The Real Deal New York

Spike Lee’s former office building for sale

Also on the market: The UES townhouse belonging to Bellmarc co-founder Neil Binder

February 14, 2011 11:01PM
By Candace Taylor

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Two photos on left are of 250 East 68th Street, other two property shots are 124 DeKalb Avenue in Fort Greene, and Spike Lee

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A former firehouse at 124 DeKalb Avenue in Fort Greene housed Spike Lee’s production company for years — until a dispute with the landlord got in the way.

Now that Lee’s Forty Acres & a Mule Filmworks has relocated around the corner, fans of the famous filmmaker can purchase the DeKalb Avenue building for a cool $3.9 million.

The 5,775-square-foot structure, built as a firehouse in the 1920s, hit the market last week with the Corcoran Group’s Abdul Muid. Currently laid out as a two-family residence with a two-car garage, the listing has been on and off the market since 2008, when it was listed for $5.9 million with Citi Habitats’ Scott Kriger.

Lee used 124 DeKalb for production from 1985 to 2008, according to the building’s owner, real estate developer Jose Graniela, who said he asked Lee to move out that year after a payment dispute.

Graniela said he had to press the filmmaker to “make good on his commitments.”

Lee eventually paid what was owed, Graniela said, but he asked him to leave anyway.

“It’s just a matter of principle,” he said.

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124 Dekalb Avenue

The production company is now located at 75 South Elliot Place.
Lee’s version of events is slightly different.

“Despite what Jose says, the truth is this– there [were] no unpaid rents,” Lee said in an e-mail to The Real Deal. “I got smart and moved 40 Acres around the corner to a building which I had already owned for years. Why continue to pay increased rents?”

He added: “We all here at 40 Acres have moved on and we’re not dwelling on the past. Keep it moving.”

The relationship didn’t start out with such rancor. Lee, who spent much of his childhood in Brooklyn, began renting space at 124 DeKalb Avenue before his breakthrough hit, the comedy “She’s Gotta Have It.” As the filmmaker became more successful, he rented more space in the building until he occupied the whole thing, Graniela said. Films produced there included “Inside Man,” “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X.”

In a funny bit of irony, as a teenager in Fort Greene, Muid worked for Lee, selling T-shirts for 40 Acres films.
“Before he had his retail store, [Lee] would sell T-shirts in front of the movie theater on opening weekends,” said Muid. “We would meet at 124 DeKalb, get bags full of T-shirts, and head to different movie theaters.”

Muid remembers selling shirts for “Do the Right Thing,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” “Jungle Fever,” “Malcolm X” and “Clockers.”
At the time, the lobby of 124 DeKalb was festooned with movie posters autographed by the likes of Steven Spielberg, he recalled.

Muid said his long history with the building helped persuade Graniela to give him the listing.

The firehouse, once home to Engine Company 256, sat vacant after it was decommissioned in the 1970s, Graniela said. When he took possession, junkies in the neighborhood had stolen all the brass from the building, including the fire poles. He said the building had also been used as a fallout shelter, so the basement was full of C-Rations — canisters of food intended for emergencies. Graniela purchased the building at auction in 1981 for $115,000.

Graniela lived there for several years before renting it to Lee, who purchased the building in 1990, but later sold it back to Graniela.

When 40 Acres moved out, Graniela renovated the building, turning Lee’s second-floor editing room into a kitchen and adding new boilers and windows.

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Neil Binder, co-founder of Manhattan real estate brokerage Bellmarc, has placed his newly constructed five-story glass and stucco townhouse on the market for $9.5 million.
The 17-foot-wide house, located at 250 East 68th Street between Second and Third avenues, is listed with Lisa Strobing, an executive vice president at Bellmarc.
Binder and his wife Nina purchased a townhouse on the site for $3.7 million in 2005, according to Streeteasy.com, but realized it “had challenges that wouldn’t work for us,” he said. They decided to demolish the house and rebuild from the ground up.

Binder said his wife, founder of Nina Scerbo Design, worked hard on the decor of the nine-room elevator townhouse. Custom-designed rugs were shipped from Nepal. The dining room has white crystal marble floors and a wall of iridescent mother-of-pearl that required special permission from the U.S. Department of the Interior to be imported from Vietnam, Binder said.

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250 East 68th Street

The house also has a marble floating staircase that Binder said is the only one in a residence in New York, adding that an engineer who specializes in bridges was brought in to arrange the specifications.

The aluminum Bulthaup kitchen features crystal marble counters and Miehle and Sub-Zero appliances. In the garden, there’s a full outdoor kitchen with a gas grill, refrigerator and a sink with hot and cold water, Binder said.

The master bathroom and colorful teal-and-white kids’ bathroom upstairs incorporate Bisazza glass mosaic tiles.
Now that their kids are heading to college, however, “I don’t need 5,500 square feet for just my wife and I,” Binder said.

Newly constructed townhouses are “very unusual,” in Manhattan, Strobing said. “This is like walking into the Museum of Modern Art.”



Have a tip? Contact Candace Taylor at ct@therealdeal.com.

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