After spending 46 years in his West End Avenue co-op, singer Harry Belafonte put the 17-room spread on the market last August for $15 million. Since nobody seemed to wanna go home to the Upper West Side address at that price, the singer has just reduced the price to $13 million.
“Primarily, we thought it was a little more market-friendly,” said Maria Pascal of Prudential Douglas Elliman, who is listing it with her colleague, Richard Mortimer. “The buyers are not jumping on any apartment, irregardless of the cachet attached to it.”
We don’t know about cachet, but there’s historical significance aplenty. Despite his incredible rise to fame and fortune in the late 1950’s, Mr. Belafonte was blocked from purchasing the apartment because he is black; although the landlord permitted black tenants (including Lena Horne) to live in the building, he would only rent to them, not sell.
So in 1961, Mr. Belafonte initiated the purchase of the entire building, later converting it to a co-op, a story The Observer reported in August. But there is a bit more to this real-estate victory.
“I was there in the summer when this whole acquisition happened,” said Dan Rottenberg, an author and journalist.
Mr. Rottenberg’s father, Herman, along with Sidney Scheiner and Mr. Belafonte, couldn’t convince the landlord to sell the building to them individually. So they set up a dummy corporation named Julenara to acquire the property. (The corporation’s name came from the names of their wives, Julie, Lenore and Sara.)
“It was one of the first co-ops in New York,” said Mr. Rottenberg. “It didn’t occur to them to make money; it was just to buy the building. The landlord was the Dominican Realty Corporation, which was a front for [Dominican Republic dictator Rafael] Trujillo.”
Although Mr. Scheiner passed away shortly after the deal and Mr. Rottenberg has since moved to the Majestic, Mr. Belafonte remained there for more than four decades.
“At the high point of his celebrity, he would take one step out of the building and he would be mobbed,” said Mr. Rottenberg.
Since Mr. Belafonte couldn’t easily leave the building, it’s no wonder that he wanted to maintain a grand lifestyle at home.
Eventually, he combined two units into a 7,000-square-foot spread. There are seven bedrooms with en suite baths, two powder rooms and dressing rooms with walk-in closets. Other features include four wood-burning fireplaces, a library and billiard room.
Okay, get your coins ready!