The Getty: The Littlest High Rise in New York

Courtesy Shvo

Is this really the right time for a six-unit condo that’s the most indulgent, tricked-out venture ever conceived by an outrageous architect and a lavish developer—all on the site of a former gas station? The answer is about to arrive.

Waiting for Marino. Three days going on four. It could be worse. At least I didn’t have to wait for Shvo. Marino is Peter Marino, the 67-year-old architect and designer who revolutionized the high-end fashion industry with his design of retail stores for the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Dior, making them sumptuous, merging art with architecture.

Shvo is 43-year-old Michael Shvo, who came to New York from Israel in 1995 with $3,000 and used the money to buy a yellow cab even though it meant sleeping on the floor and barely eating; became the top-grossing apartment broker at Douglas Elliman; branched out into the marketing of real estate worth billions; retired a multimillionaire in 2008, the day before he turned 36; and is now back with a vengeance as a developer.

The two are working together on The Getty, a 12-story building going up in the center of the art gallery district in New York’s West Chelsea neighborhood. To say that there isn’t another project like it in the city is an understatement. To say that it is unique in the world is not overstatement. To say that the relentlessly demanding personalities of these two men could lead to nuclear meltdown when partnered up is just right.

Shvo has made himself accessible. He has assured me that Marino will appear and they will talk about The Getty together.

I’m not feeling it.

I have made it to Marino’s office in Midtown Manhattan, the 160-employee Peter Marino Architect PLLC, where images of him almost as big as subway billboards are interspersed. I use the men’s room and there he is on the opposite wall with his back to me, pursuing his own business in the gleaming black leathers that have become his imprimatur.

Maybe he is worth the wait....

His body of work over the past 40-odd years, starting with Andy Warhol’s Manhattan townhouse, may make him worth the wait as well. In addition to fashion retail stores (he will have done 50 this year), he also designs remarkable private residences for beyond-rich clients. He has won a slew of architecture awards.

What really makes Marino worth the wait is The Getty, perhaps his greatest challenge as an architect and designer in a career of them and, if you measure by square foot, his most labor-intensive.

Marino and Shvo are undoubtedly a dynamic duo or, depending on your viewpoint, the most difficult duo in the history of New York residential real estate.

“When people say someone is difficult, these are people who don’t have the same appreciation that Peter and I have,” Shvo says. “That’s what makes us different and special.... Peter and I share the fact that if you do something, do it right or don’t do it but don’t do a half-assed job.”

On the surface they could not be more different, Marino’s Black Knight leathers juxtaposed with Shvo’s standard uniform of Tom Ford jacket and Berluti jeans. Shvo’s hair, thick and black and made for ruffling, is to die for. Marino sports a Mohawk. Shvo favors his chauffeur-driven black Rolls-Royce. Marino favors kick-ass motorcycles. If you saw the two of them walking down the sidewalk, the sight of Marino might cause you to run for your life. The sight of Shvo, who is drop-dead handsome, might cause you to ask for either a selfie or his cell.

Different bedfellows when combined generally go in one of two directions, combustion or creative greatness.

The Getty, on the corner of 24th Street and Tenth Avenue and within spitting distance of the enormously popular elevated High Line park, is a project so special it may even impress native Manhattanites. Contrary to the developer’s creed of economy of scale and cookie-cutter layouts, nothing has been compromised when it comes to cost. There are only six apartments in the building, scheduled for completion in 2017. Each of them has a different feel, with prices from roughly $17.5 million for a 3,850-square-foot apartment with a sunken living room to $50 million for the 6,300-square-foot two-floor penthouse with a rooftop pool and an outdoor kitchen. Each of the 166 windowpanes in the building— some as high as 22 feet—is different, designed in Germany, and made in Italy. There are 80 separate finishes of stone and marble from Appalachia, France, Greece, India, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey, and Uganda, some so rare that just obtaining a sample was difficult.

