There goes the neighborhood


Really rich people make really bad neighbors.

The process of gentrification is pretty far along in Park Slope, but the above-pictured sign on 1st street between 4th and 5th avenues still stopped me in my tracks. The block is divided between commercial spaces and condos at the 4th avenue end, and nice (but modest) brownstones closer to 5th avenue. It’s not, in other words, the kind of block you’d normally associate with house-hunting oligarchs.

And therein lies a tale.

Back in 2000, a pair of Brooklyn real estate moguls with young children acquired a vacant lot on which to build the family home of their dreams (hey, we all want the best for our kids). Since then, the project has sputtered along, spawning stop work orders for a litany of code violations. The moguls’ children grew up and left home.

Although press reports in early 2013 claimed the mansion was almost finished, and an outdated work notice affixed to the construction fence refers to anticipated completion in “Winter 2014/2015,” it’s still not done. (The photo at the top of this post was taken this morning.)

Last July, the owners threw in the towel and put the unfinished residence on the market for $11,500,000 (or, as their then-realtor put it, they chose to “[pass] on the baton to one lucky person”).  The realtor went on to speculate just who that lucky person might be, gushing about a “powerful woman CEO, creative, or budding entrepreneur,” even mentioning names: Diane Sawyer, Arianna Huffington, Anna Wintour.

But Diane, Arianna and Anna didn’t bite. Six months later, the property is listed with a different realtor, and the price is down to $9,995,000. Here’s the new listing, cut and pasted from the New York Times. I’ve added a few annotations of my own.

The Most Luxurious and Largest Contemporary Townhouse ever to be presented in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Customize this amazing home with your choice of finishes and fixtures [since the original owners have walked away] in this grand 14,000+ sq ft, 5 story property. Presently, the entire superstructure is mostly completed and awaits it’s final design choices to be selected by its new owner [lots of money mandatory; mastery of punctuation, particularly apostrophes, optional]. The 277 1st St. is 3 lot widths (60′) and soars up over 5 stories [replacing at least 15 normal 2-bedroom apartments]. Some of the most amazing amenities include a complete fitness center/spa space with a 10′ x 54′ indoor lap pool, an oversized hot tub and dry sauna lounge, exercise space, a 15′ high rock climbing wall, and spa bathrooms. There is indoor parking for at least 3-5 cars brought up off the street by a hydraulic car garage lift and has an air purification system to remove all exhaust fumes. A grand center floating staircase or an oversized passenger elevator takes one between all floor and up to the entertaining roof decks [mastery of grammar and syntax also optional]. The entranceway of the home is most spectacular in its presentation. There are four kitchens planned for in the house [they do not yet exist, because after more than a decade of construction, the building is still a shell], one being the enormous main chef’s gourmet kitchen with tremendous dining and living spaces and outside terraces for al fresco entertaining.Being on the top floor, the views are panoramic! [This sentence hurts me. It literally hurts me.] One of the other kitchens is in the media/entertainment lounge spaces convenient for parties and special gatherings. And there is a wet bar kitchen adjacent to the pool lounge for all types of libations after a workout. Finally, there is an outdoor kitchen space on the roof deck for outside entertaining while enjoying the 360 degree sweeping views of Park Slope and way beyond! [Are these the same as the panoramic! views mentioned earlier?] Every one of the 5 bedrooms are oversized suites featuring huge closets, spa like bathrooms with huge walk in showers and soaking tubs, access to their own outdoor terrace spaces, and sweeping Park Slope views. There are plantings through out bringing greenery to every level. Even though there are no finishes or fixtures, the super structure features a sophisticate [sic] geothermal heating and cooling system , radiant concrete floors throughout, full air exchange ventilation and energy recovery system, water filtration system for all drinking water [because municipal infrastructure is for peons], central vacuum system, low voltage lighting, double laminated and insulated glass panels and windows, and so much more. Please arrange an appointment to see this very special property and wear appropriate footwear/clothing since it is still a construction site [hahahahahahahahaha!].

My first reaction to all this was seething class hatred; visions of guillotines danced in my head.

Once I settled down (meaning that my rage went from a boil to a simmer), I thought about how messed up it is that two real estate moguls can trash a residential block with construction noise, heavy equipment, scaffolding, and tagged-up plywood fencing for more than a decade.

I also thought about what this kind of development (if it’s ever completed) means for the city. Not just for the ability of working people to afford to live here – though that’s obviously huge – but for what makes this place work for all of us.

When I moved here from Detroit (the original post-automotive city), I was struck by the intricate dance that living in a crowded environment requires, and by the very different notions of public and private space it creates. We don’t have yards, so we go to the park. We don’t have decks behind our houses, so we hang out on front stoops or go up to the roof that we share with our neighbors. Our apartments are tiny, so if we want to gather with friends to watch television, we go to a bar. If we want to get work done, we go to a coffee shop.

If we do have cars, we drive them as little as possible (knowing that the parking space it took 45 minutes of circling to find will be snapped up in a heartbeat). And so we take buses, we take trains and we walk around a lot.

It can be a pain in the ass, but it also makes living in the city less anonymous, more intimate. It creates hundreds of small social interactions. It multiplies opportunities for serendipity.

Entertainment lounges? Parking for five cars?  Your own freaking water filtration system? A private palace instead of public space?

You don’t need a city – and this city doesn’t need you.




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