House of Outrageous Fortune: Fifteen Central Park West, the World's Most Powerful Address

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Overview

In real estate–obsessed New York, no new building has captured the city’s imagination—or as many of its richest residents—as Fifteen Central Park West.

In House of Outrageous Fortune, America’s foremost chronicler of the upper crust, journalist and bestselling author Michael Gross, turns his gimlet eye on the new-money wonderland that’s sprung up on the southwest rim of Central Park. Mixing an absorbing business epic with hilarious social comedy, Gross creates a dishy exposé of ...

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House of Outrageous Fortune: Fifteen Central Park West, the World's Most Powerful Address

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Overview

In real estate–obsessed New York, no new building has captured the city’s imagination—or as many of its richest residents—as Fifteen Central Park West.

In House of Outrageous Fortune, America’s foremost chronicler of the upper crust, journalist and bestselling author Michael Gross, turns his gimlet eye on the new-money wonderland that’s sprung up on the southwest rim of Central Park. Mixing an absorbing business epic with hilarious social comedy, Gross creates a dishy exposé of today’s wealthiest and most famous. This colorful story recounts the recordsetting building’s inspired genesis, costly construction, and the flashy international lifestyle it has brought to a once benighted and socially déclassé Manhattan neighborhood.

With two concierge-staffed lobbies, a walnut-lined library, a lavish screening room, a private sixty-seat restaurant offering residents room service, a health club complete with a seventy-foot swimming pool, and penthouses that cost almost $100 million, Fifteen is the most outrageously successful, insanely expensive, titanically tycoon-stuffed real estate development of the twenty-first century. And any building that’s home to such unimaginable wealth and heavyweight egos—its cast of characters includes Denzel Washington, Sting, Alex Rodriguez, Norman Lear, NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon, hedge fund heads Daniel Loeb and Daniel Och, Russian and Chinese oligarchs, and top executives of Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, AIG, Disney, Google, and Yahoo!, among many more—will be chock-full of jaw-dropping excess.

Gross won unprecedented access to the people behind this instantly legendary building, including the scions of the fabled Zeckendorf real estate dynasty; their financial backers, Goldman Sachs and Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer; and their “starchitect,” Robert A. M. Stern. Then he drilled past its limestone façade to ferret out the stories Fifteen’s fathers and its residents don’t want told.

More than just an apartment building, 15CPW represents a massive paradigm shift in the lifestyle of New York’s rich and famous—and is a bellwether of the city’s changing social and financial landscape. With its dazzling detail, House of Outrageous Fortune is a sweeping history of those changes, and it pulls open wide the gilded walls of Fifteen to reveal the private lives of that .01 percent.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/09/2013
The story of New York City wealth is well told through accounts of its most prestigious addresses. As in his last book, 740 Park, Gross takes a building, Fifteen Central Park West, and uses it to describe the face-off between exclusive co-ops and democratic condos, and between the old families of the Upper East Side and upstarts moving into the Upper West Side. The book is at its best when describing how architect Robert Arthur Morton Stern exercised every creative instinct to maximize profit and stay within New York’s complex zoning requirements, but most of the text is a complex rundown of the buyers: who they are, where their money comes from, and why they bought. Many of the buyers were captains of the financial world, including: Daniel Seth Loeb, a loud and offensive hedge fund manager; Erin Callan, Lehman Brother’s former CFO; and Lloyd Blankfein, of Goldman Sachs fame. Gross’s depiction of these captains of finance is full of both contempt and admiration. The words “million” (real estate prices) and “billion” (net worth) occur so often as to create a feeling of overindulgence. As the selling of 15CPW condos parallels the financial crisis, Gross plays with the irony that the value of residences in the building was completely immune to the popping of the real estate bubble. 16-page 4 color insert. Agent: Daniel A. Strone, Trident Media Group. (Mar.)
Vanity Fair
“Michael Gross…rules the school of literature you might call Books about Buildings Where Lots of Rich People Live”
Peter Pennoyer
"Michael Gross captures the phenomenon that is 15 Central Park West, where creative talent, towering ambition and unimaginable wealth instill a magical aura of glamour and romance not seen in a Gotham apartment house since the Gatsby era."
Joan Hamburg
"As much fun as any thriller or fiction."
The Economist
"Demonstrates conclusively the abiding truth of Clare Boothe Luce’s observation, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable."
Manuela Hoelterhoff
"Michael Gross, an author with a delicate appreciation for bloated egos and wealth, makes them glitter in 'House of Outrageous Fortune: Fifteen Central Park West, the World's Most Powerful Address.' The intersecting strands of money, politics, greed, taste, ambition shine brightly."
William D. Cohan
"Michael Gross has done it again! In intricate and revelatory detail, he shows how Fifteen Central Park West became the most famous and talked-about building in Manhattan: It's the people who live there, of course, and Gross gives us a front-row seat on their passions, their antics and why they want the very best money can buy."
Karen Abbott
"Both an incisive social commentary on our modern Gilded Age and an irresistible peek behind the walls of 15 Central Park West, otherwise known as "Limestone Jesus." With characteristic audacity and wit, Michael Gross has deftly chronicled the immense egos (and bank accounts) of the nouveau riche who reside at Manhattan's most coveted address."
author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster - Dana Thomas
"Want to understand what Occupy Wall Street was about? In House of Outrageous Fortune, Michael Gross explains it—and then some. With a rollicking, informative history of New York City, tales of mega real estate fortunes made and lost, and dizzying examples of the super-wealthy's greed and ostentation, Gross deftly traces the arc of America both socially and financially and proves that the top two percent most certainly do not live like you or I."
Amanda Vaill

