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SELLER: Susan Gutfreund
LOCATION: New York City, NY
SIZE: (approx.) 12,000 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 5 full and 3 half bathrooms plus staff quarters
YOUR MAMA’S NOTES: The lavishly appointed New York City apartment of John and Susan Gutfreund, billed in marketing materials as the “largest existing original apartment on Fifth Avenue”, has come for sale with a knee buckling, teeth chattering, publicity assuring and, believe it or not, probably not all that unrealistic price tag of $120 million. The palatial duplex, on the 7th and 8th floors of the somber and exceptionally exclusive Art Deco co-operative apartment house at 834 Fifth Avenue, was originally purchased in 1930 by Carl J. Schmidlapp, a vice-president of Chase National Bank. His widow occupied the suburban macmansion-sized apartment until her death after which it was sold in 1967 to J.P Morgan banker J. Watson Blair and his socially prominent commercial radio heiress second wife Mary Josephine Blair, mother of iconic fashion designer Mary McFadden. Reportedly at the urging of high society über-doyenne Jayne Wrightsman, long a resident of the equally swank co-operative apartment house at 820 Fifth Avenue, the duplex was acquired in 1986 for $7 million by the Gutfreunds, he the recently deceased former CEO of Solomon Brothers who was forced to resign in 1991 as a result of a Treasury bond trading scandal and she a former flight attendant who may not have born with a silver spoon in her mouth but whose unbridled penchant for both refined luxury and utter excess is legendary even among the world’s richest and most profligate. So the scuttlebutt goes Missus Gutfreund — often and not necessarily flatteringly referred to in the social pages of Women’s Wear Daily as “Social Susie” — reportedly had a refrigerated cabinet installed in her bathroom to chill her perfumes and the couple allegedly spent a million bucks or more on the renovation of a garage at the their opulent Parisian pied-à-terre that included the installation of a private car wash. Before they were found to be properly financially endowed and socially satisfactory by the notoriously persnickety co-op board at 834 Fifth Avenue, the Gutfreunds owned a smaller but still very grand duplex at the tony River House complex in the Sutton Place ‘hood just east of Midtown Manhattan. It was here, in the early 1980s, a lawsuit ensued after the couple hoisted a 22-foot tall Christmas tree — no doubt at ungodly expense — up to the double-height living room of their 24th-floor apartment using a crane they had installed without permission on the terrace of the building’s penthouse.
Mr. Gutfreund, in his high-flying professional salad days described in the press as “The King of Wall Street,” passed at 86 in March of this year (2016) and according to Brown Harris Stevens listing broker John Burger, as told to the Wall Street Journal, Missus Gutfreund has decided to let go of the apartment, which carries monthly maintenance fees of nearly $30,000, because it’s “too large for one person.” At somewhere around 12,000 square-feet the titanic duplex would seem to this property gossip far too large for just two people, too, but what do we really know, right? Anyhoo…
The nouveau-riche couple had their duplex at 834 done up with little to no consideration to cost in tastefully conspicuous, old money grandeur by vaunted French interior designer Henri Samuel who filled the place with a museum quality trove of pedigreed 17th, 18th and 19th century European antiques. Capacious entertaining spaces include a foyer with 24-foot ceilings and monumental marble staircase, a park-facing Winter Garden room — it’s labeled “library” on the floor plan — with a 19th century ironstone fireplace, and a dining room where, we learned from a May 2008 tour of the apartment on the always fabulous New York Social Diary, the elaborate window treatments include rose pink under-curtains whipped up with fabric gifted by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. Upstairs a gargantuan formal living room stretches to fifty-feet long with a handful of park-facing windows and not one but two fireplaces. The room was likely originally configured as two rooms, each with a fireplace, but at some point combined to create a more baronially proportioned salon in which to entertain and impress guests. At one end of the room a library nook has a secret, closet-sized room hidden behind a hinged section of the floor-to-ceiling bookcases and just off the upper floor landing a library/den has a wet bar, dumbwaiter to kitchen below, a sumptuously cozy looking chocolate velvet sofa, and walls lined with 17th-century leather panels.
All together there are four principal bedrooms and five full and 3 half bathrooms plus an extensive staff wing. Two ample en suite guest/family bedrooms on the lower floor, one with an adjoining sitting room, are joined by a third and significantly smaller bedroom with en suite set up. At approximately 1,600-square-feet, the master suite occupies its own wing on the upper floor and comprises a sitting room with fireplace, separate bedroom, fitted dressing room with adjoining bathroom, and a closet-lined dressing corridor that leads to a second, octagonal shaped bathroom with original 1930s marble and mirror accents. The service quarters incorporate a colossal eat-in kitchen, huge butler’s pantry with felt-lined walk-in silver storage closet, a separate walk-in linen storage room, a laundry room, and a small household office while the staff wing, which meanders off behind the kitchen, contains a sizable staff lounge with built-in banquette dining, two prison cell-sized bedrooms that share a hall bathroom plus a third, larger bedroom with private bathroom. A small staff room on the second floor along with a walk-in wine cellar and two storage cages are also included in the sale.
Gutsy and unnervingly high as the $120 million price tag certainly is it just might not be so far off the mark. In December 2015 a substantially smaller 11-room unit in the building — two bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms plus a staff wing with four puny bedrooms two bathrooms — was sold for $30.5 million and, nine months earlier, in March 2015, Russian-born billionaire Len Blavatnik paid Johnson & Johnson heir Woody Johnson $77.5 million for a 14-room duplex on the 11th and 12th floors. Fun and almost unbelievable tidbit: Mister Johnson, the owner the New York Jets, never actually lived in the lavish five-bedroom duplex but used it to host parties and fundraisers.
A few of the other high net worth residents of the building, who are required to pay all cash for their apartments, include: Mall-building magnate and former owner of the Sotheby’s auction house Alfred Taubman who spent some time in the pokey after he was convicted of price fixing in the early 2000s; Greek shipping billionaire George Livanos who owned a maisonette unit before moving upstairs to a larger duplex; Philanthropist Laurie Tisch who shelled out $29 million for her multi-terraced 13-room pad in 2009; Commercial real estate mogul Larry Heyman who coughed up $36 million in 2011 for a duplex sold by Limited Brands billionaire Leslie Wexner; Anne and Robert Bass who in early 2012 paid financier Damon Mezzacappa $42 million for a 12th-floor sprawler; And Wendi Deng, who retained her immense triplex penthouse — bought in 2004 for $44 million from the estate of Laurence S. Rockefeller — in her 2014 divorce from Rupert Murdoch.
Although this property gossip isn’t sure if it actually changed hands, back in 2010 the Gutfreunds had their über-plush apartment in Paris’s chi-chi 7th arrondisement up for sale with an undisclosed asking price that we were then told by a Parisian real estate snitch was somewhere around 15,000,000 Euros.
Listing photos and floor plan: Brown Harris Stevens