Rutherford Place, home to the stars, is now showtime for condos

UNIT 728 at Rutherford Place has an efficient duplex layout, walnut Poggenpohl cabinetry in the kitchens and 12-foot-high windows overlooking Second Ave. from the double-height dining room — all amenities one would expect in a modern Manhattan condo building.

But it also comes with a few special features: Wesley Snipes and David Lee Roth used to live across the hall.

The rocker was busted for buying a $ 5 bag of marijuana while here. Tom Cruise lived in the penthouse upstairs and even installed a sauna in one of the walk-in closets.

The sumptuous lobby remains intact from when the hospital opened in 1902.

Enid Alvarez/New York Daily News

The sumptuous lobby remains intact from when the hospital opened in 1902.

Rutherford Place, at 305 Second Ave. and 17th St., could easily be mistaken for any other grand old medical institution on the East Side. In fact, it once was, serving as the city’s largest maternity ward when it opened in 1902.

But it’s also the most famous apartment building you’ve never heard of. There’s finally a chance to own a piece of it.

So what attracted all those stars, and now dozens of buyers to the 78 units coming on the market in the 128-unit building?

The facade of Rutherford Place is as unique as the condos inside.

Barnet Liberman

The facade of Rutherford Place is as unique as the condos inside.

“I like to think it was my pheromones,” jokes developer Barnet Liberman during a recent tour, “but everybody else says it’s the uniqueness of the building.”

After all, the building even had famous beginnings. That old maternity ward — once the New York Society of the Lying-In Hospital — was donated to the city by none other than financier John Pierpont Morgan.

For a time, 60% of all births in Manhattan took place here, and the joke at its opening was that old J.P. Morgan shelled out for it because he needed somewhere to house all his illegitimate children.

Neighbors say the late Chris Farley was a model resident at Rutherford House.

FRED PROUSER/REUTERS

Neighbors say the late Chris Farley was a model resident at Rutherford House.

The hospital was designed by R.H. Robertson, one of the city’s foremost architects at the turn of the last century. He mostly built churches and religious institutions in a highly Romantic style, with big, burly brownstone bricks that looked like boulders.

The Lying-In Hospital was a late-career work, more rigid and less brash, but still a fine example of Beaux Arts architecture.

By the time Liberman and his partner Winthrop Chamberlain discovered the property in 1981, it had been chopped up into a methadone clinic and other facilities for Beth Israel Hospital across the street.
“It was a nightmare,” Liberman recalls. “Locked doors, screwy corridors, madness everywhere.”

Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth called Rutherford Place home in the 1980s.

ADREES LATIF/REUTERS

Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth called Rutherford Place home in the 1980s.

But that also wound up being much of the property’s charm. The staggered floors fostered unusual layouts, where every apartment is either a duplex or a triplex, and none of the 128 units is exactly the same.

“It might not appeal to everyone, but that quirkiness is actually really appealing to a lot of our buyers,” says Richard Pecorella, principal of Cantor Pecorella, the agency selling the 78 former rental units.

Liberman and Chamberlain bought the whole building 32 years ago for a little more than $ 2 million — less than they’re now asking for their nicer two-bedrooms — and then spent four years painstakingly converting the space into rentals.

Rutherford Place was once a hospital and offer residents huge ceilings.

RICHARD CAPLAN

Rutherford Place was once a hospital and offer residents huge ceilings.

They hired preservation architects Beyer Blinder Belle for the conversion, following the firm’s work on such notable projects as the U.S. Capitol and Central Park.

One of the firm’s greatest triumphs was figuring out how to recycle the hospital’s historic central staircase.

The giant spiral had character — but it took up a large chunk of the building.

A section from the 1980s rental conversion shows two apartments, both duplexes, like most homes at Rutherford Place.

Barnet Liberman

A section from the 1980s rental conversion shows two apartments, both duplexes, like most homes at Rutherford Place.

“I love the history, but I’m not crazy,” Liberman said. “That’s a lot of apartment to waste.”

The solution was to rip out the massive steps, recycling the stairs themselves as tiles and giving some units giant round rooms that offer buyers the biggest bay windows they’ll ever see.

These kinds of unusual features attracted equally unusual occupants.

Barnet Liberman on the roof terrace.

Matt Chaban/NYDN

Barnet Liberman on the roof terrace.

Chris Farley had a fifth-floor place until four months before his untimely death in 1996. “He was actually real quiet,” says one resident who has been in the building since it opened. The same goes, surprisingly, for

Sean Combs and Charlotte and Samantha Ronson — the sisters’ mother lived in a townhouse around the corner — who kept their partying out of the building.

Roth had a penchant for enjoying himself, and even got regular deliveries in mysterious briefcases, according to building lore. But that wasn’t the strangest thing in his apartment. He also kept a canoe there and would use it for voyages on the East River. He would get tickets and backstage passes to his shows for the entire building staff when performing in town.

Roth was not the only guy with big luggage. Billy Joel once dated an artist who lived in the building in the ’80s, and legend has it he showed up one day with a duffel full of cash to cover a year’s worth of rent.

Rob Schneider, Dave Chappelle, Duncan Sheik, Liv Tyler, Judd Nelson and, more recently, Penn Badgley are among the other boldface residents who have called 305 Second Ave. home.

The developers have sold a few units over the years, but now the rest are coming to market, letting average New Yorkers, or at least those with $ 1 million or more, own a one-of-a-kind home.


Lifestyle – NY Daily News

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