Chasing Waldorf's History as it Becomes History Itself

(The New York Times) The Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan is known for its grand public spaces, such as its two-tiered ballroom and vast lobby. But upstairs, in a windowless corner of the hotel’s administrative offices, Deidre Dinnigan toils in a cramped room not much larger than a closet. Ms. Dinnigan, the hotel’s archivist, is responsible for cataloging and researching more than 4,000 objects, from filigreed brass room numbers to yellowing advertisements from the 1950s.

“I love what I do,” Ms. Dinnigan said during a recent interview, her tall frame squeezed between a table obscured by books and a tower of filing cabinets. A mannequin dressed in an old bellhop uniform was stationed where her desk chair would normally go. “I believe I would throw myself into any field,” she said, “but there is something about the Waldorf, especially if you love New York and social history.”



Deidre Dinnigan has been working at the Waldorf Astoria as the hotel’s archivist for over a year. CreditAlex Wroblewski/The New York Times

Before the Trumps, There Were the Wendels

(The New York Times) The most well-known developer in New York today may be a man with national aspirations and a propensity to talk off the top of his extravagantly coifed head, but a century ago, the headlines were commanded by a real estate family with an aversion to publicity and the trappings of wealth.

In the early 20th century, the Wendels were perhaps the most powerful landlords in New York City, a dynasty with more than 150 properties in Manhattan worth over $1 billion in today’s dollars. The Wendels were the delight of the local papers, for, rich as they were, the family — six sisters and a brother, all unmarried — lived together in a shuttered mansion without electricity on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 39th Street, and dressed in grim Victorian garb that had gone out of style half a century earlier. Tour buses regularly pulled up in front of “the House of Mystery.”

In their day, they were known as “the Weird Wendels.” John G. Wendel II, the brother, was alternately referred to as “the hermit” and “the recluse” of Fifth Avenue.

“Of all the families floated to affluence by rising waves of Manhattan real estate values, the Wendels were the quietest and the queerest,” wrote Arthur Pound in his 1935 book, “The Golden Earth: The Story of Manhattan’s Landed Wealth.” “They lived simply on the most expensive residential site in New York City,” he continued, and “drew less fun from their fortune than a bricklayer gets out of his weekly wage.”

New York City's Hotel Boom Is Keeping Prices Down

(WNYC.ORG) The Baccarat Hotel and Residences, an imposing high rise in Midtown where rooms go for $1,500 a night, is one of the city’s newest hotels. The 114-room hotel is dripping in crystal, from the champagne flutes it serves in the grand salon to the ornate vases that decorate the tables.

But while the Baccarat may be one of the city’s newest hotels, it certainly is not its only one. In fact, more than 13,000 rooms are under construction, a historic boom that is the equivalent of all of the hotels being built in Houston, Miami and Chicago combined.

The 'Grand Salon' of the recently opened Baccarat Hotel across the street from the MOMA. (Baccarat Hotel & Residences)

Want a Green Card? Invest in Real Estate

(The New York Times) Like many of her fellow classmates at New York University, Yanchu Zhao has a busy schedule. A college junior, she has a double major in economics and journalism, and juggles classes, an internship and life with roommates in a rental near Herald Square.

But unlike many of her fellow classmates, Ms. Zhao came to the United States on a student visa. “A lot of students talked about how hard it was to get a job in New York and in the United States,” she said. “My parents heard that if I can get a green card, it would be easier for me to succeed.”

So two years ago, Ms. Zhao’s parents invested $500,000 in a hotel project on Bryant Park, knowing that their investment could be parlayed into green cards for the family. Three months ago, their paperwork came through and the Zhaos became permanent residents of the United States.

Yi Lin and his wife, Molly Xi, in their new home in Manhattan. Under a federal program known as EB-5, they received green cards in exchange for their investment in a Miami real estate project. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Leonardo DiCaprio Builds an Eco-Resort

(The New York Times) In what may be his highest-impact leading role yet, the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the Oscar-nominated “Wolf of Wall Street,” is planning to heal an island.

A well-known environmental activist, Mr. DiCaprio bought Blackadore Caye, 104 acres of wild, unpopulated land off the coast of Belize, with a partner soon after he set foot in the country a decade ago. “It was like heaven on earth,” he said, speaking by telephone from Los Angeles. “And almost immediately, I found this opportunity to purchase an island there.”

