The Real Deal New York

The Closing: David Levinson

December 30, 2009
By Candace Taylor

David Levinson
David Levinson (photo by Michael Toolan)

David Levinson is the chairman and CEO of L&L Holding Company, which he co-founded with Robert Lapidus in 2000. The company owns some 5 million square feet of commercial office space valued at around $3 billion, including 142 West 57th Street, 150 Fifth Avenue, 195 Broadway, 2 Park Avenue and the former International Toy Center at 200 Fifth Avenue. Before forming L&L, Levinson was the vice chairman of CB Richard Ellis.

What is your birth date?
I’m not at the mandatory retirement age.

Where were you born?
Brooklyn. [But] I grew up in Valley Stream, Long Island, and then went to college in Boston, at Northeastern University.

Where do you live now?
The Upper East Side. I have a townhouse.

Are you married?
I am married [to second wife Simone] and I have four children — 27 at the top end and 2 at the bottom end. [There are] three sons and, finally, a daughter, who turned two 10 days ago.

What did you do to celebrate?
We had 50 little kids and their parents over to the house. This house is party central. My wife was a very prominent special events planner, and the last thing she did before I got her to retire was Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones’ wedding. So she knows how to do events. If they weren’t going on at my house, I wouldn’t get invited to a lot of them [laughs].

What did your parents do for a living?

My father owned a toy store called Artcraft Hobby in Queens. I was the official toy tester. I was a great little salesman, because people would ask, “What should I get my son?” and there I was. Here’s a plaque, by the way, from the Toy Building. As a kid I used to go there every year for the toy show. It is a beautiful irony to have ended up owning this building.

How did the toy store influence your career?
I learned how to conduct business with people. One of the great things we used to do is on Christmas morning we would be at the store taking phone calls for all the people we sold presents to that couldn’t build them or get them to operate, and we would spend the day going to people’s houses … setting up their electric trains and putting batteries into toys.

Did your dad impart any good advice that helps you in real estate?
He sold greeting cards also and, in those days, a Hallmark card was 10 cents. He pointed at the back of one and said, “Son, do you know how many of these I have to sell to make a living?” He said to me, “It’s all about the zeros. Whatever you do in life, make sure there’s just a lot of zeros to the left of the decimal point.” So when I went away to college I thought about real estate because it has a lot of zeros.

Do you have any other major investments outside of real estate?
I’m a partner in the New York Yankees — the World Champion New York Yankees [shows off his World Series ring].

How often do you go to games?
I probably go to 30 games [a season]. I bring the family. We were in the World Series parade. We spent the whole day with the team. I have these photographs of my son James [age 7] that will blow your mind. He’s with every single player: Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Damon and Yogi Berra. He’s got a baseball signed by 30 players. When my daughter was born, her first article of clothing was a pink Yankees onesie.

How did you become a broker?
I started because I didn’t have money to invest. When I came to New York City after college I was broke and lived on food stamps. I was literally a homeless person living on food stamps. I stayed with friends from time to time, but there were some times I stayed outside.

How did you get to the point of being homeless?
When I graduated from college, I was the largest landowner in Woodstock, N.Y. I was trying to build a ski resort. That was in the early ’70s. There was an economic collapse and I lost everything. I came to New York and got a job as a leasing broker.

What aspects of your portfolio do you worry about now that we’re in the recession?
We worry in good times and bad. That’s one of the advantages of [having been] poor [laughs]. You never want to be poor again. Been there, done that. So you do everything you can to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Tell me about your office. Why do you have that model ship?
I lived on a boat for seven years.

Was it a houseboat?
Well, it was big enough to live on — 25 tons. I lived on it six months out of the year in Sag Harbor. I was in between wives, so I needed a place to live out in the Hamptons. I started with the idea that it was really a floating condominium. And then I just fell in love with the idea of living on a boat and operating a boat. I became an expert, good enough to take it from Sag Harbor to the Bahamas several times. I have a small boat now, a 38-foot Hinckley.

Any funny stories from living on a boat?
Yes, but that’s not for publication.

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