“Michael Gross's House of Outrageous Fortune is a book about a building the way Moby Dick is a book about a fish. History, real-estate wheeling and dealing, the economics of the buccaneer class, the arcane realpolitik of condos and co-ops, even floor-plans: it's all here. If you want to find out why Manhattan's skyline looks the way it currently does, this is the book to read.”
author of Hotel Florida and Everybody Was So Young - —Amanda Vaill
“Michael Gross's HOUSE OF OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE is a book about a building the way MOBY DICK is a book about a fish. History, real-estate wheeling and dealing, the economics of the buccaneer class, the arcane realpolitik of condos and co-ops, even floor-plans: it's all here. If you want to find out why Manhattan's skyline looks the way it currently does, this is the book to read.”
author of Hotel Florida and Everybody Was So Young - --Amanda Vaill

“Michael Gross's HOUSE OF OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE is a book about a building the way MOBY DICK is a book about a fish. History, real-estate wheeling and dealing, the economics of the buccaneer class, the arcane realpolitik of condos and co-ops, even floor-plans: it's all here. If you want to find out why Manhattan's skyline looks the way it currently does, this is the book to read.”
starred review Booklist
"A deliciously detailed and completely engaging look at how the 0.1 percent live in one building."
Barbara Corcoran
"House of Outrageous Fortune pulls back the limestone curtain of 15 Central Park West to reveal seismic shifts in New York society and the astonishing lifestyle-without-limits of the new global elite. It's a dishy—but not trashy—page-turner."
Library Journal
10/15/2013
The author of the best-selling 740 Park and a top chronicler of the very rich, Gross here visits a glorious building on the southwest corner of New York's Central Park to reveal the lives of hedge fund runners and Russian oligarchs, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup bigwigs, Denzel Washington and Sting.
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-11
Travel + Leisure contributing editor Gross' (Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles, 2011, etc.) latest chronicle of the .01 percent shifts to the other side of Central Park. Whereas 740 Park (2007) told the story of old-money New York and co-op living in one of the city's most storied buildings, this book examines 15 Central Park West, 740 Park's new rival. Unlike its crosstown counterpart, 15 CPW's pedigree is not blue-blood–bred. It was bought—in cash—by the world's new elite. Built in 2007 by noted architect Robert A.M. Stern, 15 CPW was conceived as apartment living for a new age of financiers, moguls, celebrities, tycoons and anyone else who could afford an apartment's exorbitant price tag. Exclusivity was only a matter of how much you could pay, not whether you fit the building's profile. Consecrated to the idolatry of money, it's no surprise that the bank principally in charge of financing the project was Goldman Sachs and no further surprise that most of the bank's senior management received sweetheart deals on their new apartments. Among the building's A-list have been Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Citigroup founder Sandy Weill, Denzel Washington and Sting. While the lives of the rich and famous have seemingly endless appeal, much of the building's story is bogged down in ancillary histories, like a century's worth of real estate development on Manhattan's West Side and Columbus Circle area and a generational history of the legendary Zeckendorf family. (Brothers Arthur and William led the development of 15 CPW.) While this detail provides a solid foundation for understanding why 15 CPW came to be, it is also exhaustive and not always relevant. It seems that every person caught in the development and purchase of 15 CPW is treated with a back story, and this only reinforces the age-old truism that no matter how much money you have, it doesn't necessarily make you interesting. An incisive but somewhat tedious report of New York's "new money."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451666199
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 3/11/2014
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 29,398
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Gross

