House of Outrageous Fortune: Fifteen Central Park West, the World’s Most Powerful Address
- Michael Gross
- Atria Books
- 416 pp.
- Reviewed by Shanna Wilson
- May 20, 2014
Building a home for the super-rich and exploring how they dwell in it
Sting and Denzel live there. So do Russian oligarchs and Arab princes. In a building where the super receives a rumored $600,000 yearly salary and the residents’ chef has five stars, everything is champagne and caviar at 15 Central Park West. Old and new money rub elbows as the residents of this storied Manhattan building shuffle through their outrageously outsized apartments, with butlers and bellhops at the ready. From Twombly to Rothko, there’s enough modern art in the building to fill a museum.
Author Michael Gross, in House of Outrageous Fortune, takes readers through development deals, building swaps, closed-door negotiations, and the stuff of Trump-era opulence in midtown Manhattan’s circle of wealth. Gross is no stranger to the top .0001 percent. His first biography of a building, 740 Park, offered a glimpse into the lives of media, hedge fund, oil, and shipping tycoons from the Koch brothers to Stephen Schwarzman. Gross made his name diving headfirst into the lifestyle and opportunity that wealth fosters, writing in-depth chronologies of models, film and studio execs in Hollywood, and famous families who exercise their status through every move they make. He has notably declared on film and in print that those who have the lion’s share of the wealth he chronicles are “masters of the universe.”
What’s so great about 15 Central Park West? With a private restaurant that provides room service, a 70-foot lap pool, on-site personal trainers, a screening room, and concierge service that the Four Seasons would envy, residents pay for access, amenities and, most of all, a location that was seized upon by some of the city’s most aggressive and attuned developers.
According to Gross, where 15 Central Park West is concerned, “a whole new ruling class has emerged, and this building is the perfect representation of it.” Three backers – bank Goldman Sachs, Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, and the builders (Will and Arthur Zeckendorf, third-generation Manhattan developers) – negotiate over property values, location, and cost per square foot. Gross delivers a timeline of the building’s genesis that is so exhaustively detailed it borders on obsessive.
The first 200 pages of the book wade knee-deep in the history of every developer or backer who ever touched pen to paper on 15 CPW. Readers, though, will really want to know the interesting sales figures and the cast of characters in residence, which don’t come up until two-thirds of the way through. Fact and figure highlights include the $1 billion price tag to build 15 CPW and the $2 billion in sales ahead of its construction; details about the building’s exterior, designed by Robert A.M. Stern and associates; and the building’s use of the same limestone materials employed in the Empire State Building. Notable real estate deals include billionaire Third Point Management CEO Dan Loeb’s $45 million penthouse and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s $26 million apartment. Then there are the Korean, Israeli, Chinese, and European investors, and an heiress of Russian descent.
Major sports figures, A-list movie stars and media execs reside together at 15 CPW, and an estimated $437 billion is managed by the firms of people who live in the building. The vast wealth held by the building’s residents is enough to settle the debts of several countries.
When it comes to lifestyles of the rich and richer, society is hard-wired for fascination. We ogle their mirrored bathrooms and tinted windows, consider their routines, and admire their stock options. We wonder if everything is ever enough for some. When one apartment dweller remodeling her kitchen was shocked to find the same old plaster that walls the homes of Bensonhurst and the Bronx, she spent a year stripping the place down to the studs to reconstruct a more luxurious alternative.
Gross is exceptional at detailing the facts, but he doesn’t really ask questions about what all of it means, or what compels him to write about the super-rich. He touches on the notion that capitalism and its political protections are among the few things that unite the ultra-competitive hedge-funders present in the book. But readers don’t necessarily get answers for what makes our curiosity soar when it comes to extreme wealth. We can, however, read between the lines to explore the captivation of fantasy-lined destiny and dream alike.
Shanna Wilson spent a decade in book and magazine publishing on both coasts. She blogs, writes about, and reviews film, art, and books, and works in public relations and business development for a communications firm in Washington, DC.