The hardcore ‘Penthouse’, yours for $100m

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from the Belfast telegraph 

What kind of customer would have $100m and the same taste as a porn baron? A Russian oligarch seems a good prospect for what is seen as the most lucrative private property deal in Manhattan history.

That is why elite London estate agency Knight Frank has been brought in to help New York agency Corcoran sell the legendary Upper East Side mansion of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione. Knight Frank is considered to be expert in the kind of Russian billionaires who have fuelled mammoth prices at the highest end of the London market, and are beginning to make their presence felt in New York.

The last major property deal in New York was a Fifth Avenue Beaux Arts mansion, bought by Russian oil magnate Tamir Sapir for $40m. But the asking price for the East 67th Street residence is more than double that – $99,999,999, to be precise. "It was a case of throwing in all zeros or all nines," said Leighton Candler of Corcoran. Of the Russians, she added: "Their buying power is astounding. Americans are finding it difficult to match the rouble."

So what will the putative oligarch get for his $100m, with $1 change? The property is actually two townhouses, built in 1879 and knocked together in the 1920s by Jeremiah Milbank, a banker and philanthropist, to create one of the largest private residences in Manhattan. The 26-room, six-storey mansion was bought in 1975 by Mr Guccione, who added features including marble statues to the indoor swimming pool, which has antique Italian chandeliers overhead and Napoleon-era lead statues each side. On the wall he had three Roman images – two were antique bas-reliefs of the emperors Nero and Vespasian, and the third a prop from his X-rated movie Caligula. The porn baron also added the marble staircase up to the ballroom.

"A lot of people have wanted to see it, just out of curiosity," said Lisa Simonsen of Corcoran. "What’s surprising is that it’s actually quite refined," added Ms Candler.

Mr Guccione’s image was that of the original medallion man when he launched Penthouse in Britain in 1965. But when he crossed the Atlantic in the 1970s to confront Playboy magazine on its home turf, he revealed himself as an art collector of some taste. At the height of his wealth in the 1980s, when Fortune magazine estimated he was worth $200m, the walls of his mansion were hung with works by Van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, Chagall, Degas, Modigliani and Picasso.

By the 1990s, however, things were very different. In a crowded market, Mr Guccione decided to make Penthouse "hard-core" in content, a mistake which sent his company, General Media, into decline and eventual bankruptcy. The art went, and eventually the mansion had to go too. "He fought his hardest to keep it," said Ms Candler, but the publisher finally moved out in February after 30 years. He is reported to be in Florida, trying to relaunch his former science title Omni.

Viewings of his abode are now expected around the end of May. "You couldn’t build another house like it with double the money," said Ms Candler. "They come up only once every 50 years, and then that’s it."

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