The Novogratz Waverly Place Preservation Project

By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP

Bob and Cortney Novogratz are back in Greenwich Village working on a truly preservationist project at 114 Waverly Place (ca. 1826) just west of Washington Square Park. 

After a few years of living in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles where they had an ongoing renovation project, they are now navigating the coronavirus pandemic by working on projects from their home in the Berkshires, teleconferencing with clients, contractors and vendors.

This 2019 view of 114 Waverly Place shows the Art Nouveau stucco façade and pink colors that made the home of Celeste Martin (a former Rockette who died last spring at the age of 98), and the site of many of her famous parties, stand out. Many interior details are also planned for restoration in the well-preserved structure. Credit: Zillow.

You may remember that the ca. 1946 residence they bought in 2007, at 400 West Street, then more than tripled in size as a five-story contemporary townhome with an indoor basketball court/screening room behind the private garage, a stainless steel and glass stairway and elevator, with five bedrooms. When I visited the site right after Storm Sandy flooded the ground floor, one of their boys was washing out the garage and told me, “It’s not that bad.” The building was sold in 2016 for $14.5 million to an overseas buyer.

The bright pink four-story Art Nouveau stucco façade at #114 displays a complete redesign in 1920 by architect William Sanger for Murray P. Bewley; the entrance was given an Italian styling, with an English-style basement stoop and round-arched doorway and windows. 

Although it’s quite rare to find something like this in Manhattan, with interiors untouched for so many years, when the home’s previous and third-ever eccentric owner, Celeste Martin, died at age 98 last spring, she left behind this home and other nearby properties worth at least $25 million. She had entertained in the “pink house” amid her beloved cats and stage costumes from her Rockettes days, according to a New York Post obit.

Thanks to an Architectural Digest article, we learn that the expansive first floor, with black-and-white checkered floor and a wall of southerly windows, has great appeal. The second and third floors will comprise the master suite and bedrooms for the Novogratz’s school-age children. The basement boasts surprisingly high ceilings, allowing for the older kids’ rooms, a gym, bedrooms, living area, and its own kitchenette. The plan is to keep the stairwell placement as it is on the east side, but the family is installing an elevator.

The top-floor vaulted artist’s studio (c. 1920), which has a balcony mezzanine, a fireplace, and huge windows, is where Ms. Martin would famously throw beads from the exterior balcony to Gay Pride Parade marchers below. The Novogratz plan to purchase a piano and regularly host events in the room, with a future bar space that leads to a rooftop garden. 

Instead of building onto the back of the home, something most owners do to increase livable square footage, the Novogratz want to keep the backyard as large as it is.

The Novogratz, their name for their line of furniture and home accessories, two popular reality TV shows, three coffee-table books, and high-profile projects on both coasts, are busy with six of their seven children, three are out of local schools, three are home from colleges, their oldest is a working actor elsewhere.

The present eclectic appearance of the four houses at 108-114 Waverly Place are all that remain of a row of nine Federal-style three-story rowhouses built for Thomas R. Mercein in 1826. #108 has a crenelated cornice, sky-lit garret, and rough-hewn stone façades, added when it was heavily remodeled in 1906 and 1927. #110 retains most of its original look except for an added fourth floor and cornice, and it now houses the restaurant Babbo. #112 was altered pre-1965 from its original three-story design, with an added fourth floor and new brick façade composition; it displays a plaque commemorating Lorraine Vivian Hansberry’s home there from 1960-1965; Hansberry was the first African-American woman to write a Broadway play—A Raisin in the Sun. #116 is an 1891 French Flats residence currently undergoing extensive remodeling. So, both #114 and 116 are shrouded in scaffolding netting.

Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is a journalist who writes about architecture subjects.

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