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From Soho to Carnegie Hill: A Life in Process

Soho was a familiar neighborhood and, in spite of its reputation, I had always felt the hype

Soho, New York

Life in Soho was impersonal and lacked the neighborhood feel that many other sections of the city boast. For the 2 years that I called Soho ‘home’. When I exited, on a cold winter morning in February, 1993 I forged uptown, as far from Soho as possible, while remaining in Manhattan. I landed in Carnegie Hill: its refined ambience is one of the facets that I’ve grown to love.

In 1991 I found myself living in an artists loft in the heart of Soho.

I did not actually awaken in this 3rd floor abode on Spring Street; as the decision was a conscious one. However, over time and when discussing this moment in my past, it often feels as though I’m talking about someone else. Growing pains at its worst.

Soho was a familiar neighborhood, and one where I spent considerable time from the late ‘80’s thru the mid ‘90s. But in spite of its reputation, I had always felt the hype, surrounding this cool part of the city, amounted to an unjustified sum of its parts. Albeit the large variety of (overpriced) restaurants, clubs, shops & gallerys; my main gripe lied in the lack of awareness that visitors had for the many NY’ers who actually resided there!  Not to mention a weekly invasion of street vendors, touristas, ‘bridge and tunnelers’ and of course, traffic.

Soho – MoMA

Life in Soho was impersonal and lacked the neighborhood feel that many other sections of the city boast.For the 2 years that I called Soho ‘home’, Con Ed plowed down Spring Street, in trucks that stampeded over steel plates (covering construction), at 3am! An early morning alarm reminding me of this foolish decision.

In looking back, this chapter in my life could be subtitled the ‘seasons of my discontent’. And only I was to blame. I was forewarned by several well -meaning friends, most specifically my mother who begged me not to make this move. It turned out a huge price for a small piece of uber hip chic. Something I realized that I did not need, as it turns out, I’ve been chic since youth. (seriously)!

When I finally exited, on a cold winter morning in February, 1993 I forged uptown, as far from Soho as possible, while remaining in Manhattan. I landed in Carnegie Hill; my home for the past 24yrs. The transformation from the grit of Soho to the refinement of this elegant neighborhood could be described only as culture shock. At first I hated it, missing the sheer energy of my former downtown home. It took years to adjust and only after I began a career in Real Estate, did I begin to appreciate what it offered.    In the years since, I’ve made a complete 180 degree turn, and have suggested CH to many who are looking for a family friendly neighborhood with excellent public (as well as private) schools, and all the amenities of a small town. Including its own Carnegie Hill security, with a van traveling through the streets, day / night, in the off chance that you might need help.

This special enclave, of the Upper East Side, stretches from E. 86th to E. 96th and from Fifth Avenue to Lexington. The streets are lined with beautiful pre- war coops, as well as a spattering of newer construction condos. The majority of homes lining the exquisite streets off Fifth Avenue are grand and stately mansions.  Some were home to many notable Americans, before being converted to Museums.   The Cooper-Hewitt, at the corner of Fifth & 91st, was the former home of Andrew Carnegie.  The Warburg Mansion, now the Jewish Museum, on the corner of 92nd @ Fifth, houses some of the most extraordinary works of art and artifacts with an impressive gift shop and a recent addition for dining.  A branch of Russ and Daughters; the historic appetizing store on the Lower East Side, is now another wonderful option for museum dining.

The refined ambience of Carnegie Hill is one of the facets that I’ve grown to love. Tremendous credit is given to Carnegie Hill Neighbors and Friends of the Upper E. Side Historic District, for helping retain its original sense of grandeur, while keeping the streets ultra- safe, allowing residents the freedom of walking late at night, without the typical fears associated with living in a big city.

The most significant part of my admiration for CH, lies in the convenience of visiting some of the citys/worlds most renowned Museums.Being in such close proximity to the center of Museum Mile is a luxury I feel I’ve earned!

The Met @ 82nd St. (Ph. L.W.)

