The Real Deal New York

Famed gallery photog to list rare Soho artists loft for $5.75 million

May 15, 2012 05:30PM
By Katherine Clarke

From left: Listing broker Kirk Rundhaug, the exterior of 12 Wooster Street and the interior of the apartment and studio

D. James Dee, a Soho photographer famed for his work photographing art for high-profile galleries like Gagosian, Mary Boone and for private collectors like David Rockefeller, has plans to list his 6,000-square-foot Soho home and photography studio for sale for $5.75 million, he told The Real Deal today.

Dee’s 2,000-square-foot, second-floor apartment at 12 Wooster Street will hit the market later this week, listing broker Kirk Rundhaug of Prudential Douglas Elliman said, and comes with a leasehold on a ground-floor basement space currently configured as an editing room and several dark rooms for Dee’s work; the lease is valid through 2032. The for-lease space, which is comprised of 2,500-square-feet on the ground floor and 2,000-square-feet on the basement level, currently rents for $2,045 a month but could be sub-leased to a tenant willing to pay much more, Rundhaug said.

Dee, who bought the building in 1981, is only the second person to have owned the property since it was built in 1884. He planned to purchase it with a group of friends who later backed out once he had submitted the down payment. His attorney at the time, who had to talk him down from the ledge, advised him to convert the building into a four-unit co-op, which he did in the 1980s. He now lives on the second floor and owns a corporation which leases out the retail space (currently to the artist himself). The two areas are connected by a 19th-century cast-iron staircase. The residential component has two bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and a marble bathroom with a Jacuzzi.

Dee, who is moving to Miami to focus on his own artistic photography as opposed to photographing visual art, said he is leaving his beloved neighborhood of Soho with many happy memories.

When Dee first moved to Soho from the Midwest in the 1970s, “the only people on the street at night were rats and the feral cats going after the rats.” Many artists lived in the area illegally — zoning did not permit the commercial properties to be used for residential purposes. Much has changed in the interim, of course, with nearby sites being leased by the Drawing Center, Deitch Projects and Kate Spade.

“Soho was a prime development area and change is going to happen. Not all change is good. Much of it is okay,” Dee said.

Dee is giving up the leasehold in addition to the residential loft because he doesn’t want to be “an absentee New York City landlord.”

The interior of Stock and Hanja's units at 46 Mercer and 84 Mercer respectively

Opportunities to buy true artists live/work lofts in Soho are rare, Rundhaug said. There are currently only a few such properties on the market in the area, he said. Elliman’s Sonia Stock is listing a full-floor loft at 46 Mercer Street currently used as a residence and adjoining gallery. It’s asking $7.39 million. Meanwhile, art dealer Charles Cowles, the publisher of ArtForum magazine from the mid-1960s until the early-1980s, is asking $7.95 million for a live/work loft space from which he operates a small private gallery. It is listed with Siim and Rudi Hanja of Brown Harris Stevens.

“It’s pretty scarce to have large spaces or artists lofts come up on the market in Soho and Tribeca,” said Stock. “In the 1960s the artists began moving into the neighborhoods downtown taking advantage of the large buildings with their low rents and low prices per square foot. A lot of the large loft spaces have since been divided by developers and buyers to create two units as opposed to one.Today the artists lofts in Soho and Tribeca are rarer than the Taj Mahal.”

Siim Hanja noted that he expects there will be a steady stream of similar listings in the coming years as a generation of artists who purchased these properties in the 1960s become too old to maintain them.

“New people will take them over and invest a lot of money to make them palaces altogether,” he said, noting that he plans to list another artists loft at Grand and Greene streets later this week. The unit, which has 17-foot ceilings, served as a filming location for “Big,” the 1998 film starring Tom Hanks.

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