Now Mr. DiCaprio has joined with Paul Scialla, the chief executive of Delos, a New York City-based developer, to create an eco-conscious resort there. When it opens to guests in 2018, “Blackadore Caye, a Restorative Island” will feature the trappings of many luxury resorts, with sprawling villas, infinity pools and stunning sunset views.

Benedict Kim for The New York Times

Funding Luxury Condos Is a Fast Track to a Green Card

The construction of 625 West 57th Street, a 709-unit rental building, is helping 400 Chinese investors obtain US green cards.     (Brad Horrigan/WNYC)

The construction of 625 West 57th Street, a 709-unit rental building, is helping 400 Chinese investors obtain US green cards. (Brad Horrigan/WNYC)

What do the New York Wheel in Staten Island, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a luxury condo in the Financial District have in common? Their construction was paid for in part by Chinese nationals.

Under a federal visa program known as EB-5, foreigners who invest half a million dollars on a project in the U.S. that creates at least ten jobs can jump to the head of the line for an application for a green card. More than 80 percent of the people vying for green cards through this program are Chinese.

The EB-5 visa program was created 25 years ago, but it wasn’t until banks stopped lending in the wake of the financial crisis, that it became popular. Real estate developers now use it to help finance many large projects in New York City, including portions of Hudson Yards, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Pacific Park (the development formerly known as Atlantic Yards).

In Lower Manhattan, the Battery Maritime Building, where you catch the ferry to Governor’s Island, and Pier A, the historic 128-year-old building that was recently renovated, were funded in part with EB-5 financing. City Point, the mixed-use project in Downtown Brooklyn also uses EB-5 money. Other projects include: the International Gem Tower, an office building in Midtown;30 Park Place, a condominium and Four Seasons hotel development in the Financial District; a 709-unit rental that the Durst Organization is building at 625 West 57th Street and the Knickerbocker Hotel at 6 Times Square.

Despite its widespread use, analysts who have studied the EB-5 visa program say it lacks transparency. It is difficult to track whether the projects actually create as many jobs as they promise, and there have also been severalinstances of fraud.

But that hasn’t stopped its soaring popularity Because of demand from China, last year for the first time ever, the maximum number of EB-5 visas were reached. This year, the visa's are expected to be maxed out again, but even more quickly. In the meantime, the SEC and Homeland Security are paying more attention to EB-5 visas. And in September, parts of the program will be up for Congressional review.

Bon Appétit Moves to a New Home and Into the Kitchen You’ve Always Wanted

(The New York Times) The first thing Alison Roman does when she arrives at work is switch on the computer and check her email. But that’s where the similarities with many Manhattan office workers end.

After a few minutes at her desk, Ms. Roman clomps downstairs in her kitchen clogs and heads to her workstation. There, she puts on an apron, spreads her recipe on the white Calacatta marble countertop and begins slicing a tomato. Instead of asking colleagues where the stapler is, she searches for the microplane.

“We are obsessed with this,” she said, grabbing the rectangular metal tool and bowing her head over a lemon. “You can use it to zest, to shave Parmesan, you name it.”

Alison Roman, senior food editor at Bon Appétit, in the test kitchen on the 35th floor of 1 World Trade Center.      Credit  Pablo Enriquez for The New York Times

Alison Roman, senior food editor at Bon Appétit, in the test kitchen on the 35th floor of 1 World Trade Center. Credit Pablo Enriquez for The New York Times

The Lure of the Gold Coast: Wealthy Chinese Buyers Head to New York’s Suburbs

(The New York Times) For the past several years, wealthy buyers from China have been purchasing investment properties and pieds-à-terre in luxurious Manhattan high-rises. Lately, though, some have moved their portfolios east to the exclusive enclaves of Long Island, springing for the pricey houses of the North Shore’s Gold Coast.

Some Chinese buyers are parking money in what they see as a low-risk investment. Others are seeking a trophy home. Still others are intent on living in these places full time while their children attend the area’s high-performing schools.

The suburbs of Long Island are not the only places growing in desirability among the Chinese.


