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Neighbour Holds Abramovich Up For $23 Million Ransom Over New York Mansion Plan


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Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich is locked in a standoff with a woman who is demanding US$23 million for her Manhattan apartment, in his reported bid to take over an entire historic mansion, according to the New York Post last week.

We reported three weeks ago on Roman Abramovich’s planned purchase of three apartment units, in a beautiful former private mansion located at 828 Fifth Avenue in New York, for US$75 million. The building is located in Lenox Hill Manhattan, on the corner of 64th Street and of course overlooking Central Park. It was built in 1886 in pseudo French Renaissance-style, and was once even described by architectural historian John Taurananc as “about as close to Versailles as residential New York has to offer.”

828 Fifth Ave. is Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich house

 828 Fifth Avenue

For the owner who preceded him, Englishman Howard Ronson whose estate has now contracted to sell Abramovich the apartments, it had been a long-standing dream to buy up the other remaining units. He then planned to restore the mansion to its former glory as a single family home which it had originally been for American coal baron Joseph Berwind. It was only later demised and split up in the nineteen twenties to become a coop apartment building, albeit one “ne plus ultra” – i.e. exquisite and exclusive beyond all others.

Over the years many observers thought Howard Ronson’s task just about impossible under then-existing co-op rules, and so it proved in his lifetime. But after the building changed to direct condominium ownership, in itself reflecting the imperatives of estate planning versus the whole notion of exclusivity, the legal process got a bit easier and it then became just a matter of price.

If anyone can do it it will be Roman Abramovich therefore, and it seems he now needs to buy the apartments of just two more residents of the building in order to be in a position to restore the mansion to a single residence, according to the Post.

Clearly at least one hold-out understands that, after Abramovich reportedly offered her US$15 million: “She’s not leaving for less than $23 million. He can afford it” the New York Post cited a source as saying in its reporting.
One of the owners, fashion designer Adolfo Sardina, has reportedly already agreed on a deal with Abramovich at a price of between US$10 million and US$15 million for his apartment. A source told the newspaper that Sardina also asked for and obtained at least a year to move out. If that is so then the final holdout, a lady reported to be one Eugenia Olazabal, who has apparently lived there for over thirty years may now have a lot of leverage.


Abramovich’s reported US$75 million deal just for the units he has committed to buy so far, would already be a record price for an apartment in New York City, outstripping the US$54 million paid by US entertainment mogul David Geffen last year for another Fifth Avenue property. However reports of other high priced transactions are bandied about in New York real estate talk these days too, like candies, as the city continues to be a magnet as a destination and luxury address for the super rich in a turbulent world.

The goal of restoring the Berwind mansion to its former un-demised glory is in itself rather a splendid one, even though it is certainly now going to take obscene amounts of money to do it. Objectively one can assert this could be spent in less extravagant ways for sure, and likely do more good for humanity too. However, Howard Ronson, who died in 2007 with the dream unfulfilled, would certainly hugely approve of it for sure. And so really do I in the end, just as an outside observer.

After all, after a few years of Abramovich and the lovely and brilliant Dasha Zhukova living in it and enjoying it, mortality will ineluctably claim its inexorable appointment, and the property might then some day end up in public hands; perhaps as a museum. In New York City generations of rich people have always come and gone, but the real estate gems on the island of Manhattan somehow do manage to remain intact throughout all the dramas, the turmoil and the strife that can accompany the lives of their owners.

Then it all starts again with the next generation of owners, or perhaps “caretakers” or “temporary custodians” may be better descriptions. These important trophy buildings may themselves remain mute, but in a sense are the true guardians of their own heritage, and successfully manage to indoctrinate their succeeding generations of owners as to their enduring value.



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