On a gloomy December afternoon at the bar of the Four Seasons Hotel, a scandal-sensitive source slipped me a surprising but not altogether unlikely phone number, that of publicist and society columnist R. Couri Hay. Hay was the former teenage lover of the famed American fashion designer Halston, whose Upper East Side home was something of a legend in the Studio 54 era — when love was a bit freer and the nose-powdering a bit more aggressive.
Designed by lauded architect Paul Rudolph, the minimalist townhouse at 101 East 63rd Street is currently being shopped off-market for $40 million — it was asking $38.5 million when it first hit the market in 2011. The brokers handling the deal declined to comment.
Built in 1967, the townhouse was one of three designed by Rudolph. The expansive 8,000-square-foot post-modern home came with the luxury amenities of the time: a garage, elevator, sunken lounge and a very Zen mirrored garden and greenhouse. It was a natural fit for a designer at the height of his influence.
Hay says he fell in love with Halston while yachting through Greece. Halston was on another yacht with the designer Giorgio Sant’Angelo and Palm Beach socialite Betsy Kaiser. And after a rather persuasive night in Mykonos, Hay jumped ship to join Halston.
“Halston said I was the only white boy he ever loved,” Hay says, referring to Halston’s predilection for black and Latin men.
Around that time, Halston purchased the townhouse, which he christened with back-to-back parties that attracted celebrities like Lauren Bacall, Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol, Steve Rubell and Liza Minnelli — many of their portraits still adorn the walls. Minnelli and Jagger would even call the top-floor suite home from time to time.
“It was really an avant-garde house of the moment. It was truly glamorous,” Hay says, noting that on a recent visit to the house he saw that nothing had changed. “It still has the staircase with no railing, which breaks every code on the planet.”
After hitting Studio 54, the “it” crowd would gather at Halston’s townhouse. “He had infamous drag parties where the men dressed like women and the women dressed like men. It was the first time I had ever heard of the switcheroo!” Hay recalls. “You’d come in and Steve Rubell would give you two Quaaludes and a little bottle of white powder.”
Hay remembers another evening when Halston was out of town. Venezuelan artist Victor Hugo asked him to the townhouse where he found “an awful lot of naked entertainers who were busy ‘entertaining’ each other while Andy [Warhol] photographed them.” Andy, was per usual, fully dressed. “Andy was strictly a voyeur, so I stuck by Andy,” Hay says.
After Halston’s death in 1990, the house sold to Fiat’s Gianni Agnelli and Gunter Sachs, playboy photographer, industrialist and onetime husband to Bridget Bardot, for $5 million. Agnelli and Sachs parted ways after Agnelli tried to hang a Fiat from the ceiling as a sort of artwork. Sachs kept the house until his death in 2011, when it landed back on the market, perhaps for a second act. Who says disco is dead?