Board Approved: 998 Fifth Avenue

A prestigious building known for having the “slowest co-op board in Manhattan” is home to bold-name financiers and deep-pocketed philanthropists

998 Fifth Avenue opened in 1912, the same year the Titanic sank.

The location is exquisite: Large yellow-marble panels are set into the limestone façade on the eighth and 12th floors of the 12-story building at 998 Fifth Avenue. Past the iron and glass marquee, a large inner courtyard offers greenery and light for interior windows. Beneath the cornices of the exterior windows, the residences look out over The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

It’s easy to see why 998 Fifth, which also uses the address 999 Fifth, is so often called the first true luxury building on Fifth Avenue and is being included in our Board Approved series, which looks at the residents of Manhattan’s most prestigious addresses.

Designed by the McKim, Mead & White (known for Penn Station, Columbia University, the Brooklyn Museum and other prestigious addresses) and built by James T. Lee (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ grandfather) the building opened in 1912, the same year the Titanic sank. And it cost almost nearly half as much as the doomed ship, nearly $3 million (the Titanic cost $7.5 million), escutcheons and all — an extraordinary sum at the time, equivalent to $73 million in today’s currency.

The Titanic has other fateful connections to 998 Fifth, which is also known as the home of Jack Astor. His mother was pregnant with him aboard the Titanic on its last voyage. She survived, while her husband, John Jacob IV, drowned, unable to join her on the lifeboat.

Jack Astor’s move into 998 Fifth highlights another point of interest, the death of the townhouse era.

As names like Astor, Guggenheim and Vanderbilt began to fill the apartments of 998 Fifth, the clout of living in the “French” apartment style drastically improved among the city’s elite. The idea that multiple families living in a single building was rather risqué was finally put to bed.

Today, 998 Fifth is known for having one of the most persnickety boards on the Upper East Side. In 2000, the building raised eyebrows when the co-op board refused to interview oil company executive Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani, and his wife, Sharmin, chief investment officer of the private wealth management group at Goldman Sachs, after they signed a $16 million contract on unit 6W — one of just 15 mansion-size apartments in the building.

6W was owned by Archibald Cox Jr., son of the famed Watergate prosecutor, and after the board canceled two appointments with no explanation, the buyers walked. The scandal earned the board the nickname “the slowest co-op board in Manhattan.”

The unit would later sell to Ronald Stanton, the late fertilizer mogul, and is currently the only unit publicly listed. It’s asking $27 million.

However, with a number of elderly residents, in time, several other units may hit the market. When that happens, 998 Fifth, like many other prestigious co-ops, will face acute competition from the glut of luxury condos on the market. Aeries offering spectacular views, modern amenities and, most importantly, freedom from the stringent rules of co-op boards may make buildings like 998th Fifth look less like seats of privilege and more like limestone relics. Here is a look at who calls the building home.

Mark and Lori Fife
Price paid: $21M

Mark Fife founded MSF Capital, a merchant bank, and co-founded EnTrust Capital, an investment advisory service. Today he is a philanthropist and serves on the board of Facing History and Ourselves, a non-profit that creates educational material focusing on the Holocaust. He is also on the board of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Lori Fife has been at Weil, Gotshal for over 30 years. She was one of the partners leading the firm in their representation of Lehman Brothers and its affiliates in their Chapter 11 cases after the financial crisis. In 2015, the couple sold their townhouse at 13 East 75th Street for $30 million to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich before moving to the building.

Len and Emily Blavatnik
Price paid: $27.5M

Leonard Blavatnik is an Odessa, Ukraine-born billionaire and philanthropist who made his fortune investing in natural resources and heavy industry in Russia and other ex-Soviet republics. He owns another apartment at 834 Fifth Avenue, for which he shelled out $77.5 million, breaking the record for the most ever paid for a co-op in Manhattan. He founded his firm, Access Industries, in 1986. The conglomerate is now active in energy, metals, chemicals, media, telecommunications and real estate sectors. In 2011, Blavatnik bought Warner Music Group for $3.3 billion. In 2015, he was dubbed the richest man in Britain. Emily Appelson Blavatnik and her husband have four children. The Blavatnik Family Foundation has made large gifts such as $50 million to Harvard for biomedical research. The couple is also a patron of several major NYC arts institutions.

Matthew Bronfman
Price paid: $18M

Matthew Bronfman is a businessman and philanthropist descended from a long line of financiers, including the Lehman family. He is on the board of the 92nd Street Y and is major investor in Israel, where he is the main shareholder in IKEA Israel. He’s been married three times and has seven children.

David and Deborah Roberts
Price paid: $18.5M

David Nathan Roberts is the COO and senior managing director of Angelo, Gordon & Co., a private equity group that manages over $1 billion. He and his wife purchased their five-bedroom apartment at the close of 2012. The couple had lived across the park
at 325 West End Avenue for 25 years.

Jordan and Marcie Pantzer
Price paid: $16M

Jordan Pantzer runs his family’s New Jersey-based real estate firm Pantzer Properties. Marcie Pantzer is active in philanthropy and charity fundraising. The couple got a pretty good deal on their 14-room duplex. The previous owners had been seeking $25 million.

Paul Fribourg
Price paid: $27.2M

Paul Fribourg is the head of the Continental Grain Company and an investor in agriculture. He’s an executive at the Loews Corporation and a board member of several major companies. In 2007, Fribourg landed in the tabloids for allegedly having an affair with TV news anchor Paula Zahn.

Leonard and Terry Gushner Laufer
Price paid: $16.5M

Leonard Laufer co-founded Argus Information & Advisory Services, a financial advisory firm. Today he is the head of Intelligent Solutions at JPMorgan Chase. Terry is a principal at her eponymous law firm. The couple owns a 12-room duplex with 5,400 square feet.

Mark and Jill Rachesky
Price paid: $20M

Mark Rachesky is chairman of Lions Gate Entertainment and head of MHR Fund Management, a $6 billion investment firm. He made headlines several years ago when he faced off against his former boss and mentor, billionaire investor Carl Icahn. Jill Rachesky is a trustee at the Trinity School.

Steven Rattner and Maureen P. White
Price paid: Undisclosed

Rattner is chairman of Willett Advisors, which manages former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s assets. Maureen White is a specialist in international humanitarian affairs and a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins. She is the former DNC fund-raising chair.

Joseph R. Perella and Amy M. Perella
Price paid: Undisclosed

Joseph Perella is a financier who worked at Morgan Stanley and Bank of America. He currently operates Perella Weinberg Partners, a financial services firm. Amy Perella is a trustee at Lehigh University, where the couple endowed the Perella Department of Finance.

Florence Irving
Price paid: Undisclosed

Florence is the widow of Herbert Irving, a co-founder of food services giant Sysco Corp. They supported Columbia University Medical Center and other institutions with hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts. The couple is also well known for their Asian art collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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