Thursday, December 08, 2005

Harry Belafonte's DR Connection

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!


Anonymous said...

Very intreging story. After reading it completly it makes me wonder how many ventures/properties Trujillo had and where those dollars are now. "The landlord was the Dominican Realty Corporation, which was a front for Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo.”
Excellent story.

Anonymous said...

Follow up to above comment: El Rubirosa the favorite son-in law had spent most of his life in Palm Beach and New York bars trying, and succeeding most of the time, in seducing rich socialites, but he was also a roving ambassador for the Dominican Republic, with two primary duties. One was to make sure companies doing business with his father-in-law's government understood that they were to pad their bills with an extra 15%, which would be kicked back to the dictator's New York based holding companies. Rubirosa's history is facinating too.

Anonymous said...

New Wave Black Man said...

As a broker in New York and a frequent visitor to DR this story was very insightful. It will be interesting to find out if this coop discriminates now or simply uses financial stability as the basis for admission. Given the fact that the building was purchased by Belafonte because he could not discriminated against, hopefully its board is sensitive color blind in its current review process. Now that being said, if one can come in with $6,500,000 cash down, one would assume that there would not be a problem....but remember this is New York. Now's time for you to find such investors in your dream to acquire investment properties in DR. Time to go back to the old school formula of pooling capital.

Anonymous said...

As a footnote to this facinating story, the apartment is being sold due to the divorce action brought by Julie Belefonte against Harry. After raising their family in the apartment and a marriage that spans those 40 some odd years, she has left him, so he needs to sell to settle the property settlement.
A furthur interesting fact is that Rubirosa was famous in international society for the size of his penis which was said to be at least 11 1/2 inches long and 3 inches in round....hmmm!

Anonymous said...

Since we are going there on the favorite son-in law. He bedded many famous women including the marrage to crazy Woolworth heir Ms. Hutton. It has been reported that he stayed in a constant state of erection, was never satisfied due to the fact that his gun could not shoot. There is a movie in the works about his playboy/diplomatic/mob associated life.

Anonymous said...

Yet another connection....In the late '50s or early 60's, Harry did a concert in my home town of Vancouver, BC, whereupon he eloped with one of my classmates at Prince of Wales High School....Monica Lowey. The marriage didn't last long, but I believe it was his first marriage.

There really must be something to the "Six Degrees of Separation" theory.

Love your blogs, Anthony, and the Playa Palenque pictures look great!


Anonymous said...

George you're information about him eloping with one of your classmates is totally wrong. He was already married, having married his first wife Margurite in 1958. He has only been married twice!