room, library (as its marked on the floor plan), or the bedroom of a less favored child.

A staff room with private bath on the fifth floor is book-ended by a media room with stepped seating and a cigar lounge with gas fireplace. Both the theater and the cigar lounge have private baths and plenty of closet space so could be easily converted to additional bedrooms.

The elevator does not rise to the roof top level–so it's up the stairs we go–that's blessed with some city views and equipped with outdoor fireplace, surround sound, and a stainless steel cooking/barbecue station.

A quick comb through online property records reveals that in addition to the two townhouses on the Upper East Side, Mister Rovt also owns a modest 1,423 square foot Midtown pied a terre a the Galleria building on East 57th Street that was purchased in June 2004 for $1,050,000. Records also indicate that since at least the mid-1990s Mister Rovt has owned a large but architecturally suspect house in Brooklyn's Mill Basin neighborhood out near The Rockaways. In May 2003, Mister Rovt dropped a very modest for a stinking rich person $370,000 for a condo in Bal Harbour, Fl.

listing photos and floor plan: Leslie J. Garfield & Co.

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