Even the largest, most patrician Manhattan townhouses aren’t spectacular enough for Silicon Valley bigwigs and billionaire businessmen, who are buying up two or three adjacent ones and converting them into single labyrinthine super-mansions.
Having just purchased his third neighboring townhouse on one of the poshest streets in Greenwich Village, Facebook co-founder Sean Parker plans to gut the interiors and unite the structures into one private residence.
It’s far from a simple renovation—Parker’s architect will have to work around the houses’ historic-landmark regulations and keep their façades intact—but doable when money is no object.
The 36-year-old Napster creator has owned a Beaux-Arts era carriage house on the block since 2010. He bought the brownstone next door in May, and—most recently—acquired the townhouse next door to that one for roughly $22 million, sources told the New York Post.
It was reportedly still being renovated by its previous owner, who bought it more than a year and a half ago for $14 million, according to the Post.
Uptown, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich is beginning a similarly complicated renovation project: converting a trio of historic Upper East Side townhouses with varying floor, ceiling, and window heights into a single home.
Abramovich, who began buying up the properties in October 2014 for what ultimately amounted to $78 million, went back and forth with both New York’s Department of Buildings and Landmarks Preservation Commission about the project for months.
When presented with real-estate plans like Abramovich’s, it’s important to Landmarks Preservation Commissioners that the buildings “retain their exterior individuality,” a spokesperson for the LPC told The Daily Beast.
Another project they’ve approved was combining the rowhouses adjacent to the Whitney.
Abramovich’s initial $6 million proposal—including plans for a “18,277-square-foot mansion with a 6-foot front yard, 30-foot backyard, and pool in the cellar,” according to 6sqft—was rejected by both the Department of Buildings and the LPC in March and April respectively.
The LPC reportedly approved a revised plan in June, giving Abramovich the go-ahead to transform the Queen Anne and Neo-Federalist style buildings into a mega-mansion.
One of the buildings’ original stately front doors will be altered, while the rear façade will undergo a more dramatic reconstruction and feature a vertical garden on its new glass and bronze exterior.
“Frankly what they all would like is a gorgeous, very wide building of classic proportions with a Beaux-Arts style façade,” said Paula Del Nunzio, associate broker at Brown Harris Stevens, who specializes in the sale of townhouses (she’s sold more than $1 billion in New York City townhouses). “They want a 40-foot wide townhouse so the scale of the rooms will be magnificent. Those are the Hope Diamonds in this category.”
Marie Espinal of the Margolis Team, a real-estate consultancy firm within Douglas Elliman, said the mega-projects were less a trend, and more “very, very specific purchases and projects that are by no means an easy undertaking,” said Espinal. “Ninety-five percent of the time you’re dealing with landmarks with townhouses, and you could be buying for a period of seven years. Then the [renovation] project will take anywhere from two to four years.”
In other words, it’s only the 1 percent of the 1 percent that is looking to make these kinds of real-estate deals.
“Not everyone is a Bloomberg billionaire, so it’s a very small group of people who are doing this,” Espinal’s colleague, Howard Margolis, added. “People would sooner buy a 20,000 square foot mega-mansion in Greenwich if they want a lot of space, while also keeping a small apartment in the city.”
Yet if you can afford to live on the toniest streets in the West Village or the Upper East Side, and get approval from the LPC, the appeal of merging dowager townhouses is rather obvious.
“You can get the privacy that you might not necessarily get from living in a high-rise building with hundreds of other residents, or a co-op where you have to approve every change to your home with the board,” said Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats.
People like Parker and Abramovich are “creating a suburban living environment in an urban environment,” he added. “There’s a price to pay for that, and they will happily do so if they can afford it.”