USA/NY: The Pierre by St. Turkel

By Stanley Turkel, CMHS, ISHC, May, 2013

The Pierre Hotel (1930) 5th Avenue and 61st Street

Did you read that the penthouse triplex at the Pierre Hotel in New York City was for sale for $125 million, the highest price ever listed for a New York hotel residence?  At 13,660 square feet, that works out to $9,150 per square foot.  The major feature of the triplex is the 3,500 square foot Grand Salon which was the Club Pierrot, an exclusive supper club when the hotel opened in 1930.  But in the depths of the Depression, the Club was disbanded soon thereafter.  Later, the Pierre Roof ballroom was the favored site for debutante receptions, weddings and gala banquets.  It often featured Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm orchestra.  During hot New York summers before effective air conditioning, the Pierre advertised “the highest and coolest hotel roof in Manhattan” to compete with the Starlight Roof at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Designed by Schultze & Weaver (who also designed the Waldorf-Astoria and the Sherry-Netherland in New York and the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida), the 42-floor, 714-room Pierre offered very large suites and 200 transient rooms.
During the Depression, the Pierre went into bankruptcy in 1932 and was bought six years later by oilman J. Paul Getty for $2.5 million.  In 1958, Getty converted the Pierre into a cooperative and subsequently sold some of the hotel’s suites to the likes of Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor.  Soon thereafter, the Pierre Roof ballroom was closed because the new coop-owners did not want to wait for elevator service when the rooftop ballroom was in use.  For some 30 years, the ballroom was used for storage of old hotel files, furniture, equipment and for an upholstery shop.

Ultimately, 73 coop-owners purchased ownership of their own spectacular apartments as well as the transient guestrooms, restaurant, lounges, meeting rooms and public spaces.  Getty built an adjacent office building on Madison Avenue and leased space in order to enlarge the Pierre’s second floor ballroom.    

In 1990, the coop board decided to renovate the 41st, 42nd and 43rd floors and in 1993 sold them for $12 million to Lady Mary Fairfax, an Australian media heiress whose husband had recently died.  Lady Fairfax hired the design firm of Balamotis McAlpine Associates to create a stunning palace in the sky.  They installed an 18-foot high limestone fireplace and mantle (originally from a French chateau) at the east end of 75’ x 46’ x 23’ Grand Salon.  Lady Fairfax told me that the chandelier was salvaged from a demolished Melbourne, Australia theater. Some six years later, Lady Fairfax sold the triplex to investment banker Martin Zweig for $21.5 million, then a record.

Mr. Zweig and his wife moved into the penthouse with their museum-quality collection of popular culture memorabilia.  They displayed guitars and performance attire of major rock musicians from Hendrix to Clapton to Springsteen as well as team jerseys of sports icons Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretsky.  The penthouse provides 360-degree views of Manhattan, Central Park, the Hudson and East Rivers and beyond.  When Mr. Zweig died in February at age 70, the penthouse was put on the market at a price that reflects its unique qualities.
Disclosure:  I served for six years as Executive Vice President of the 795 Fifth Avenue Corporation, the Pierre’s owning entity, to help oversee the then-lessee, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and make certain that service was impeccable for the 73 coop-owners.