What Marino wants Marino gets, sometimes when he’s not even sure he wants it. For that he has Shvo to thank. “I’ve actually pushed Peter to do every apartment differently,” Shvo says as we wait for Marino at a conference-room table covered with samples of the different finishes and textures. “Pushing Peter as far as we can—that’s never been done before.”

He looks down at his phone:

“Peter’s not here yet. He’s on the way. He’s running behind.”

Tell me something I don’t know.


Architect and designer Peter Marino in his office in Midtown Manhattan; developer Michael Shvo in his Manhattan office. He paid almost $24 million for the Getty gas station. Courtesy Peter Marino; Meredith Jenks

Shvo reportedly left a trail of the disgruntled loathing his style as a broker in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, sharp elbows with retractable razor blades. A New York magazine profile was laced with quotes from those who reviled him. Shvo doesn’t deny that he clawed and climbed, which is probably what you have to do when, by his estimation, $15 billion of real estate sifts through you as a broker and marketer.

“It’s a different phase in your life,” he says. “When you’re younger you have to make noise.” His only goal back then was to retire as a multimil-lionaire at 35 by working 18 to 20 hours a day—he held meetings from midnight to 2 a.m. When he retired, his company, Shvo, went dormant.

For the next several years he bought and sold art. He married Turkish model Seren Ceylan. Their apartment in the Time Warner Center has three Warhols and several François-Xavier Lalanne sculptures and will grow to about 4,100 square feet when combined with the adjoining apartment. They have a young daughter, Emma, who is sweet and adores her father and has the distinction of having gone to Daniel, ranked among the top 100 restaurants in the world, when she was five days old.

He was done with real estate until the Getty gas station in Chelsea came up for sale in 2013. He had to have it because of its location. He partnered with developer Ran Korolik of the Victor Group and paid $23.5 million, the highest purchase price per square foot in the history of Chelsea real estate. Now he is full bore in the development business, with $4 billion in projects under the purview of his firm and several other partners. They include converting the office floors of the Crown building at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue into residences and an Aman hotel, and an 88-story residential building at 125 Greenwich Street designed by Rafael Viñoly that is under construction. One of his ideas for the Crown: Take the massive crown design at the top and turn it into the most lavish penthouse in the world, or at least one worthy of Bruce Wayne.

His personal style is no-nonsense, with sentences that are as crisp as his blue jeans on the phone and in person; just when you think he is finished, he keeps on going. His only outlets are operas and classical concerts at Carnegie Hall and playing the piano. When he isn’t sleeping he is working, coming up with so many ideas that his wife records video of him so they will not be forgotten. He occasionally smiles, but outright laughter is a wasteful distraction. He is very sober and very serious but also wry.

“Where does your confidence come from?”

“If I had a shrink I would tell him, and I don’t.”

“Well, act like I’m your shrink.”

“Can I lie down?”

Shvo’s trademark hubris may have gone down several notches in September of this year after he was indicted on felony charges of criminal tax fraud. According to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Shvo evaded more than $1 million in local, state, and corporate taxes on the purchases of fine art, furniture, jewelry, and a Ferrari 458 Spider. He has pleaded not guilty in Manhattan state court. A spokesman for Shvo says, “He has not committed any crime nor did he act with any criminal intent whatsoever.”

The door to the conference room opens. Marino is in the house. He is smaller than I thought he would be. He sits down at the head of the table, looks at my hands, and says, “So we’re doing the ring-off.”

Like Marino I fancy skull rings on my fingers; his are bigger and more elaborate. I am also a leather fetishist so I love that Marino is wearing head-to-toe leathers in July. Whatever his reputation in the workplace—he seems invented for the New York Post’s Page Six—he is affable, with a boomerang laugh. “My attention span has gotten a little bit better and my patience has gotten a little bit better throughout the last 10 to 15 years,” he says.

