Despite a stained glass skylight as big as the lobby itself, residents of a once-grand Washington Heights apartment building on Edgecombe Avenue are greeted with dungeon-quality lighting.
The new owners want to change that. The Los Angeles-based Harkham family, who recently bought the landmarked residence once home to Count Basie, Joe Louis, Paul Robeson and other Harlem luminaries, intend to restore the building to its former glory.
“Everything about the building is like being transported into another era,” said Aron Harkham, the son of Beverly Hills hotelier Efrem Harkham.
After spending $26.7 million to buy the 127-unit residential building at the corner of 160th Street, the Harkhams aim to restore its original architectural detail.
The sale was brokered by Seth Glasser, Joe Koicim and Jake Kahn of Marcus & Millichap.
The Harkhams are buying a handful of properties in L.A., San Francisco and New York in a 1031 exchange — a tax benefit that allows investors to defer capital gains expenses — fresh off the December sale of a Rodeo Drive hotel for $200 million.
“We saw [the building] as a community asset that needed a little bit of care,” said Harkham, who wants to remove a layer of material purposefully blocking the skylight, and restore neo-classical friezes that have chipped and dulled.
Such a restoration would polish the history of the building, too, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a New York City landmark.
As to why the ornate stained glass was first covered up, theories vary.
Harkham posits that fear of German air raids during WWII resulted in the eye-catching surface being obscured, while Ervin Foushee, a tenant in the building since 1974, said the covering protects from bottles, trash and birds that fall into the building’s air shaft.
The Golson family, which owned the building for more than 50 years, sold it following the death of its patriarch Matthew Golson last year, who had tried selling it in 2017 for $65 million.
The Harkhams’ purchase of the building for substantially less fits a trend, according to Glasser. “There is no institutional money in the [rent] stabilized market,” he said. “It’s all private clients who will hold for 20 years” because they have longer investment horizons.
And as interest rates tick up, there may be more sellers chasing those buyers.
“Sellers are waking up,” said Glasser. “If an owner’s debt is at a low interest rate and a refinance in the next 18 months will have them paying more, selling now is attractive.”