Michael Gross is the author of Unreal Estate, Rogues’ Gallery, 740 Park, and Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women. A contributing editor of Travel + Leisure, he created the blog Gripepad and has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, New York, The New York Times, The Daily Beast/Newsweek, Huffington Post, and other publications.

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Read an Excerpt

House of Outrageous Fortune


  • Our hopes, like towering falcons, aim

At objects in an airy height;

The little pleasure of the game

Is from afar to view the flight.

—MATTHEW PRIOR, “TO THE HONORABLE CHARLES MONTAGUE”

“Complete bullshit!” barks Carl Icahn.

The fourth-richest resident of New York City, Icahn, seventy-seven, is typically described as a corporate raider by detractors, an activist investor by admirers. All acknowledge that he strikes fear in the hearts of his prey. And he was cursing a blue streak at me.

He’d started almost as soon as I began telling him a story I’d just heard about an attempt he’d made, in fall 2005, to buy a new Manhattan apartment. And not just any apartment. It was one of a baker’s dozen of penthouses atop Fifteen Central Park West, a two-tower luxury condominium then under construction at the southwest corner of Central Park. Or rather, two of its penthouses, which Icahn, who already owned one about ten blocks away, hoped to combine into something Brobdingnagian, the kind of home only a man like him might be able to afford, and more important, to fill, not just with possessions but with personality, a presence as awesome as the building’s location.

But I’d also heard that this lion of finance had tried to haggle with 15CPW’s developers, demanding a price cut, which certainly seemed in character for someone who’d picked fights with Phillips Petroleum, USX, Texaco, TWA, and Time Warner. But that had turned out to be a tactical error, because the developers, Arthur William Zeckendorf and William Lie Zeckendorf, the third generation of a New York real estate dynasty, weren’t inclined to bargain.

Instead, the Zeckendorfs sold the double penthouse to the bidder behind door number two, Daniel Loeb, an equally prominent and pugnacious hedge-fund runner, another activist investor cut from the same cloth as King Carl. Only Loeb was a quarter century younger and willing to pay the full asking price. Which caused Icahn, on learning that he’d been outbid, to launch an epically profane tirade at Will Zeckendorf.

“ ‘Fuck this, fuck that.’ He said ‘fuck’ five or six times in thirty seconds, then slammed the phone down,” says Will. “Dan was in there early. He was a fabulous buyer.”

They didn’t really know Loeb when he’d called them up just as they’d begun selling apartments at 15CPW. Icahn had gotten to them first, introduced by one of the Zeckendorf brothers’ two partners, an Israeli-born billionaire named Eyal Ofer, who had invested with Icahn. Earlier that year, Ofer had pointed to 15CPW out the window of Icahn’s office at Fifty-Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue and said, “Look at that.” His new building, rising above the tree line on the opposite side of the expanse of Central Park, was an impressive sight.

It was also an impressive site: Fifteen Central Park West occupies the first full-block lot on the periphery of the park to be developed in decades—and likely the last for years. Its position is equivalent to oceanfront property in California, an Eiffel Tower view in Paris. Besides its immediate proximity to that 843-acre masterpiece of urban landscape design, 15CPW is also walking distance from Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the city’s best stores and restaurants.

