The Closing: Alice F. Mason

Alice F. Mason (photo by Ben Baker)
Alice F. Mason, one of the city’s legendary real estate brokers, ran her eponymous boutique New York City real estate firm, which sold properties at some of the most exclusive buildings in Manhattan to the likes of Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities, for over 40 years. She closed its Madison Avenue office in 2008 and now works from her Upper East Side apartment. She is equally known for her famous dinner parties, where regular guests included Walter Cronkite, Norman Mailer, Woody Allen and Jimmy Carter.

What is your full name?
Alice Mason.

Do you have a middle name?
No, but I have middle initial: F. I’m a numerologist and 22 is the most powerful number. I added the F so the name adds up to 22. But I also had a nickname, Fluffy, because people said that my mind was like a steel trap so no one could accuse me of being a bit of fluff.

How did you get into numerology?
Oh, I’ve been interested in that since the early ’60s — astrology, numerology. I can never think of names, but I always remember the numbers.

What’s your birth date?
October 26, 1932.

You’ve been married three times?
Yes, briefly.

Would you get married again?
No, no, no. I haven’t even been on a date in 30, 40 years. It just doesn’t interest me. I love my privacy, my dogs, my books, my home, my pals. I think it’s such a pleasure to live alone.

How many children do you have?
Just one, Dominique. I only wanted a girl and I only wanted her born on Sunday and I wanted her to be a Taurus, not Gemini. I got everything I wanted.

How did you get started in real estate?
I met Gladys Mills, [founder of real estate firm] Gotham Realty. She got me my first apartment. She said, ‘Why don’t you come to work in real estate with me?’ She worked with a lot of movie stars. Through Gladys I met all these movie people. Marilyn Monroe — I got her two different apartments.

Are you still working with real estate clients?
Yes, but very little now. I closed my office a year ago. I have some clients that I work with because they’re longtime friends. It’s only Dominique and me and we’re partners. She has a lot of clients. When I have clients she often takes them around.

How did you find this apartment [an eight-room spread at 150 East 72nd Street]?
I knew all the rental buildings and this was the only one I wanted to be in. When I got the apartment, in 1962, the rent was $400 a month. It went up legally whatever it could go up [according to rent-stabilization laws]. Now it’s just under $2,000.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

That’s a pretty good deal.
Yes, isn’t it? Wonderful. My social security pays my rent.

Did you ever think about buying?
No, no. I felt so lucky that I had this opportunity to rent. If this were a co-op, my maintenance would be so much more. This way I can have paintings.

Which of these paintings is your favorite?
I love that Pissarro. It’s called “Mother and Baby.”

Did any of your husbands ever live here with you?
No. Dominique’s father lived in my last apartment. When she was nine in 1969, I married a Dutch diplomat. But I said he couldn’t have a key to the apartment. I said I would marry him with some rules, and one was that we would [only] see each other two or three times a week, and he would keep his apartment and I would keep mine. Six months later, I knew I wanted a divorce.

How did you start hosting your famous dinner parties?
I thought, I’m going to have 20 people for a buffet and invite half movie stars and half [socialites]. They’d love to meet each other. So I had Marilyn Monroe and I had the Vanderbilts. I had a little one-bedroom apartment. I put the trays on the bed.

How did you start inviting politicians?
Actually Jimmy Carter was the first politician I ever met. I was sitting next to him at a dinner at ’21’ and he asked if I would I support him. I said, ‘I’m an astrologer so I’ll look up your chart, and if you have energy in it I’ll consider supporting you.’ He had so much energy in his chart. When Carter was president I had a lot of people from Washington at my dinners, like the head of the CIA. I [also] had Peter Jennings, Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw.

What made you decide last year to stop hosting them?
Oh, because I’m tired and I’m old. I stopped giving them every month around 2000. And then I gave them only twice a year.

Are you going to take up a new hobby?
No, not really, I’m just going to relax the rest of my life. When I turned 40 I made a list of everything that I didn’t like, and decided I would never do it again. Exercise was on the top of the list.

How has real estate changed since you started?
When I started there were four managing agents and they only hired people in the social register, because they mainly worked in all those prewar buildings that were mainly WASP-y buildings. When I had Alfred Vanderbilt for a client, I called many buildings and they said, “We would never take a Vanderbilt or an Astor — they’re the 1880s, and we’re the 1620s.”

What did you do?
I sold him an apartment at 31 East 79th Street, a penthouse. I knew a lot of different kinds of people, and I decided they all should be able to live in the same buildings. Building by building, I got different people in. I basically changed New York. That was my success in real estate.

The online version of the closing interview is an expanded version of the one that ran in the magazine.