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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

READ THIS: 740 PARK By Michael Gross

For anyone outside of Manhattan, you must read this to understand the microcosm of American culture that has arguably the strongest concentration of power possible, and also to understand just how different life in Manhattan is.  It is a bit like we should culturally secede from the rest of the state/country and maybe the other four boroughs as well, because there is a separate kind of community that exists here with its own code of rules.  Why would you want to understand it?  Because eventually, the decisions that are made by the people that live here will affect you.

For anyone inside of Manhattan, you will understand exactly what is going on here.

Throughout American history, there have been stories of ambition and achievement of the American dream, and oftentimes these are characterized and result in great buildings.  Think of Gatsby and his estate with the green light at the end of the dock.  The most common of course would be The White House, and the general public may think of Beverly Hills as the stereotypical success community, but in doing so overlook the titans of American business in favor of the "rich and famous."  Although we do applaud talent, we prefer to applaud smart.   

At Whom You Know, we support intelligent businessPEOPLE.  (not men, people.)  Some of the most influential in business, politics, culture and nearly every component of American culture have been concentrated in 740 Park.  This book details all of them!  It is fascinating and we read the 500 plus pages cover to cover.  Do not let the number of pages scare you.  

The apartments at 740 Park are what dreams are made of, we understand, as we have not actually seen them.  Conceived in 1929 as the most expensive, most exclusive apartment building in the world, it was built by the Irishman James Lee, who is of course most famous as the grandfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who lived here as a child.    In 1927, The New Republic stated: "There are no more worlds to conquer.  If America has a heaven, this is it."

Designed by Rosario Candela, 740 Park was one of his works that were actually built.   Candela designed 26 apartment buildings in 1929, and more than half were never built.  If you know Wall Street or if you even know American history, you know why.  Rockefeller went on to build Rockefeller Center in the wake of this crisis, financing it himself, recouping less than half of his investment and not seeing income from the venture in his lifetime.  And yes, he lived at 740 Park too.  Time called it the Most Notable Lease of the Year in 1936.

740 is filled with character after character that will astound and delight you, and Peggy Bancroft is perhaps our favorite.  We got a tremendous kick out of her, and if you read 740 you will see why.  Lilly Pulitzer is quoted as saying, "She died coming home from a party...Whoopee!  We all thought that was the way to go."  From Bancroft to Saul Steinberg, the kid [who wasn't playing kickball on the street ever because he was reading books], whatever your inclination there is someone in this diverse building of characters that you will take a liking to.  Peachy was also the kid reading books.  We liked them all!

Whom You Know highly recommends 740 Park!


740 PARK
The Story of the World’s
Richest Apartment Building
By Michael Gross

In the tradition of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, Stephen Birmingham’s Our Crowd, Dominick Dunne’s People Like Us and Jennet Conant’s Tuxedo Park740 PARK: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building (Broadway Books; October 18, 2005; $26.95; 0-385-51209-0; 531 pages) is a riveting look inside the sprawling apartments, illustrious lives and high society secrets of New York’s most exclusive residential building.  New York Times bestselling author Michael Gross gives us the epic story of the last of the great apartment houses to rise on Manhattan’s Gold Coast. Part expose, part social history, it offers a penetrating look at not only its bold-faced residents (Bouviers, Rockefellers, Chryslers, Spyros Niarchos, Steven J. Ross, Ronald O. Perelman, and Henry Kravis among them) but also –its building and, --its staff, --as well as a rollicking ride through the history of American wealth.

For 75 years, 740 PARK has been Manhattan’s richest apartment building, and one of the most lusted-after addresses in the world. One apartment had 37 rooms, 14 bathrooms, 43 closets, 11 working fireplaces, a private elevator and his-and-hers saunas, another had a live-in service staff of 16.  To this day, it is steeped in the purest luxury, the kind most of us could only imagine, until now.  

