Robert Gladstone is the owner of Madison Equities, a Manhattan-based development firm founded in the 1960s by his parents, Kenneth and Lucille Gladstone. Robert joined the family business in 1972 and took the reins in 1992. To date, the firm has developed more than 250,000 apartments and over 25 million square feet of offices, hospitals and hotels, including the W Times Square. Signature projects over the years include the Excelsior, a residential tower at 303 East 57th Street, and the Galleria, a mixed-use building also on 57th. Madison has also developed condos such as the Chelsea Modern and 57 Irving, which both hit the market during the last downturn. The firm is currently developing three condos for a combined $950 million: 212 Fifth Avenue, 10 Sullivan Street and 45 Broad Street.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Queens and moved to Nassau County when I was two. I traveled on the LIRR to get to eighth grade. It’s hard to believe today, but in those days it was considered fine. We moved to Manhattan when I was 13.
What were you like as a kid?
I was the most misbehaved kid in school, I’m very proud to say. I had the longest hair, and I was suspended 11 times in my junior year, for uniform transgressions, smoking cigarettes and shooting off my mouth.
Where do you live now?
On Mercer Street. But I’m planning on moving to 212 Fifth. We’ll choose from what’s left over.
Do you have a summer home?
We have a place in Rhinebeck, N.Y. I’m no longer a Hamptons boy, after I lost my first house to my first wife. We bought it for $425,000. I gave it to her in the divorce. She sold it for $18 million.
How long have you been married to your current wife?
Eight and a half years. I’ve been married three times, but I only have one wife.
What made you say yes to marriage again after two divorces?
I said I would never get married again. But then in 2005, I [had a business meeting at Barbounia, on Park Avenue South] with someone who now works here, and he said, “Look at the woman who just walked in.” I ended up following her into the bathroom, because I knew it had communal washing.
What was your opening line?
I said, “Hello, you’re very tall.” And then, “Are you dating anyone?” As she was running out, I said, “At your height, I’m your perfect match because I’m six-foot-three,” and she ran faster. But I gave her my card, and her friend invited me to a Christmas party. My wife later called me a restaurant Romeo.
I read that you’re a huge music fan. What was your first concert?
The Beatles, in 1964, in Forest Hills. I was 12. My life changed that day. [The country] was in mourning over John F. Kennedy’s assassination. That was broken by the Beatles landing at Idlewild.
How did it impact you?
I learned how to play three chords on a Tempo guitar and became the lead singer in a band. We played CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] dances. Now I download sheet music and play for friends. I’m a showman.
Were you drafted to Vietnam?
No. I went to apply for the draft … and this enormous woman with a mustache said to me, “Are you now or have you ever been affiliated with the Communist party?” I said, “If I were, do you think I would tell you?’”
Did you always want to join the family business?
No. I loved poetry and saw myself as a writer. But by my last year in college [at NYU] I had writer’s block. I had enjoyed working construction [at the family’s projects] during summers.
How did a young hippie like you get along with the other construction workers?
That was the time when the hard hats were beating up the longhairs, as we were called. They’d push me down and try to cut my hair. But they sort of liked me because I wasn’t a wiseass — I left that at the front door.
During that time, you lost parts of your fingertips in an accident, right?
I was electrocuted with 220 volts. After I was all stitched up … and as I got into a cab, Paul Simon’s “Duncan” was playing, and the last verse was, “I was playing my guitar, lying underneath the stars, just thanking the Lord, for my fingers.” That’s a God moment.
Last year, workers at 212 Fifth found tiles with a symbol mistaken for a swastika. What was your reaction? Were you worried about sales?
They weren’t swastikas. The Nazi party took an ancient Hindu symbol and … perverted it. This was an 1870s club for a workers’ guild that had these symbols of brotherhood. I believe a detractor of ours [publicized it]. We’ve now sold a little more than one-third [of the untits] and have people waiting to see the completed apartments.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten?
Don’t believe your own bullshit. Hubris is a killer in this business. We haven’t discovered America, we are not curing AIDS. We are building a building.
What keeps you up at night?
Working out design problems. I actually have solved architectural issues while dreaming. People here will attest that I’ve said, “I had a dream last night, and I think if we did it this way…”
Do you have vices?
I used to smoke, but I got throat cancer twice. I was 42 the first time. Now I think about good, clean living and go for checkups all the time because I know I’m susceptible.
What’s the most lavish purchase you’ve made?
None. I bought a guitar for $5,200, but I’d never buy something expensive for myself.