Harry Macklow is a real estate legend. He has just finished transforming Manhattan’s mythical Wall Street and next week the second part of his breathtaking art collection will be up for sale at Sotheby’s. Meeting an enthusiast who, at 84, still plays tennis for two hours a day.
During his illustrious career, Harry Macklow accumulated records without planning for them: the first building purchased for over a billion dollars (the General Motors building in 2003), the first 24-hour Apple Store in 2006, the tallest residential tower, built before then in Manhattan (432 Park Avenue, completed in 2015) … It also suffered several setbacks and has always been restored. In November 2021, the giveaway of the first 35 lots from his art collection was the largest private auction ever. In the bar of the Bristol Hotel in Paris, where he arranged to meet me to talk about his latest project and more, I discovered a man of relentless enthusiasm and energy, who is inspired by a great love story.
You are little known to the French public, but on the other hand they know your buildings, the General Motors building at Fifth Avenue, 432 Park Avenue, now Wall Street. How did your career start?
I started in the late 1950s working in advertising, but I was limited, things didn’t move fast enough, none of my ideas seemed attractive to me. That’s when I was looking for an apartment and found that the work of its owner is exciting, he bought, renovated, rented … I offered him my services, he refused, he just wanted me to pay him my rent! But I found a job and first became a real estate agent. Then I was able to buy the first building with my savings.
When it was ?
In 1964, the World’s Fair was held in New York.
Where was this first building?
Between Park Avenue South and Madison, a twelve-story workshop building that I converted into offices.
Your latest project is the mythical One Wall Street, the largest conversion of an office building into a residential building. Can you introduce it to us?
This is a mythical address on Wall Street, a monument of architecture, built in 1928 by the great architect Ralph Thomas Walker. We renovated it and turned it into a residential building with 566 apartments, 56 floors, 170 different layouts, from studios to penthouses. We have restored and preserved the splendor of Art Deco. And it was not so easy, the building is very long, about 100 meters. For example, we had to move the elevators a few meters.
How long did the job take?
Over four years. I am very pleased with the visualization. I am like a father to my buildings and this is my last child. You will form your own opinion!
Did you also set aside part of the building for retail?
Yes, the Whole Foods Market should settle in quickly, and Life Time will create a wellness center there. We have a total of 16,000 square meters of retail space that can accommodate up to eight tenants.
Could you move to an area like Wall Street?
Probably if I was young with kids. It has become a lively place where many families settle. One Wall Street is one of nineteen buildings under construction or renovation in the area, and by far the one with the most services: high-performance concierge, gym, swimming pool, conference room, children’s playroom, trainers and dog walkers. .. I forgot some.
Do you have a personal anecdote about One Wall Street?
Imagine that when I worked in advertising, I saved my salary – $ 35 a week – to the agency of the Irving Trust bank, which was headquartered on Wall Street. It was the bank that lent me the money I needed to buy my first house, and I kept an account with them. Fifty years later, I bought this building… Life has surprises in store.
This is destiny…
And, you see, this has happened to me several times. For example, I purchased a building in Midtown that housed my first real estate employer. Or even before owning the General Motors Building, I suggested to the Braniff Aviation Company, which mainly served Latin America, to set up a travel agency in the basement and offer a restaurant that would serve only South American cuisine, fun. and a luxury venue run by the Four Seasons team. The project failed due to a transport strike in January 1966. Decades later, I bought the building, and instead of this restaurant project, the first Apple Convenience Store in New York 24 was born.
You pitched the idea for the famous glass cube to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. How did you meet Steve Jobs?
I was very lucky. In 2003, he was going to open two Apple stores, one in Soho and one uptown. I was dealing with a man in charge of developing his property for a downtown boutique, but when I found out that I was probably going to buy the General Motors building, which occupies the block between 58th and 59th streets on Fifth Avenue, I offered to move him to the basement of the square at the foot of the building. Steve Jobs had another project in mind, I came to Cupertino with my ideas, including a glass cube, and within half an hour we had an agreement.
Was he very involved?
During the two and a half years that the work lasted, we talked to each other every week, he was interested in every detail. The design, the height of the ceilings… he looked for perfection everywhere. I met a man who is as passionate about architecture as I am. Three years after this cube was built, new technologies allowed its walls to no longer be made of steel legs, Steve Jobs rebuilt it and told me: “We are a company based on technological advances, we must improve everything possible. »
What is the future of office real estate in the age of remote work?
Everyone, and young people in particular, need face-to-face conversations. They need mentoring. In the office, we communicate differently, we get results that Zoom does not allow, one idea leads to another… The office must continue to exist.
How do you see the future of residential real estate in New York?
Demand for exceptional apartments remains very high. We sell One Wall Street very well, and in a broader sense, there will always be an attraction to New York, this desire to come here, live and succeed. It will always be a place where you can think bigger.
You have amassed an exceptional art collection. What was your first purchase?
Miro bought the lithograph in 1958, I was 21 years old. I found her at the Associated American Artist on Fifth Avenue. It cost $125, I paid $10 for it every two weeks…
The second part of your collection will be sold at Sotheby’s in New York on May 16th. How do you feel ?
Very well. I turned the page. We, my first wife and I, put together a collection that made sense. We have chosen difficult works, and I am happy that they please other owners. Buyers get a very good deal, not in terms of cost, but in terms of quality. The paintings are in dialogue with each other, there is not a single secondary work in the collection. All these paintings marked their time.
This dissipation comes after a highly publicized divorce. Are you going to buy back some works?
It is possible and only if the prices are reasonable. But I have no nostalgia, I am a happy person who understands every day how lucky he was to meet an extraordinary woman.
Three years ago you married Frenchwoman Patricia Lazar. Do you speak French?
A little ! Patricia makes me listen to podcasts in French, I hear her talking to her four kids and we spend half our time in Europe. I understand more than I speak.
You were born in New York and have lived there all your life. Could you live somewhere else?
Before the pandemic, I would have said no without hesitation, but the world has changed and after these two years, I am happy elsewhere. In East Hampton or Florida. I just opened an office in Miami and I have five projects under construction there… And since my romance with Patricia began, we’ve been spending a lot of time on our sailboat.
Do you keep buying art?
Of course, I immediately started a new collection with Patricia. Before meeting me, she acquired European works, mine are more American. Together we continue to buy …
What are you most proud of?
From my marriage to Patricia. From our history.