May 26, 2012

The Real Estate Jackpot!

Home Reference: 72-Rooms, 3 people, $102,000

In 1966 , photographer Jay Maisel bought this building at 190 Bowery in New York, for $102,000.  Whaaat???  Yes, the ENTIRE building.  The former Germania bank, built in 1898, boasts 72 rooms, a vault (of course), and original copper elevator!  New York magazine did a great write-up on it in 2008 and at that time, it's value was estimated at between $30-$70 MILLION.  Talk about a return...  

Maisel lives at 190 Bowery with his wife, Linda and their daughter.  3 people.  6 stories.  72 rooms.  
Blows my mind.  Had to share...

Even in the annals of “If only I’d bought that Soho loft in 1974” stories, this is extreme. In 1966, Maisel was a young artist, paying $125 a month for a 2,500-square-foot studio at 122 Second Avenue (his neighbors were Larry Rivers and La MaMa founder Ellen Stewart). But when his landlord raised the rent an unconscionable $50 a month, Maisel went to Jack Klein, a broker who, he says, had found spaces for Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. “We took an instant dislike to each other,” says Maisel. But the first property Klein showed Maisel was the abandoned Germania Bank, built in 1898, when the neighborhood was largely middle-class and German. “I said, ‘You got a lot like this?’ ” Maisel recalls. “Klein said, ‘This is why I hate photographers. They want the Taj Mahal and they want it for six bucks a month. No, I don’t have a lot like this.’ ”
Interpersonal friction aside, Klein convinced Maisel he could raise the money to buy the abandoned bank. That was the easy part. Then he moved in. The main floor was knee-deep in garbage and coated in soot. “I had to shovel shit against the tide,” says Maisel. He wasn’t getting a lot of support either; the Bowery was where people ended up, not where they aspired to live. “My parents cried,” he says. “Every single thing that can come out of a human body has been left on my doorstep. But it was more disgusting than dangerous.”  

Maisel uses the first, second, and third floors as gallery spaces for his photography and art projects. (New York magazine’s first cover was a Maisel photograph.) The fourth floor, which Maisel once rented out to Roy Lichtenstein, is a work-in-progress. The fifth has various workshops.  Bedrooms, bathrooms, and dining are on the sixth floor; the kitchen was once where the staff cooked meals for the bankers.

Linda cooks a lot, but when they do order in, “it’s a riot,” she says. “You have to wait downstairs and watch for the delivery person, because they’ll pass right by. Who is going to think that there is one person ordering from this building? Who wants to leave their bicycle outside?”  The city wants the exterior graffiti-free, but it’s impossible: 190 Bowery is a mecca for street artists, as its neighbor 11 Spring was before it went luxury. Maisel tried scrubbing the building every week, but “it was like I was providing a fresh canvas for them.” Keith Haring used to cover the exterior in chalk babies, says Maisel, and that he liked, both for the spirit of the images and because they washed off so easily.
The building is still giving up its secrets. About a month ago, Maisel's daughter discovered a room she never knew existed. “It’s kind of in the mezzanine between the first and second floors,” she says.

So, will the Maisels ever sell? Or, more to the point, what’s holding them back? By modest estimates, and even in this economy, the building is worth tens of millions of dollars (see the estimates, here), Leonard Steinberg of Prudential New York adds, “I would do anything to get that building.”  The property is so prime that sometimes Linda does reconnaissance before she takes out the trash for fear she’ll have to fend off yet another aggressive agent. “One man called me a bitch because I told him the building wasn’t for sale,” she says.  “I fantasize about never having to worry about money again,” Maisel muses. “It would be great to take the money and run. But let’s face it, where are we going to go? A three-room apartment?”

See New York Magazine's slideshow here.