Tech entrepreneur behind record-breaking $22.5M Chelsea townhouse sale

A trust managed by Luis von Ahn scooped up the historic home

New York /
Dec.December 01, 2021 03:45 PM

Luis von Ahn (Co-founder, Duolingo & reCAPTCHA), Fred Wilpon (Chairman & Co-Founder, Sterling Equities) and 334 West 20th Street (compass.com, Getty Images, iStock)

[UPDATED Dec. 1, 6:45pm] You read that right.

A trust managed by Luis von Ahn, the reCAPTCHA inventor and Duolingo co-founder, is the buyer behind the record-breaking, $22.5 million townhouse sale in Chelsea. The five-level, 7,000-square-foot mansion was sold by Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz’s Sterling Equities in November.

Von Ahn developed reCAPTCHA while teaching computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. The omnipresent program generates the squiggly words websites use to confirm users are human. Von Ahn sold it to Google in 2009, and soon after co-founded the language-learning app Duolingo, where he serves as CEO.

His new townhouse at 334 West 20th Street recently underwent extensive renovations that combined its six dwelling units into one. Luxury design firm Gachot crafted the 185-year-old home into a trophy fit for a polyglot multimillionaire.

With its completed facelift, the townhouse makes a perfect pandemic pad featuring three outdoor spaces including a tiered garden and rooftop deck. Indoor amenities include a wine cellar, home gym and media room. With five bedrooms, five full bathrooms, and three half-baths, there’s still plenty of room for visitors. For humans, there’s an elevator; for their food, there’s a dumbwaiter. The top floor boasts a private terrace and mahogany wet bar.

Jim St. André and Robert McCain of Compass had the listing. McCain also co-developed the property with Sterling through his firm, McCain Company. The building hit the market in March asking $25 million.

Sterling Equities bought the property for $8.5 million in 2015, public records show. The firm owns several companies in real estate and media, including Sterling Realty Finance and Sterling Project Development. Sterling previously owned the Mets before selling the team to hedge funder Steve Cohen last year for roughly $2.4 billion.

A representative for Duolingo didn’t respond to a request for comment.

This story was updated to include information about the property’s co-developer.





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