When first moving here, my form of therapy consisted of spending hours at the Met. In my opinion, the most extraordinary piece of architecture, culture and beauty existing in all of Manhattan (if not the world). The Temple of Dendur became my meditation space – a rare addition to the museum, and slightly reminiscent of IM Pei’s Pyramide du Louvre. I imagined the Costume Institute as an enlightened version of (window) shopping and browsing, without the need for a credit card! My library consisted of volumes of books and collectibles at the Museums gift shop. The variety of dining options , most notably the ‘members’ dining room & the Cantor Roof Garden & Bar, as well as cafes surrounding the American wing, negated the need to leave the museum.

In summation, a day at the Metropolitan Museum nourished my soul, and was both a personal and cathartic reentrance on my journey back to life in the city.

Carnegie Hill Townhouses

Another neighborhood favorite, is the Neue Galerie on the corner of 86th & Fifth. It was the former home of William Starr Miller, before 2 close friends conceived the idea of creating a gallery to house early 20th century German & Austrian art. Ronald Lauder & Serge Sabarsky shared a passion and commitment in showcasing art, with some works retrieved from lost art in the Holocaust. Gustav Klimt’s most renowned works are hanging here. Along with rotating exhibits highlighting Egon Schiele, Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and a special gallery displaying decorative arts by Josef Hoffmann, Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, to name a few. It is second best to traveling to Austria, without the jet lag !

From 2000 – 2010 I was a volunteer at the Guggenheim Museum. I decided that in order to achieve a touchstone to my love for art, I needed to immerse myself. As well as a need for distraction, from an all- consuming life in residential sales.  After a call inquiring about volunteer positions, I was asked to meet Adele Kandel, the Director of the volunteer program. In 2000 the Museum was being true to its cutting edge reputation by hosting a show dedicated to the couture of Giorgio Armani. When I arrived I realized immediately, that Adele (as I) was outfitted in Armani. There was an instant rapport…that led to a friendship lasting over the years. Adele is a quintessential example of a woman of style and grace. She is not only smart & savvy, but for over 40 years, was one of the privileged few to reside at the Apthorp. A building designed by Clinton & Russell for William Waldorf Astor, in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, in 1906 – 1908.    It’s an embodiment of architecture, symmetry and old world elegance, absent in todays construction. Her rent stabilized 10 room apartment, remains my most favorite, of ‘all’ that I’ve viewed over the years. I refer to her as one of the chosen.

Neue Gallerie

And now a segue back to Carnegie Hill & what to expect if you’re thinking of making a move; As most buildings are coops, in order to begin the process, one must be prepared for an invasive and highly personal form of baring ones assets. The requirements are strict, and I’ve often commented that coop boards are the last form of discrimination, considered legal. An example; many Fifth Avenue boards require the buyer’s net worth ‘double’ the price of the apartment, ‘after’ the purchase. So, if you’ve just negotiated a 5M property, you need to show assets exceeding 10M, after closing.

Boards allow a maximum of 75% financing, but many allow only 50%. And there are some that do ‘not’ allow financing at all. Which means that you need to arrive at the closing, with a large satchel of cash !

In 1993, when first viewing my apartment on a cold, dark and dreary day, I gave a thumbs down. The lack of views & light, made my fragile state worse. But after several weeks of being shown comparable apartments, and soliciting the help of a few dear friends, it was determined that the price, location, and potential for a lovely home prevailed. My offer was accepted and the process began, very similar to what I’ve just described.  No one purchases a NYC coop unscathed, not even brokers !  The good news, by the time I arrived, I was too drained to notice the lack of light.

In retrospect, the real estate goddesses were looking down, from a nearby Penthouse, waving me to the finish line. I had suffered, I had survived, and it was time to resume my life. ….  Which I have…. reasonably well.


I dedicate this piece to my dear friend Adele Kandel, whose inner strength through a personal storm has been an inspiration to me and those fortunate enough to have known her.

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