Ask any New Yorker about the city’s most impressive real estate and you’ll get a typical list: Park Avenue co-ops, West Village brownstones, glassy condos with 360-degree views. Few Gothamites, however, are likely to include castles in that lineup — lavish residences more at home in Europe than NYC.
As unlikely as it seems, New York is home to more than a few properties more suitable (architecturally, at least) for a medieval village than a modern metropolis.
Mostly congregated in the outer boroughs, New York’s castles feature incredible histories and impressive interiors. But it’s a type of stately property that won’t appeal to just any New York buyer.
And for that reason, the grand trophy homes currently on the market often struggle to sell for prices that would easily turn a standard Manhattan listing into a speedy sale.
Charter school founder Alec Diacou first stumbled upon his Riverdale castle, at 4720 Grosvenor Ave. in The Bronx, in 2004.
The grand stone structure, constructed in 1926 in the French Provincial style, was built on a hill and includes its own turret.
Diacou, who has a talent for renovating old homes, spent more than two years updating it for modern use — a challenge given the 30-inch walls and relative lack of windows.
“It’s a real castle made of real materials,” he says. “These things are built to last.”
He added a modern kitchen and a “monstrous” master suite, while also restoring historic details like tall oak garage doors with forged ironwork, leaded glass windows, wood-beamed ceilings and stone fireplaces.
“Boys like pirate ships and castles,” says Diacou of the home’s appeal. “I wanted a castle.” (He was quick to add that his wife, Suzi Arensberg, loves the castle, too.)
Other castle owners are similarly passionate. “I’m supposed to be in this house,” says Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, resident Hanna Binder, who lives in a turreted stone castle along neighborhood thoroughfare Greenway North. “You have to be detail-oriented, you have to love it. … It’s a lot of work to live in,” she says.
Binder thinks she is only the fifth or sixth owner since the home was built in 1933 for a prominent financier. Most of the elaborate details have remained intact, including carved woodwork, original parquet floors and six working fireplaces.
Forest Hills Gardens and Riverdale are upscale, suburban-style neighborhoods, each home to a smattering of castles.
The latter — which probably houses the most city castles — “was designed for people who wanted vast estates,” says Tom Casey of the Kingsbridge Historical Society.
Wealthy industrialists were attracted to the area north of Manhattan between the 1840s and 1890s, according to Casey, and several built castles in Gothic and Mediterranean styles.
For one, Fonthill Castle — now an administrative building for the College of Mount St. Vincent — was built in 1852 for famous actor Edwin Forrest, who wanted to impress his wife with a home inspired by an English estate. (They divorced before construction wrapped.)
Then there’s Stonehurst Mansion, which was built at 5225 Sycamore Ave. in 1861 for Robert Colgate, an heir to the Colgate fortune. “It feels like a Scottish castle,” Casey says. “The setting makes you wonder, ‘Where am I?’ ”
‘The setting makes you wonder, “Where am I?”’
- Historian Tom Casey
In Forest Hills Gardens, Donna Schwab is a longtime resident and photographer who works at brokerage firm Terrace Sotheby’s International Realty. Schwab estimates there are six castle-like homes in the neighborhood that sport turrets and sprawling gardens. When touring the homes, she says, “there are those incredible details that make you fall in love,” like carved woodwork, friezes and stained glass. She also notes the homes “are like bomb shelters” with walls 12 to 18 inches thick.
Castles in Forest Hills Gardens can sell for up to $6 million, according to Schwab. Take 140 Greenway North, with its handsome interiors and grounds, on the market for $4.48 million. But sometimes it can be hard to convince buyers to spend that kind of money on such a unique property far from Manhattan. As Schwab puts it, “Buyers don’t really come in looking for a castle.”
If they did, area listings include a “Norman-style mansion” at 4941 Arlington Ave., in Riverdale, which has spent years on the market priced between $12.7 million and $8.6 million. Less costly is a Tudor-style castle at 4645 Delafield Ave., also in Riverdale, which has similarly shuttled on and off the market for years — and seen its price get chopped from $4.75 million down to $3.75 million.
The grandest of them all, though, is without a doubt 170 Shonnard Terrace in Yonkers. Decorated in a 16th- to 18th-century European style and frequently used for film and photo shoots, the jaw-dropping six-bedroom manse has an octagonal ballroom, hand-carved panels, a wine cellar and a “lushly upholstered” library. On the market since 2011, it is now asking $3.95 million via brokerage Douglas Elliman.
Diacou has been trying to sell his castle for a profit after finishing the renovation, but has seen little luck. It’s currently listed for $3.5 million by Stribling’s Peter Browne. “We’ve had well-known celebrities look at the property,” Browne says. “[But the buyer] has to be the right person.”
Browne notes that castle-like homes in Forest Hills Gardens “get more play” and isn’t sure why Riverdale hasn’t taken off yet. “It doesn’t have the hype,” he says. “The lifestyle here is conservative and quiet. … There’s little self-promotion.”
Still, Riverdale has actually seen a recent crop of castles. Not far from Diacou’s 4720 Grosvenor is Villanova Heights. Developer John Fitzgerald is working overtime to fill a 16-acre lot with 15 new-development mansions, some with chateau-esque design elements.
One of the first homes completed was a red-brick, turreted structure at 5041 Goodridge Ave. “These are classic American designs,” Fitzgerald says. “Nobody is building like that anymore.”
The palatial properties hit the market for around $8.5 million in 2008, right before the financial crash, and never got traction with buyers. “Nothing has sold in Fieldston for more than $5 million,” Fitzgerald says of the project’s neighborhood within Riverdale.
He eventually had success renting out the homes instead, for between $17,500 and $25,000 a month. All 10 complete homes are leased, he says, and the 11th is currently under construction.
They will be offered for sale once all 15 are built, Fitzgerald adds, within the next three to four years.
In Manhattan, castles are relatively rare, but one prime example exists on the Upper West Side. Opened in 1887 as the New York Cancer Hospital, 455 Central Park West is an imposing castle with five eye-catching turrets designed to house patients. Back then, it seems, architects thought corners collected germs.
The landmark at 105th Street was converted to luxury condos in 2005, with a 25-story tower added behind it.
Corcoran broker Deanna Kory has sold seven apartments in the castle portion of the development and is currently marketing a $7.39 million, 4,200-square-foot unit on its first floor.
The apartment’s living room and master bedroom are located within two of the building’s turrets. The owner, who bought it in 2006 but declined to give her name, says she adores the unusual layout. “The rounded rooms allow you to design creative spaces,” she says.
Perhaps location really is everything. “We don’t have too much trouble selling units here,” Kory says. “There’s just nothing else that compares. … Buyers fall in love.”
Also in Forest Hills, 70 Greenway South is on the market for $3.85 million. (It's got a nice turret.)
Outside 70 Greenway South
The bedroom at 70 Greenway South
Thursday, September 15, 2016