Not long after Ofer pointed the building out to him, Icahn was invited to a small cocktail party in a temporary sales office near the 15CPW construction site, where the Zeckendorfs themselves showed him and his wife, Gail, a model of the Robert A. M. Stern–designed, limestone-clad building and floor plans of some of those penthouses. One had already been reserved for Ofer, another for Will Zeckendorf. But the rest were still available, and Icahn focused on the building’s thirty-ninth floor, with two apartments that, so early in construction, could easily be combined into the largest in the building, with 10,643 square feet of interior space, two terraces of 677 square feet, fourteen-foot ceilings, eight bedrooms, ten bathrooms, and 360-degree views of Manhattan and beyond. And it would cost a mere $45 million (plus $28,607.34 in monthly charges).

“We saw it, we liked it, I told them I was interested,” Icahn says. “I wasn’t that excited by it. I don’t invest in apartments.” But Gail Icahn liked it, and Gail wanted to move; a new building was planned right next to their current one, a few blocks to the southeast, and it was going to block the sunset from their fifty-second-floor terrace.

“I love the terraces,” Icahn says dreamily. Even billionaires dream. But the risk of losing his view was real and Icahn understands risk and value in his bones. “We talked about price at the cocktail party,” he continues. “I said it seemed high.”

Zeckendorf recalls that Icahn offered him only half the asking price. Icahn remembers it differently: he wanted only one of the two apartments. “There was no hondling,” he insists. “Bullshit.”

Eyal Ofer laughs often and loudly when telling his version of the story. “Icahn has got a problem. He refuses to pay. I said, ‘Carl, listen to me. This is not business. This is lifestyle. You will not find another ten thousand square feet in Manhattan. And it’s within walking distance from your office because you don’t like to take a car, it’s too expensive.’ And he said to me, ‘But you want too much money!’ I said, ‘Carl, this apartment will be worth double. Close your eyes and buy it.’ And then Will came and said, ‘Eyal, you brought in Carl, but I have Loeb, who wants it.’ He said Loeb wants to pay more than Carl. So I said, ‘Be fair to Carl. Tell him that you’ve got somebody who is prepared to pay more, but we are prepared to sell it to you, if you’ll confirm it now.’ ”

“I called Zeckendorf back,” Icahn says. “He said, ‘Hey, I sold it.’ I said okay. I was almost glad. I didn’t want to move anyway. I don’t remember arguing with him. The fact that he didn’t call me back was off-putting. It’s not like he’s a bad guy. That’s what they do. He probably said, ‘Icahn’s looking at it, Dan, hurry up.’ We didn’t hear. Then I called or Gail called and he said it was gone. ‘Loeb’s got it.’ People love this shit. I love the terraces I got.”

After their phone call, Will reported back to Eyal Ofer. “He said that he had never been treated so poorly in his life,” Ofer recalls. “Now, every time I see Carl, he says, ‘You owe me an apartment!’ But he could not bring himself to pay the full amount. And he lives to regret it.”

Like every New Yorker, Carl Icahn is fascinated by the ins and outs of local real estate. He loves to talk about it and, deep in his heart, likely knows that, after turning his back on 15CPW, he became one of the outs, which is evident as he rambles on, “Look, in retrospect, the building made sense.”

The reason is that prime Fifth and Park Avenue buildings, the ones the writer Tom Wolfe called “the good buildings,” are all cooperatives, not condominiums; in a nutshell, they operate like private clubs and have for years excluded people like Icahn and Loeb, the sort of rough-and-tumble, loudmouthed, first-generation rich guys—many, but not all of them, Jewish—who don’t care whom they offend, guys whose hard edges have yet to be smoothed by a desire to fit in. Co-op owners are the kind of people who reject, not the ones who get rejected.

Icahn doesn’t reject the rejection argument, but says what’s really great are 15CPW’s resale values. At $10,000-plus per square foot for its best spaces, the condos at 15CPW have defied conventional wisdom, the stagnating world economy, and, to some, common sense, too. In 2013, Sanford I. “Sandy” Weill, the financier who created Citigroup, sold his 15CPW penthouse—the second largest after Loeb’s—for $88 million, twice what it cost him six years earlier and the highest price ever paid for a Manhattan apartment. “Big trophies are running high,” Icahn says. “But I don’t look at apartments or New York real estate as investments relative to what we do. Since 1968, when I started Icahn and Company, our annual returns have been thirty-one percent. No real estate comes close to that.”

