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September 2015

Season of Celebrities

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julySarah Jessica Parker. Paul McCartney. Joan Rivers. Donald Trump.
In the last several weeks, I got to write about all these celebrities, along with a few other boldface names from various industries and professions, in the Big Ticket column, which appears weekly in The New York Times real estate section.

As the column name suggests, Big Ticket looks at the most expensive closed sale or sales in any given week in New York City – based on deeds and other transactions filed with the city – and, of course, the people with enough money and/or connections to buy and sell these properties.

The vast majority of Big Ticket players shield their identities via a limited liability company or trust. (And who can blame them, really.) A few will have their names listed – in some cases because the co-ops they’re buying into make them. I’ve managed to “out” some of the buyers and sellers with a little bit of detective work.

Paul McCartney was among the first of the superstars to appear in my column since I took it over last December. Around Memorial Day he and his new-ish wife, Nancy Shevell, paid $15.5 million for a 10-room duplex penthouse in a quirky bronze-glass prewar co-op building on Fifth Avenue, with views of Central Park. A photo slideshow gave readers a look inside. The former Beatle paid the full asking price, which is untouchable for most of us mere mortals, yet minuscule in comparison with the astronomical closing prices being recorded in Manhattan these days – as in the record $100.4 million duplex penthouse sale at the vitreous skyscraper One57, a.k.a. Billionaires’ Row.

But $15.5 million constituted a record for Brooklyn. Less than a month after Sir Paul purchased his co-op unit, the renowned American photographer Jay Maisel paid $15.5 million for an enormous brick townhouse in Cobble Hill. Meisel, it seems, was flush with cash, having just sold his previous home and studio — the gritty six-story, 38,000-square-foot former Germania Bank building at 190 Bowery in Manhattan — to Aby J. Rosen’s RFR Holding for $55 million.

The biggest Big Ticket hoopla came with the $18.25 million sale of Sarah Jessica Parker‘s 25-foot-wide Greek Revival-style townhouse in Greenwich Village. In fact, this sale, which included a slideshow that even provided a peek at the “Sex and the City” star’s walk-in closet, was the most viewed story in July in the real estate section of The Times.

The second most viewed real estate story over all in July was the $28 million sale of Joan Rivers‘s palatial triplex on the Upper East Side. She had lived in the apartment off Fifth Avenue, which included an adjoining unit for her daughter, Melissa Rivers and her grandson, Edgar Cooper Endicott, for more than a quarter of a century until her death in 2014. The slideshow photos showed the lavishly decorated home, which Ms. Rivers once jokingly described as “Louis XIV meets Fred and Ginger.” The buyer was Middle Eastern royalty.

Meanwhile, Ms. Rivers’s close friend Donald J. Trump, the real estate developer and presidential hopeful, sold one of the two penthouses he owned at the Trump Park Avenue to the founder of the Fresh Market supermarket chain in August for $21.38 million. Trump never lived there — just held it as an investment.

Other sales of note in this season of celebrities: The architect César Pelli, whose vast portfolio of designs includes some of the world’s tallest buildings, bought a lower-floor co-op apartment at the San Remo for $17.5 million. Jeff T. Blau, the chief executive of the Related Companies, one of the city’s largest private developers, sold the co-op he owned in an exclusive Rosario Candela-designed apartment house on Fifth Avenue for $30 million. And Chris Hughes, one of the five founders of Facebook and a roommate of Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard, bought a four-story Greenwich Village townhouse with a separate studio in the rear  for $22.3 million.

After a busy spring and summer, I wonder what the rest of the year will bring.