(The New York Times) The question of who, if anyone, lives in the multimillion-dollar condominiums being built across Manhattan grows more intriguing with every new tower crane that hoists glass slabs and concrete blocks hundreds of feet into the sky.

New Yorkers want to know: Who are these people who hide behind limited liability companies while shelling out a fortune for a condominium — who see the apartment as an investment or even just a vanity play, and who are too busy sunning in St. Bart’s or skiing in Gstaad to actually show up and shop at the local market or pay for tickets to a Broadway show?

Many well-heeled New Yorkers are frustrated that while a large share of their income goes to taxes of all kinds, their non-New Yorker neighbors down the street pay a comparatively minuscule amount in property taxes. And an evening stroll through Midtown is starting to feel like the Wild West after the gold rush, with buildings like the Plaza — officially the Plaza Pied a Terre Hotel Condominiums — sitting mostly dark. It wouldn’t surprise some of us to see tumbleweed blow by the Apple cube on Fifth Avenue.

As it turns out, this is not just hyperbole.

Almost half the apartments on a stretch of Park Avenue are empty most of the year. Credit Joshua Bright for The New York Times

And for those of you interested....

I wrote my first Times Insider, where I briefly laid out how I came to the story. Take a read here

Luxury Condos: Dialing It Down

Adam Gordon has shifted his focus from developing luxury buildings to developing a luxury storage facility at 305 East 61st Street, an 11-story building. Credit Bryan Thomas for The New York Times

(The New York Times) The developer Adam Gordon, who converted the Bouwerie Lane Theater into luxury condominiums and created a boutique building rising in West Chelsea with an $18 million penthouse, is taking a break from constructing apartments. Instead, he is spending his time at a cattle ranch he bought for his family in Sonoma, Calif., and concentrating on his storage facilities business.

“Residential development has gotten too risky; it is just not a good bet,” Mr. Gordon said. “A lot of the guys who are staying in the game now are gamblers, and I’m just not one of them.”

A great deal of hubbub has surrounded the luxury real estate market in Manhattan in recent months. Seemingly every week prices reach new heights — the latest is a triplex penthouse on Park Avenue that is listed for $130 million — and bidding wars have become so common as to be unexceptional.

Despite Record Prices, RFR Goes on a Manhattan Buying Spree

(The New York Times) Walking into Aby Rosen’s office on the third floor of the Lever House in Midtown, guests are greeted by several light installations hung above the elevator banks. 

They feature impish phrases like “You Forgot to Kiss My Soul” by the artist Tracey Emin, but also more provocative ones, including two pieces with vulgar language. It is, perhaps, the first indication that Mr. Rosen is not your typical, staid office landlord.

Mr. Rosen, a co-founder and principal of RFR Holdings, is one of the city’s busiest developers, buying buildings across Manhattan at a time when many other players are sitting on the sidelines, waiting for prices to come down.

Puerto Rico Luring Buyers with Tax Breaks

(The New York Times) Alex Lemond is among a new wave of New Yorkers trading in their Manhattan condominiums for beachside villas in Puerto Rico. The former hedge fund honcho moved to San Juan from New York last year, and his company, the Encanto Group, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in developing luxury real estate on the Caribbean island.

Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, passed legislation in 2012 that shields new residents from paying most federal income taxes. After a slow start, Puerto Rico’s status as a tax haven is beginning to catch on, and some are betting big bucks that the trickle of buyers moving there will soon become a stream. Local officials hope that new investment will help turn around an economy battered by several years of recession.

New beachfront homes, along with a hotel, are planned for the Solarea Beach Resort. Credit: Alcom Productions

Living in the Mix: Affordable Housing in New York's Luxury Buildings

(The New York Times) Brandon Deese lives just a few blocks from where he grew up, but it might as well be another world.  

Mr. Deese, 23, spent his childhood at the Chelsea-Elliott Houses, a public-housing project in the West 20’s. But last year, thanks to a housing lottery, he beat out thousands of others for an affordable apartment at the Chelsea Park, a luxury rental at 260 West 26th Street.

