The Real Deal New York

Tax foreclosure looms at love nest of illustrious architect Stanford White

June 24, 2009 12:35PM
By Adam Pincus

alternate textArchitect Stanford White (left) had an affair with actress Evelyn Nesbit (right) at 22 West 24th Street

A Flatiron District parcel where one of the early 20th century’s most important architects, Stanford White, had sexual dalliances with a 16-year-old mistress, is facing a tax lien foreclosure.

The owner of the parcel at 22 West 24th Street has not paid real estate taxes in years, and now owes $82,987, a June 12 lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court alleges.

But the banal mechanisms of the court process mask a tumultuous period for the address, beginning with a fire in 2003 that badly burned the building and its owner. Four years later, in 2007, the building collapsed.

But it is a dispute over the title of the land involving the infirm owner, her allegedly mentally challenged son and an outside contractor that has put the valuable parcel, just half a block from Madison Square Park, under threat of foreclosure.

In 1901, White, a famous playboy, began liaisons with actress and model Evelyn Nesbit, who was 16 at the time. White was a partner at the prestigious firm McKim, Meade and White, where he designed iconic New York City structures such as the Washington Square Arch and the New York Herald Building.

White and Nesbit would rendezvous at the four-story building at 22 West 24th Street. They carried on the affair for years, fueling the rage of Nesbit’s husband, millionaire Harry Thaw, who fatally shot White during a musical in the architect’s own creation, Madison Square Garden, in 1906.

Decades later, in 1980, a woman named Juliette Gordon bought the building for an undisclosed sum. She suffered several strokes in 2002, and in 2003 was badly burned in a fire at the building, according to a lawsuit she filed in August 2006, alleging the building had been improperly taken from her.

The suit claimed Gordon, then 72, lost control of the building after a home improvement contractor named Christian Bandler met her mentally ill son, Noah Weinreb, and convinced him that others were trying to take the building away. In June 2004 he convinced Weinreb, who had power of attorney for his mother, to give Bandler an option to buy the property.

In March of 2005, the title was transferred to a new company, 22 West 24th Street LLC, with Gordon and Bandler’s company, Gramercy Management, as the sole members, giving Bandler powers to manage the development or sale of the site, the suit says. The suit says that was when the property tax arrears began.

The suit seeks to void the option agreements and deed transfer.

Bandler said the allegations were baseless in an interview with The Real Deal. He also said that he had not been notified of the foreclosure process, because the papers had been served to the wrong address.

Bandler’s attorney declined to comment, and the attorney for Gordon would not comment because a settlement agreement was pending.

The foreclosure action was brought by a trust, NYCTL 2008-A Trust, that buys New York City tax liens and seeks payment on them. The trust is serviced by Xspand, a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase, which declined to comment.

The intent of the foreclosure was not to own the property, but to force the delinquent owner to pay the taxes due or force a sale, two sources familiar with the situation said. In the case of a forced sale the tax lien, interest and fees would be paid off first, then other liens. The trust does not profit from the sale of the property after recovering the lien, interest and attorneys’ fees, the sources said.

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