We move on to motorcycles, since we both own them. His current favorite is a $17,400 KTM 1290 Super Duke R, which he rides from his Manhattan apartment above the Mr Chow restaurant on East 57th Street to his house in Southampton at speeds he refuses to reveal. Like architecture, where the genius is in taking contradiction and celebrating it and crafting it into a whole, Marino has done the same in his own life:

Part of a fifth-generation Italian immigrant family with roots under the Second Avenue El in New York and now the design darling of such industry captains as fashion magnate Bernard Arnault and diamond kingpin Laurence Graff; a manner of speaking in which his native Queens accent can morph into highbrow European in a single sentence; a motorcycle hellboy with a degree from Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning who plays tennis every weekend; a very Episcopalian wife who answers his leather with a string of pearls and a white silk blouse; a 25-year-old daughter who has rejected architecture for the real estate brokerage business.

Marino is aware of the assumptions made about him because of the way he dresses. “A lot of people get freaked out,” he says. “Fifteen years ago when I started going full-on motorcycle leather it attracted a lot of attention. The other side of the sword is you get a lot of really negative reactions.” It has gotten better over time, but he still remembers being escorted out of a private dinner party by security guards.

I am looking for spirals of heat to rise between the men. Instead I am getting a lovefest.

“He’s not a regular developer type,” says Marino of Shvo. “He’s more of a thinker. He has a million new ideas.” He addresses Shvo directly: “If you weren’t doing what you were doing, you would be the star of Mad Men and have your own agency. Because that’s how you think.”

“There’s not one person I have ever met, and trust me I have worked with everybody, who has a better visual understanding than Peter,” says Shvo of Marino. “Peter has a very different way of seeing things.

“Why Peter? Peter was the only architect. It was Peter or nobody else. Because there’s nobody else who embodies the intersection of art, architecture, and—call it fashion.”

There has been no friction. But that does not make The Getty an easy project. Says Marino: “I said to people it sounded so great. The developer said each apartment will be different. It sounds so Peter Marino. It’s a fabulous idea instead of cookie-cutters....but then I went, That’s like ten times the work. Very labor-intensive. You can’t do the same floor plan and say, ‘Please build ten of them.’”

The day before, I took a tour of the site with Shvo, Korolik, and construction project manager Patrick Lees from Lendlease. The company has done the Time Warner Center and 432 Park Avenue, among others, but The Getty is in its own way more challenging. “It is a way of building that is not like anything in how we build a typical commercial building,” Lees told me. “It is probably the smallest building we’ve done and the most dollars per square foot we’ve ever done.”
The Getty is still in the scaffolding stage and the concrete is just being poured. But the individuality of each apartment is apparent, not to mention views that extend to the Statue of Liberty on one side and the High Line on the other.

Originally there were going to be eight apartments. But two tenants have signed on that make the intersection of architecture and art even more intertwined. Lehmann Maupin will house a gallery on the first two floors. Blackstone Group vice chairman J. Tomilson Hill, who has an extensive private art collection, is placing his art foundation on the third and fourth floors. So now it’s the six apartments and two gallery spaces. Each of them a Peter Marino. What more do you need for buyers? A market.

An article in the New York Times in July said the market for high-end residences in New York has considerably cooled, with sales of $10 million or more 18 percent lower the first half of the year. But the one area still apparently booming is near the High Line, where prices per square foot have in some cases tripled.

Shvo says he is not worried. Real estate is about creating desire, and desire is timeless. “You pay more to own the best properties,” he says, “and you invest more to build the best properties, and you will get more because there is a buyer out there who wants the best.”

Marino looks at his watch. It’s time to go. He is flying to Paris tomorrow to see clients in the fashion business. Shvo will go back to his office and not get home until 11:30 p.m.

He hands Shvo a little box before he leaves. Inside the box is a cookie with a perfect likeness of Marino in his leathers. It means that Shvo can eat Marino in several bites.

And on that note...

 

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