Alice Mason, legendary Manhattan real estate agent, dies at 100
Broke down barriers and connected the elite in New York City
Legendary real estate broker and socialite Alice Mason died on Jan. 4 at the age of 100 in her Manhattan home.
A prominent figure in the real estate scene, Mason was known for her ability to navigate the exclusive world of Manhattan’s co-ops, particularly the upscale buildings lining Park and Fifth Avenues, starting in the 1950s, the New York Times reported.
Mason told The Real Deal back in 2010 that her success in real estate was changing New York by getting people to live together in an era when many prewar buildings were monied silos.
“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,” she told TRD in The Closing.
“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.
“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.”
Mason may have been motivated by a secret she kept — her Black heritage — for nearly 50 years, even from close friends like Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters, Mike Wallace, and Gloria Vanderbilt.
By the 1980s, during the Reagan era, Mason had established herself as a master in the field, running her own firm, Alice F. Mason Ltd., representing high-profile clients in exclusive buildings like 740 Park, once home to the Rockefellers and the Bouviers.
Described as more of a matchmaker than a traditional real estate broker, Mason orchestrated complex maneuvers to help clients secure coveted apartments. For instance, she advised a fashion mogul to donate to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and prepared a Saudi prince for a co-op board interview by tricking him into thinking it was a cocktail party.
Mason’s influence extended beyond real estate, hosting meticulously orchestrated black-tie dinners in her Upper East Side apartment. Attendees included a mix of power brokers, moguls, journalists, authors, diplomats, and heads of state. Regulars at these events included Norman Mailer, Helen Gurley Brown, Vanderbilt, and Walters.
“I had irrepressible joie de vivre and bubbly enthusiasm that was contagious, and a natural irreverence,” she wrote in her biography, according to Air Mail, “so people were attracted to me and they shed their inhibitions, and so no matter how famous and high profile they were they loved laughing and talking with me as I added fun to their lives.”
While Mason was an ardent Democratic fundraiser, she also held unconventional beliefs, such as her interest in numerology. She correctly predicted Jimmy Carter’s presidential win in 1976 but was disappointed by his loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Her rent-stabilized apartment on East 72nd Street, where she hosted legendary dinners, remained a constant in her life even as the neighborhood changed.
Refusing to leave, Mason paid $2,476 a month for an apartment that, in the same line, was recently on the market for just under $10 million.
Mason was married three times.
In 2009, Mason closed her firm at the age of 86 as the real estate landscape evolved.
— Ted Glanzer