‘For all sad words of tongue or pen . . .’

” . . . The saddest are these: It might have been.”

The San Remo

So wrote the 19th Century poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

The building pictured above and the one below represent some of the most memorable moments in which my life as an apartment owner might have been quite different.

The time was probably 1974-75, when New York City was facing possible bankruptcy.

My then-wife and I had saved enough money for a modest down payment–laughable now for its small size–and had decided it was time to buy an apartment.

We looked and looked, even made a false start by making an offer on a place that, as I dimly recall, belonged to a New York Times writer (Clive Barnes?) on West End Avenue.  As the offers flew back and forth, we chickened out after a sleepless night.

Then we saw a beautifully maintained two-bedroom corner apartment in the San Remo on Central Park West.  Jack Lemmon lived across the hall, we were told.  I remember clearly that the unit had two small balconies, a dressing room and an eat-in kitchen with floor-to-ceiling white subway tiles and black grout.  Dramatic as could be.

But Betsy ruled out the place.  Too small, said she.

The Majestic

Soon thereafter, we considered a seven-room apartment on the second floor of the Majestic, across from the Dakota on Central Park West at 72nd Street, also on the Upper West Side.  It was a rambling unit with more than enough room but in need of serious cosmetic improvement.

At this point, I don’t quite remember why we turned that one down.  But we kept renting and ended up buying the first of two weekend houses that we enjoyed from the mid 70s until the mid 80s, when we broke up.  That first house was in Accord in Ulster County on 12 wooded acres, including a pond in which we swam and on which we ice skated.  For that we paid $58,000.

Our subsequent retreat was a log house across the river in Tivoli, long before it became a gentrified destination.  The seven acres in Dutchess County on a bluff overlooking the Saugerties lighthouse on the Hudson River once had been owned by DeWitt Clinton.  My memory of the price has faded, but I guess it was in the low 200s or high 100s.

I’ve always regretted our failure to buy real estate in the Big Apple during New York’s financial crisis.  We could have purchased either apartment–this, I do recall clearly–for under $45,000.

What a killing it might have been:

A seven-room apartment on the second floor of the Majestic recently went under contract when it was listed for $4.1 million.  And a two-bedroom in the San Remo sold for just under $3 million last fall, a typical price in that building of late.

Yet I console myself with knowing that, in all likelihood, only Betsy would have ended up enjoying those co-ops, though I wouldn’t have begrudged her that situation.  More important, both of us derived untold pleasure from having a place in the country to unwind every weekend–actually, for Betsy to unwind and for me to continue being a workaholic by gardening, cooking and even building a woodshed.

It’s easy enough to rue what might have been, I suppose.  But celebrating what came to be makes far more sense to me.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

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