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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis Manhattan mansion on the market for $33 million

Published: November 13, 2014
Section: Front Page, News

In mid-October, Brandeis announced plans to close its Vanderbilt Mansion, previously used as an alumni center, located on East 77th Street off Fifth Avenue in New York City. The university has decided to put “Brandeis House” on the market for $33 million, a figure reflective of the increasing prices in the Manhattan real estate market.

James W. Gray, vice president for operations at Brandeis, said they decided to put Brandeis House on the market because the alumni population has “outgrown the facility.” There are more than 11,000 alumni in the greater New York City area. Yet the building’s size is also not the only limitation.

“We heard from some alumni who said its location wasn’t convenient and that they preferred events to happen in Midtown,” Gray wrote in an email to The Brandeis Hoot. “The building also had accessibility issues, which made it difficult for those who have mobility challenges.”

He acknowledged that not all alumni were originally satisfied with the decision, but that “when people heard our reasons for putting the building on the market, they understood why that decision made sense.”

Gray mentioned that over the years, Brandeis House has hosted a wide variety of events ranging from discussions with prominent faculty and alumni, affinity group get-togethers, networking gatherings, wine and food tastings and holiday parties. He notes that moving events out of the Upper East Side will provide an opportunity to expand alumni programs and services at more convenient locations in Manhattan. For example, earlier this month, the Alumni Association hosted an event with Senator Joe Lieberman at the Time Warner Center, located at Columbus Circle, an event that attracted more than 225 alumni. It was the opening event for a new initiative, established by the Richman Family Foundation and the family of Michael Saivetz ’97 and Aliza Saivetz Glasser ’01, created to expand programming for Brandeis alumni who have graduated since 1994.

Gray announced in his email to The Hoot that there are no plans to purchase another building in New York. University President Fred Lawrence wrote in a separate email to Brandeis alumni that “the proceeds of the sale…will be placed in the University’s endowment to support current and future generations of Brandeis students.” The endowment for Brandeis was reported to be $766.2 million in 2013.

Brandeis House is described as “ornate” and includes “a facade of limestone blocks on the lower floors and yellow brick above with an entrance portico supported by limestone pillars,” according to a Wall Street Journal article. It was built by architect Richard W. Buckley and his partner Robert McCafferty, and it was completed in 1896. It was purchased by Reginald Vanderbilt in 1916, a millionaire sportsman who owned stables for racing horses. Manhattan’s Landmarks Preservation Commission described Vanderbilt as a “noted horseman” and identified the architecture style of the home as neo-Renaissance. Vanderbilt’s great-grandfather, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, was the creator of the family fortune.

John Burger, a broker at Brown Harris Stevens, a luxury residential real estate firm with offices in Manhattan, said in an Oct. 7 Wall Street Journal article that he expected a strong interest from buyers who are “seeking a single-family residence, which is what the house was built for.”

He also identified residential streets just off Fifth Avenue and Central Park, better known as “the park blocks,” as holding some of the city’s highest prices for townhouses. The home is 25-feet-wide and is five stories tall, including “original wood paneling, fireplaces, decorative plaster and a curved wooden staircase.” Burger believes that families would want to see extensive adjustments made to the house before purchasing it as a single-family home.

The house was sold two years after Vanderbilt’s death to a real-estate executive and then to an insurance firm. In 1934, the house was purchased by Nate B. Spingold, a former top executive at Columbia Pictures. Spingold’s widow donated the house to Brandeis in 1960, and in 1970, it was renovated into an alumni center with additional administrative and office space.

Brandeis is one of many other not-for-profit organizations and universities that have decided to sell the Manhattan mansions they had owned for many decades. This “trend” has heightened in the city’s residential-property market since the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.