“I used to go downstairs and see crack heads and drug dealers, and now when I go downstairs I see doormen,” said Mr. Deese, who himself works as a night doorman on the Upper West Side. He pays $540 a month for a studio, a discount of about 83 percent from the market-rate rent, which is around $3,200 a month, according to listings on StreetEasy.


A Ranch With 1,000 Acres, for Your Inner Buckaroo

(The New York TimesMost New Yorkers would barely know what to do with 1,000 square feet of space, let alone 1,000 acres. But what’s to stop us from trying to figure it out.

Buying a ranch is the stuff of childhood cowboy fantasy — riding horseback past herds of bison or standing knee-deep in a rushing stream filled with trout. And while foreign investors and tech billionaires drive the New York market, in places like Colorado and Montana, it is cattle shortages and the price of grain that hold sway.

A short addendum and h/t to the WSJ...

There was a chart published recently comparing the value of Manhattan condominiums to hog futures and gold. Over the last decade, condos returned 6.5 percent, while hogs posted only a 5.3 percent return. Gold, meanwhile, returned almost 13 percent. It is a useful comparison. And maybe a ranch provides the ultimate investment trifecta: you can own a luxury property with a pigsty full of hogs. And while you’re at it, make sure it has a stream to pan for gold. 

Your Move, Their Headache

(The New York Times) New York City is always shifting, as new people arrive with suitcases stuffed with hope and ambition, replacing others who have packed up and moved on.

It’s now a distant memory, but the transience of our city was once a collective experience. For some 300 years, on every May 1, practically all city dwellers would chuck their belongings onto pushcarts and horse-drawn carriages and haul them to a new home.

But when housing shortages gripped the city in the 1940s and rent control as we know it was implemented, Moving Day — a Colonial holdover grounded in the English celebration of May Day — faded into oblivion. And while we no longer move en masse, the majority of New Yorkers continue to rent, and move, frequently.

Moving In, Slowly, to ‘Billionaires’ Row’

(The New York Times) As soon as Linda Phillips and her husband heard about One57, a luxury 90-story skyscraper that is nearing completion on West 57th Street, they raced from the pied-à-terre they rented at the Time Warner Center across Columbus Circle to take a look.

The couple, empty-nesters who also own a home in Saddle River, N.J., eventually plunked down $30.4 million for a three-bedroom four-and-a-half-bath apartment, with floor-to-ceiling windows facing onto Central Park. Their lease at the Time Warner Center ends in September, and they may sell their New Jersey home to live full time in the building.

“With beautiful views and just a block from Bergdorf’s, I think it doesn’t get any better,” said Mrs. Phillips, an interior designer.

And some personal thoughts on the story...

So much has been written on the new condominiums that are taking shape along 57th Street--it even inspired an exhibit at the Skyscraper Museum. But most of the stories have had to do with policy, or architecture, or large-scale development. No one had written from the perspective of those actually living in these new narrow towers. That was in part because the buildings are so new, few people have yet to move in. That was why, when someone mentioned that the first residents HAD begun moving in their furniture to One57, I jumped at the chance to write about it. 

I was lucky enough to find a buyer willing to speak on the record--wealthy people are notoriously stringent about their privacy. I had a wonderful talk with Linda, the woman quoted in the piece, but when it came time to actually photographing her in her new home, she mentioned the photo session to someone at the building and word came down from the developer that it wouldn't be looked kindly upon. Since Linda is doing some renovations to her unit, she didn't want to risk ruffling the developers' feathers, and alas, our photo shoot was cancelled. 

Using Artists to Sell Condos in Miami and New York

(The New York Times) With cities like New York and Miami in the midst of another luxury condominium boom, developers seem to be tripping over one another in the scramble to announce their latest projects, and to stand out from the pack, they are locked in an escalating game of one-upmanship.

In a market where amenities like golf simulators and children’s playrooms barely raise a well-manicured eyebrow, the stakes are high. Add to this the fact that developers are asking buyers to shell out upward of $10 million for apartments that are, in many cases, still just a dirt pile on the ground, and they have no choice but to bring the razzle-dazzle.

Increasingly, the trick they are most often pulling out of their collective hat is art, with a capital A.

And some personal thoughts on the story...

The funniest part of doing this story was my interview with Julian Schnabel. As may not be surprising for one of the world's most famous (bad boy) living artists, Mr. Schnabel was impossible to reach. 

