George on the block

As I mentioned a while back, one of my favorite recent discoveries is NYC Grid, in which blogger Paul Sahner posts a new photo essay of a block of NYC each day. About a month ago, he covered 72nd St., between York and FDR. I found this post fascinating, especially because of the series of beautiful townhouses at the end of the street.

On a whim, I looked up real estate listings for the street and found a couple of openings in those gorgeous buildings. If I can just get a $749,000 mortgage together and convince a co-op board that Rufus is a pretty quiet dog, I can get 1,168 square feet (with an additional $1,849 in monthly maintenance fees)! Or with a $1.25 million mortgage (plus $4,000/month in fees) I could get almost 2,100 square feet!

I shouldn’t be snide. The apartments are gorgeous and the location is insane; they’re just so far beyond what I’d ever be able to pay for a place, it made me sad.


Anyway, this past weekend, as I was reading George, Being George, I noted the many references to George Plimpton’s apartment and the connected Paris Review offices in a townhouse on E. 72nd St. The speakers mentioned the multitude of parties held in Plimpton’s apartment, and the way the staffers at the Review were pretty free to meander into his home (to the chagrin of his wives).

I just didn’t connect the dots with NYC Grid until I read this quote:

BEN RYDER HOWE: The first thing you noticed, coming to work at the Review office, was George’s block, the last before you hit the East River. That block was incredible, with red brick sidewalks and, down at the end of it, his building, the smallest, black as coal. You’d think it was a tenement, not a warren of small luxury apartments.

The street scene was bizarre, too. You had all those cancer treatment centers, with people coming there from all over the world. I remember seeing a Saudi sheikh on the promenade who was between chemo treatments, and he was out there smoking a cigarette. Or you would see someone who had just come out of Sotheby’s, at the corner of York, with a two-thousand-dollar egg cup or something.

Toward the river, opposite George’s building, were huge, ugly apartment buildings, outside of which you might see powerful people screaming into their cell phones as they paced up and down the street. You’d see people who were obviously having secret rendezvous down on the promenade.

George’s building had four entries, 527 to 541, the last of which, with his apartment, gave right onto the river. It was right there under the promenade, practically at your feet, narrow as a sluice at that point, with big ships squeezing past each other between Roosevelt Island and the FDR Drive. Sometimes, at about four o’clock in the afternoon, when you were just completely delirious from reading all those unsolicited manuscripts, you felt like one of those ships spinning on the tide.

On the next page was a b/w photo of the door to 541. Sure enough, it was the very building I’d searched out weeks earlier, at the end of the street, overlooking the East River. And those huge prices?

TERRY QUINN: My first visit to 541, I asked him, “How did you get all this space right on the East River? It must have cost you a million dollars.” And I think he said that when he and others in the building outbid some developers for the whole block of apartments, his piece cost sixty thousand dollars. He said it was the only good financial decision he’d ever made.


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