The last great building to go up along New York’s Gold Coast, construction on 740 Park finished in 1930.  Since then, 740 has been home to an ever-evolving cadre to some of our wealthiest and most powerful families, some of America’s (and the world’s) oldest money – the kind attached to names like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Chrysler, and Marshall Field – and some whose names evoke the excesses of today’s monied elite: Kravis, Koch, Bronfman, Perelman, Steinberg, and Schwarzman. All along, the building has housed titans of industry, political power brokers, international royalty, fabulous scam-artists and even the lowest scoundrels. 

740 PARK begins with the tumultuous story of the building’s construction.  Conceived in the bubbling financial and social cauldron of 1920’s Manhattan, 740 Park Avenue rose to its dizzying heights as the stock market plunged in 1929—the building was in dire financial straits before the first apartments were sold. The builders include the architect Rosario Candela, the social-climbing developer James T. Lee (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ grandfather), and a raft of financiers, many of whom were little more than white-collar crooks and grand-scale hustlers.  Once finished, 740 became a magnet for the richest, oldest families in the country: the Brewsters, descendents of the leader of the Plymouth Colony; the socially-registered Bordens, Hoppins, Scovilles, Thornes and Schermerhorns; and top executives of the Chase Bank, American Express, and U.S. Rubber. Outside the walls of 740 Park these were the people shaping (and raping) Depression America. Within those walls, they were indulging in all of the Seven Deadly Sins.

As the social climate evolved throughout the last century, so did 740 Park Avenue: after World War II, the building’s rulers eased their more restrictive policies and began allowing Jews (though not to this day African-Americans) to reside within their hallowed walls. Nowadays, it is bursting with people whose fortunes, though freshly-made, are large enough to buy their way in. At its core 740 PARK is a social history of the American rich, and how the locus of power and influence has shifted haltingly from old bloodlines to new money. But it’s also much more than that: filled with meaty, startling, often tragic stories of the people who live behind 740’s walls, the book gives us an unprecedented access to worlds of wealth, privilege and influence. This is, truly, how the other half – or at least the other one hundredth of one percent – lives. Some of the startling facts include the sale of John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s apartment for nearly $30 million and the story of how the Chrysler Building came to be sold by the automaker’s children because a Chrysler was foiled in her attempt to rent an apartment at 740 Park.

740 PARK is a “whose who” of  heirs, owners and executives of such billboard-sized brands as Standard Oil, Gulf Oil, Seagram, Campbell Soup, Chrysler, Saks Fifth Avenue, Friendly’s Ice Cream, Avon Products, Anaconda Copper, the New York Central, Bonita Banana, Pullman, Milliken, Look Magazine and currently, Time-Warner, Estee Lauder, TV Guide, Blackstone Group, United Technologies, and Loew’s. But most of all it is a rich social history of, and a glimpse into a monied world – past and present, that most of us can only dream about.

About the Author:
Provocative cultural journalist and New York Times best-selling author Michael Gross is a Contributing Editor at Travel & Leisure and a Contributing Writer at Radar. He has previously held positions at The New York TimesNew York MagazineGeorge, and Esquire.  His writing has also appeared in Vanity FairInterviewDetailsElleArchitectural DigestAmerican PhotoTown & CountryCosmopolitan, the Washington Post, theInternational Herald Tribune, the Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Chicago Tribune.  He has profiled subjects from John F. Kennedy, Jr. to Greta Garbo, Richard Gere and Ivana Trump, and he has written on subjects such as divorce, plastic surgery, Greenwich Village, and sex in the 90's.  He is the author of The New York Times best-selling Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women (1995), which was published in 8 countries; My Generation (2000), a biography of the Baby Boom generation, and Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren (2003).  He lives in New York City.

740 PARK
The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building
By Michael Gross
Published by Broadway Books
The Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group
October 18, 2005/Hardcover
$26.95; 531 pages; ISBN: 0-385-51209-0

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