Will Zeckendorf admits that Icahn is right about what happened. “Carl just could never hit the number,” Will says, “and Dan [Loeb] to his credit, when we said, ‘Listen, we’re talking with someone else,’ he said, ‘I’m there.’ ” Loeb had called the Zeckendorfs himself, without a broker as an intermediary. He’d heard about 15CPW from someone at Goldman Sachs, the renowned but wildly controversial investment bank, which was the third partner in developing the building. Theirs is a small world in which people want big homes high in the sky.

Normally loquacious, even loudmouthed (his pugnacious open letters to companies he feels are mismanaged are famous), Loeb won’t discuss his purchase. But the Zeckendorfs are full of praise for him. “He completely flattened [Icahn] . . . destroyed him,” says Will. “Full price, no flinching, no bad, naughty words.”

“Then,” Arthur adds, “I ran into a friend of Dan’s in Paris, telling me how nervous he was. But he didn’t show it to us. He played his cards like a true poker player.”

Icahn played like a bad sport, they believe, bad-mouthing the building. Eleven days after Loeb signed a contract, the New York Post reported that Icahn was “taking a pass on his reserved $43 million condo.” Sales “appear to have slowed” at the “ultra-pricey” condo, the paper reported, apparently unaware of Loeb’s purchase. Quoting an anonymous source, it said other unnamed billionaires were also “giving up their places on the reserved list.” That part was true. There are regrets to go around.

Though there was no direct contact between Icahn and Loeb, and Icahn says they are friends, their contest over Penthouse 39 at Fifteen Central Park West was a watershed. The clash of the titans was the first indication that 15CPW would become an apartment building like no other, a new colossus both literally and figuratively, a status signifier nonpareil, a towering symbol of its time.

It is a sign of a generational shift in the makeup of the 0.1 percent who dance on the head of the pin of American wealth, evidence of the torch passing from the aging financial lions of the mid-twentieth century to a brash new twenty-first-century crop of cats. It is also a signal of other paradigm shifts, too.

Over the months and years that followed that brief whose-is-bigger contest over that penthouse, it would become clear that 15CPW symbolized upheaval, both in New York real estate and in the upper echelons of international society.

First, the sums spent on apartments show just how much wealthier today’s wealthy have become. The numbers are astonishing.

Second, the range of 15CPW buyers (and renters), Loeb’s neighbors, who hail from all around the globe and are as likely to settle in London or Dubai or Hong Kong as New York, shows the new mobility and spread of great wealth; no longer is it just the product of Western European aristocracy or of American industry.

Third, 15CPW spotlights the new economic sectors that have generated the new new money. Far more of the fortunes at 15CPW come from newly ascendant hedge funds than from traditional commercial, investment, or merchant banks. Many others were forged in emerging markets, and in the information, entertainment, and technology industries. These are not your grandfather’s moguls and entrepreneurs.

Though it was designed consciously to echo the East Side co-ops that, for the most part, still won’t let 15CPW types in, this West Side condo, which ten years ago would have been considered hopelessly déclassé, has redefined what first class is in New York, in America, and in the world.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    A hilarious mix of business knowledge and social comedy. A littl

    A hilarious mix of business knowledge and social comedy. A little slow in the beginning, but it picks up speed.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2014

    An edifying read

    [FTC DISCLOSURE: I won the ARC of this book from GoodReads/First Reads and the publisher and I thank them for it. In no way did this influence my opinions, which are 100% mine]

    This book is really something else. It's a history of (Manhattan) NYC architecture, the ins and outs of family ins and outs and the mind-boggling amount of money per square foot people pay, and are able to pay for a piece of New York.

    Third generation real estate dynamos, Arthur and Bill Zeckendorf and their multi billion dollar development have given those who can afford it a beautiful place to live. This book is an architectural history book of how NYC's West Side was developed, but it also chock-a-block full of name dropping, financial wheelings and dealings and outright gossip from an insider.

    Gross serves up another winner. Well worth the read

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2014

    Just saw Michael Gross interviewed on CNBC. Sounds like a fascinating book.

    S

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2014

    Overall very dull.

    Very slow and boring, finially gave up 50 pages before the end. It felt like reading the newspaper real estate section of sales, trades, loans, and for sale ads over and over and over again.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2014

    Spots of interesting detail interwoven with a whole lot of borin

    Spots of interesting detail interwoven with a whole lot of boring text.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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