This month, Suri Bieler, the owner of 121 Charles Street, has put this beloved property on the market for a jaw-dropping $20,000,000.This anachronistic dollhouse looks like a piece of historic suburbia, complete with parking space and a landscaped lawn. No one can rationally expect the humble home to remain at this precious location. However, the house’s story of changing fortunes is fascinating.
As the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has made clear on their website, this property is in the GV Historic District and may be one of the oldest buildings in the area. It is also associated with a well-regarded author from 1940, so any changes to the property would have to be submitted to various city agencies, including the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), for approval.
No one seems to be able to pinpoint when the building at 121 Charles Street was first built, or what it was built as. What is documented is that, in 1898, this structure was first tax mapped as being on a parcel of land at York Avenue and 71st Street, with speculation that the structure may have been built elsewhere and moved to York Avenue. Then, in 1966, faced with its possible demolition, the Archdiocese of NY, with the help of architect William Shopsin, sold this dwelling to Mr. & Mrs. Sven Bernhard, who were the occupants of the home at the time, for removal to its current setting on the 4,868-square-foot corner lot at Charles and Greenwich Streets.
The part of the house that was moved here is the western 1-1/2 story wood-sided portion, as seen in the archival photo. As one can observe from the street, this diminutive dwelling has an unusual “butterfly” roof, with the two halves sloped to the middle, instead of its sides. This indicates a very humble origin, perhaps as a shed for storage or for animals, and its location at the back of the York Avenue lot would indicate that as well. When it was moved to Charles Street, an eastern wing was rebuilt, perhaps to match its previous footprint. Then, in 1996, a permit was issued to Ms. Bieler and Eliot Brodsky to build a vertical addition of 525 square feet, according to architect George Boyle’s filing documents. (It must have passed LPC muster.)
Is it worth saving? Will the current owner use the proceeds to move the house? Will the LPC allow any changes? Who would want a $20,000,000 lot when only 11,829 square feet of space could be built there?
In the wild real estate market of Manhattan, and especially West Village, large private residences are appealing, and buyers have been willing to pay over $3,000 per square foot for finished living area.
Greenwich Village townhouses have sold for up to $20 million when they are a finished, high-end product. At 802 Greenwich Street, the Bass/Klausner family developed a 12,000-square-foot single-family home for reportedly over $12 million. At 145 Perry, S.A. Cohen paid $39 million for a small building, reportedly for his single-family home, which could be greatly enlarged. Then there is the 40,000-square-foot garage at 738 Greenwich, which may spur offers of $70 million and could be converted to a single-family home. Brokers say that there are buyers who see a $50 million-and-up mansion as an alternative to the $50 million-and-up condo penthouses on the market. The marketers for 121 Charles Street hope that one of those buyers will want to take that plunge.
In the meantime, Ian Schrager and his investors have purchased 357 West Street for their new condo development. Currently, this block-long stretch from One Morton Square to the St. John Terminal Building across from Pier 40 is occupied by low-rise commercial auto shops and nightclubs. With its prime exposure to the Hudson River and park, the Swiss architects at Herzog & de Meuron have designed a 12-story, 88-unit, curvilinear contemporary creation; all units have precious water views, according to the architects’ renderings. Each home will probably have sky-high prices, but details have not been disclosed.
Brian Pape, AIA, LEED-AP, LRES
Green Architect & Historic Specialist
Architectural Editor, West View News