Why Five Billionaires Battled It Out for a $60 Million Manhattan Triplex

·3 min read

No matter the state of New York City’s real state market, there are a couple handfuls of fabled apartment houses that will always attract well-heeled buyers with mountains of money burning a hole in their bespoke pockets. Case in point: a triplex penthouse in one of those buildings, 2 East 88th Street, spent exactly one day on the market back in May before attracting multiple bidders. Nikki Field of Sotheby’s, one of the agents who represented seller Jacqui Safra, told Mansion Global she showed the apartment to seven billionaires and received five offers. The asking price for the 12-room penthouse was $40 million; It closed at a whopping $60 million.

The penthouse was co-listed with Max J. Kozower of Maxwell Jacobs, and the as-yet unidentified buyer, shielded behind the mysteriously named Otto 88th Street Trust and described only as “a New Yorker with several children”, was represented by Leighton Candler of The Corcoran Group. The 7,000-square foot unit, spanning the entire 14th, 15th, and 16th floors, includes grand public rooms, a 2,700-square-foot two-level terrace, a staff wing, and a gym. Field said of Safra, “He told me that he hasn’t been to the third floor in years … and that’s the trophy floor — it has a glass conservatory, offices and entertainment spaces and views of Central Park South and the reservoir.”

Octogenarian banking heir Safra owned the co-op for 30 years but didn’t use it often. He shared the apartment and several other homes with his partner, TV and film producer Jean Doumanian, 79. Doumanian produced “Saturday Night Live” for a short period, and produced several Woody Allen films with Safra, including “Mighty Aphrodite” and “Bullets Over Broadway.”

In the heart of Manhattan’s Carnegie Hill neighborhood, 2 East 88th Street is one of the most striking pre-war buildings on Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile. It’s also one of a few not to use a Fifth Avenue address. Directly across from the Guggenheim Museum, the building is so desirable and sought-after, it was used as the location of the enviable Wall Street executive Paul Allen’s apartment in the iconic 2000 film “American Psycho.”

Designed by Pennington & Lewis, the 14-story building — 13 floors plus the triplex penthouse, was built in 1930 and consists of just 13 apartments, some of which were combined, as in the Safra menage. The building, which went co-op in 1947, is capped by an amazing Art Deco water tower enclosure, which raises the question: why bother decorating a water tank?

In “New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Two World Wars,” (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1987), Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins comment on the building’s rooftop: “…with the increasingly desirability of penthouses, the way rooftop elements looked became important on narrow lots where the largest elements, such as water tanks, could not be pushed back and were as a result almost as visible as the facades themselves. To solve this problem, [architect] J. E. R. Carpenter pioneered the camouflaging of water tanks and other utilities in tower-like forms…

“Pennington & Lewis, in their 2 East 88th Street of 1927, transformed the strategy into lyric poetry, using brick piers capped by severe Grecian stone faces staring north and west, phantoms of a skytop Babylon….”

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