Despite cajoling from the developers who were paying his wages, and the public relations team tasked with getting some buzz for the building, Mr. Schnabel was "unavailable" when I called him at our scheduled time.

I'm used to that. But what made it great was that when we finally did speak, Mr. Schnabel refused to "stay on message" and clearly had little interest in discussing the condominium project he was meant to be marketing. Instead, Mr. Schnabel was far more intent on talking about a new exhibit of his work that is launching this fall. It was hard to disagree with him, since discussing the artistic relationship between his work and that of the late 19th century Danish artist J.F. Willumsen is far more fascinating that talking about the color of a condominium sales office. 

Sky-High Demand for Luxury: New York’s Multimillion-Dollar Condo Market Booms

(The New York Times) Up, up and up. That is the answer to the question I have been posing lately: Where is the luxury condominium market headed?

At least, that has been the case in the last several months, where multimillion-dollar apartments have been snatched up hours after they hit the market and buyers have shelled out $1 million over the asking price to secure a winning bid.

At 151 East 78th Street, for example, contracts were sent out to buyers within 24 hours of the listings hitting the market in March, and a month after sales began, 11 of the 14 apartments were in contract at prices starting at $10 million. A few blocks to the north, more than half the units at 60 East 86th Street were sold in the eight weeks after sales opened, also in March, including a $20 million penthouse.

More than half the condos at 60 East 86th Street were sold in the eight weeks after sales opened. Credit Archpartners

Lower Manhattan Will Undergo a Retail Revival

(The New York Times) In Manhattan, where most of the city’s stores are small, street-level boutiques, mammoth shopping malls are rare. But next spring, the endless maze of cranes and construction pits that has enveloped Lower Manhattan for more than a decade will be mostly cleared away, making room for not one, but two, massive retail centers.

At the World Trade Center retail complex, centered on the transportation hub, or Oculus, 150 stores are planned to entice shoppers through sprawling corridors to browse $900 metallic leather pumps at Tom Ford or stock up on discounted toothpaste at Duane Reade.

Across West Street, hugging the Hudson River, is Brookfield Place, where visitors will find luxury boutiques like Hermès and Burberry, the French dining hall Le District and the foodie favorites Umami Burger and Black Seed bagel.

“There is a retail revolution that is underway in Lower Manhattan,” said Jessica Lappin, the president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, which runs the neighborhood business improvement district. “Most people haven’t fully wrapped their brains around the scale of the changes that are coming.”

Brookfield Place, across from the World Trade Center, will have luxury boutiques like Hermès and Burberry, the dining hall Le District and Umami Burger. CreditSasha Maslov for The New York Times

For New York City Doormen, Some Closed Doors

(The New York TimesIt has been more than two decades since the city faced a large-scale strike by the doormen’s union. But this could change when its contract expires on April 20. 

I remember well the citywide strike in 1991. I was in high school at the time and unaware of a contract dispute until I returned home from school one day to find a beefy security guard standing at our front door in place of Dean, the doorman who had greeted me with a high-five and a smile for as long as I could remember.

Doormen often play a strange role in the city’s psyche. They are a continual presence in the lives of those who live in buildings that employ them: buzzing up friends, standing in the snow to hail a cab, entertaining a cranky toddler with a lollipop. They know intimate details of your life, but typically, you know little of theirs.

The doormen’s union remains ensconced in the prewar  co-ops along Park Avenue. 

Karsten Moran for The New York Times 

And some personal thoughts on the story...

This was a challenging column. I got the idea when I was out to dinner with a friend who is a union organizer, when he mentioned an upcoming march to boycott several buildings along the High Line that were using non-union doormen. 

I had already been at work on a column that focused on how Park Avenue coops were a value play, with some buyers purchasing Park Avenue coops because they were significantly cheaper than many new condominium developments sprouting up around the city. 

I was determined to combine these two ideas, despite a somewhat tenuous connection. It proved challenging in the writing.

Then, on Friday afternoon, roughly 24 hours after we had gone to press, word came that the doormen union had struck a deal for a new contract. This was a week BEFORE the old contract expired, a definite rarity.