Why New York Co-Ops Are (Finally) Opening Their Doors to Hollywood Names

Mark Weinberg

Madonna, Mariah Carey and Barbra Streisand were all rejected at one time, but Uma Thurman and Drew Barrymore are among those who were recently approved

This story first appeared in the Nov. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The loudest New York estate headlines lately center on identity-shielding LLCs buying up new apartment towers no one really will live in. But while Russian and Chinese oligarchs park their money in skinny skyscrapers like midtown's One57 and 432 Park Ave. — the latter, at 1,396 feet, just became the Western Hemisphere's tallest residential building — the city's grand, old, publicity-averse co-ops are surrendering to the need to compete for both prestige and cash. Even if that means letting the occasional movie star — a heretofore unsavory prospect in some quarters — past the co-op board.

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Shock waves rippled through the real estate world last year when Uma Thurman snagged a $10 million four-bedroom unit in the River House, a dowager building overlooking the East River, whose tenants include Henry Kissinger and society doyenne Deeda Blair. Thurman's move emblematized a growing leniency toward stars (and their attendant tabloid baggage) among the bastions of genteel East Side exclusivity. "Some, but not all, co-op boards are becoming a little more flexible," says Corcoran Group broker Deborah Grubman.

True, co-op boards gradually have become less invested in old-money WASP surnames, Ivy League diplomas and social-club memberships. And showbiz types who haven't gravitated to Tribeca lofts or West Village townhouses often have been embraced by Central Park West co-ops like The Dakota (once home to Lauren Bacall and John Lennon — Yoko Ono lives there still), The Beresford (Jerry Seinfeld) and The San Remo (Demi Moore, Scott Rudin).

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But the reference letters, background checks and interviews that the extensive application process requires touch on credentials more subjective than an applicant's financials. And that's where movie stars and musicians still run into trouble. "The thing that distinguishes one celebrity from another is whether the celebrity is controversial in any way," notes Grubman.

And so it raised eyebrows this year when (reformed) wild child Drew Barrymore and her husband made the cut at 830 Park Ave., landing an $8.3 million four-bedroom in the prewar co-op. (That her father-in-law is former Chanel CEO Arie Kopelman didn't hurt.)

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Grubman notes that increased competition for residential dollars from luxe new condos is one factor driving co-ops to welcome bold-faced names they once may have shunned. "There is now a very large discrepancy in pricing between co-ops and condos," she says. Third-quarter data provided by Corcoran reveals that resale co-ops in Manhattan went for an average $1.3 million, trailing resale condos ($1.9 million) and new development condos ($3.7 million). "Co-ops want to maintain a certain amount of exclusivity," adds Grubman, "but don't want to box themselves out of a high market."

Likewise, new condo prices — the penthouses at One57 and 432 Park Ave. are going for more than $90 million — that often are beyond the reach of even major stars help explain increased celebrity interest in old-line East Side co-ops. Per Corcoran's data, the average condo price on the Upper East Side is $2.7 million, compared with $4.2 million in SoHo. Notes Grubman, "What's happened to the city is that there aren't really inexpensive neighborhoods anymore."



Mariah Carey: Fresh off her 1997 divorce from Tommy Mottola, she chose a downtown condo after a failed bid at the Upper West Side's Ardsley.

Madonna: Central Park West's San Remo nixed her but she was accepted at Harperley Hall, where she combined three units.

Barbra Streisand: She reportedly was rejected from a slew of co-ops including Upper East Side crown jewel 740 Park Ave.