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London-Based Businessman Pays $50 Million Cash for Gilded Age Mansion in New York


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One of New York City’s Gilded Age mansions has sold for the first time in 76 years in a $50 million, all-cash deal, said listing agent Tristan Harper of

Douglas Elliman.


The Beaux-Arts mansion—once owned by a member of the Vanderbilt family and more recently occupied by the Permanent Mission of Serbia to the United Nations—was listed for $50 million, and had been on and off the market for years. The sellers are a group of five European countries that inherited the property after the fall of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, records show. 

The Fifth Avenue building has a copper mansard roof.


Scott Wintrow/Douglas Elliman Realty

Mr. Harper said the buyer is a London-based businessman who plans to use it as a pied-à-terre. “The buyer never stepped foot in the building, everything was done through his representatives,” he said. 

The buyer was represented by Nikki Field of Sotheby’s International Realty, who declined to identify her client. 

Mr. Harper said the sale was an exercise in international diplomacy, requiring the cooperation of multiple European countries who were sometimes at odds politically. 

Located on Fifth Avenue, the mansion spans about 20,000 square feet, according to the listing. Designed around 1905 by Warren & Wetmore, the architecture firm behind Grand Central Terminal, the house was later purchased by Emily Vanderbilt White, a granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, according to documents filed with New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. Her estate sold it to the Yugoslavian government in 1946. 

After Yugoslavia dissolved during the 1990s, the mansion was inherited by five successor states—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia—who agreed to distribute Yugoslavia’s assets under an agreement signed in the early aughts, according to U.N. documents. The group also sold a co-op at 730 Park Avenue for more than $12 million in 2018, records show. “While being a communist, Tito had very good taste in real estate,” Mr. Harper said of former Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito. 

Mr. Harper said the Fifth Avenue mansion, which has a copper mansard roof, is a “crown jewel” of the former Yugoslavian portfolio. 

The entry hall, with 34-foot-high ceilings, has a bronze-framed skylight and grand staircase. The living room, directly facing Central Park, is about 28 feet by 28 feet with a soaring coffered ceiling. A room on the first floor is covered in hand-painted gold leaf. 

Josip Broz Tito.



The mansion was first listed for $50 million in 2017, and Mr. Harper said he immediately got two full-price offers. “That Sunday morning, I received two calls on my cell from two billionaires from the Forbes list,” he said. “Then we got stuck in bureaucracy.”

Under terms of the U.N. agreement, all of the countries had to agree on the sale. They also insisted on being in the same room for document signings, Mr. Harper said. Negotiations dragged on for nine weeks as lawmakers held government sessions to consider their options. Meanwhile, the offers dissipated. 

The mansion was on and off the market for the next several years. It was taken off the market after an electrical fire broke out on the third floor in 2018, and the owners needed to repair the damage. In 2020, Mr. Harper said, there were several months of no showings because of the pandemic. 

He personally made four trips to Europe over the years to meet with government officials. At one point, he said he brought them an offer in the mid-$40 million range, which they rejected. “The committee just said, ‘Our taxpayers know the price and they expect the full price,’” Mr. Harper recalled. 

A Gilded Age Mansion in New York

The house has ornate details throughout, including a bronze-framed skylight in the entry. Scott Wintrow/Douglas Elliman Realty (3)

In June 2021, Mr. Harper said the sellers received an all-cash offer to buy the mansion for $50 million. This time the countries came to a consensus, he said. “It has been 20-plus years since the end of the war,” he said. “They wanted this to happen.” The terms of U.N. agreement give each country a different ownership stake. Slovenia, for example, holds a 14% ownership stake and is set to net $7 million in the deal, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a March statement. 

The building, largely untouched for decades, has no central air and the gas was shut off after the 2018 electrical fire. There are bulletproof windows in the living room facing Central Park, he said, and over time they have become opaque. There is a 1980s-era Faraday cage, or metal container that blocks electromagnetic signals, which diplomats used to make private phone calls during the Cold War. “It will take three to five years and at least $20 million to renovate the building,” Mr. Harper said. 

Ms. Field said her client, who has a portfolio of real estate around the world, will work with restorationists and period architects to bring the Fifth Avenue home back to its former glory.

Despite recent softness in the luxury market, Ms. Field said ultraluxury buyers aren’t spooked. “Nothing gets in the way of people collecting the finest real estate on the planet,” she said. “They will pay what they need to pay in order to secure it.”

Write to E.B. Solomont at [email protected]

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