Join industry visionaries Pete Flint, Spencer Rascoff, Ryan Serhant and more at Inman Connect New York, Jan. 24-26. Punch your ticket to the future by joining the smartest people in real estate at this must-attend event. Register here.
A Gilded Age mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City has sold for $50 million in cash, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
The Beaux-Arts-style townhouse had not traded hands in over 75 years and set a price record for any townhouse sold on Fifth Avenue, according to Douglas Elliman Realty, which represented the property with listing agent Tristan Harper.
The 1905-built property most recently housed the Permanent Mission of Serbia to the United Nations and had been on and off the market a number of times over the last few years, most recently listing for $50 million.
The seller was a group of five European countries — Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia — which inherited the property after the fall of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The buyer, who purchased the 20,000-square-foot mansion through a limited liability company, is a London-based businessman who will use it as a pied-à-terre, Harper told The Journal.
Nikki Field of Sotheby’s International Realty represented the buyer.
“The sale of 854 Fifth Avenue, for the first time in over 75 years, opens the next chapter in the glorious history of this property, which was once owned by the granddaughter of scion Cornelius Vanderbilt, and later by the communist leader Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia,” Harper said in a statement emailed to Inman. “The new owner of the trophy building has just purchased a significant piece of New York City’s history.”
With so many countries involved in such a significant sale, negotiations were no simple task, Harper said.
“This was a challenging and truly one-of-a-kind deal which necessitated my multiple trips to the Balkan countries to meet with high government officials, including one of their presidents,” he said in an emailed statement. “The deal would have never happened without the commitment and determination of everyone involved.”
The townhouse was first listed in 2017 for $50 million, and Harper told The Journal that he instantly received two full-price offers. At that point, however, he had to obtain each country’s agreement to the sale (according to their terms of the U.N. agreement), and each country would only sign documents while all others were present in the same room. As the different governments attended sessions over the course of nine weeks to agree upon terms, those offers faded away, Harper said.
Then, in 2018, a third-floor electrical fire necessitated repairs and the property was removed from the market. In 2020, it couldn’t be shown for several months due to the pandemic. Anything less than a full-price offer was also out of the question, government officials told Harper at one point, when he brought them a mid-$40-million offer, because they said the countries’ taxpayers “expect the full price.”
That full-price offer arrived in June 2021, and at that point, Harper told The Journal, “they wanted this to happen.” A contract was signed in early March 2022, and the deal was finalized this week. Each country will receive a different proportion of proceeds from the deal, in accordance with their U.N. agreement.
The 32-room property designed by Warren and Wetmore, the same firm behind Grand Central Station, was originally built for R. Livingston Beekman, who would become Governor of Rhode Island. Eventually, the property came under the ownership of Henry White and Emily Thorn Vanderbilt Sloan White, granddaughter and heiress of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt’s estate then sold the property to the Yugoslavian government in 1946.
The impressive residence, which has a copper mansard roof, is like a time capsule to a different era, with many of the home’s original features remaining intact. An entry hall features 34-foot-tall ceilings, a bronze-framed skylight and a grand staircase above which hang two 18th Century French tapestries. The living room has bullet-proof windows facing Central Park and a coffered ceiling.
Additional details include 17 fireplaces, hand-carved Italian marble balustrades, gold-leaf paneling, hand-painted ceilings and paneling from a French Chateau that was retrofitted to the space. The property also comes with a 1980s-era Faraday cage, essentially a metal container that blocks electromagnetic signals that diplomats would use to make private phone calls during the Cold War.
The buyer intends to restore the property in its original style by working with restorationists and period architects, Field told The Journal. It does not have central air and gas lines were shut off following the electrical fire in 2018. The bullet-proof windows facing Central Park have also become opaque over the years, Harper told The Journal. He added that it will likely take about $20 million to restore the property in full.