53rd & 8th
If you stand at the corner of 53rd Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan, you might very well be at the center of the universe. As far as “access to everything” goes, it really doesn’t get any better than this. Sure, there’s Lincoln Center just up the road, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, but there’s also Columbus Circle, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, Carnegie Hall, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and (holy mackerel!) all those Hells Kitchen Restaurants – everything within walking distance from the corner where you stand.
Sounds great, right?
Well, we haven’t even started on the art or the easy access you have to the rest of the city by way of the trusty Metropolitan Transportation Authority. We’ll leave that to Vanessa Low Mendelson, an art-junkie-turned-sales-director who works for the marketing department at Douglas Elliman. Currently, she’s co-directing an “attainable luxury” condominium project called, yep, 53rd and 8th.
Vanessa sat down with us to talk about the project, what makes 53rd & 8th so special, and what she loves about New York. (Hint: there will be art involved.)
Girls Guide: How does an art junkie end up in the real estate business?
VM: My first job was at the Art Commission for the City of New York. From there, I moved on to the New York City Parks Department’s Arts and Antiquities Division where I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Due to my experience working on preservation of the parks’ monuments and outdoor sculptures, I landed a job at the Whitney Museum of American Art, helping manage their permanent collection. And after that, I worked at the Marlborough Chelsea Gallery as their International Public Art Coordinator.
One day, a close family friend, who happened to be a huge art collector, suggested I could be amazing at real estate. She said I could make real money while also keeping a foot in the art world on the side. So I did.
I began working with Douglas Elliman as a Sales Director back in 1999. My first project was 73 Wooster – a former parking garage that was turned into condos. I consulted on the interior design, pricing, layouts, and so on. It was incredibly successful and we sold out in less than six months. I worked on many other projects with Douglas Elliman until I was approached by Corcoran Sunshine (a division of Corcoran) and offered a new project – Downtown By Phillippe Starck. It was an exiting project because the entire concept and theme of the building was how real estate and art intersect in New York.
At the same time, I kept a lot of my art contacts and occasionally had my personal art work in small shows. It was import to me to maintain some involvement in the art sector.
In 2012, I was recruited by two Columbia Business School grads who were starting a new real estate firm, LG Fairmont Group. Their concept was heavily founded on technologies, data analytics, and so on. I found it interesting and immediately jumped on board as their first Managing Director. I helped them get the firm up and running, which was really fun. And then just last year, I was recruited by Douglas Elliman’s New Development Marketing division to work on 53rd and 8th.
GG: Ok, so give us the scoop on 53rd & 8th…..
VM: The building used to house rentals, but we are now converting it to 259 condo units. While it is not new construction, the quality of the conversion is really amazing. Remodeling of the lobby, amenities, roof terrace, and residences has transformed the space. The biggest draw for purchasers is the building’s location. It’s in the heart of everything. Steps from MOMA, Central Park, and Lincoln Center!
I was attracted to the project because I had never worked on a development in midtown (ever!) and last year midtown became a newly viable market for residential development. I also primarily worked on super-luxe properties, and 53rd and 8th was one of the first attainable luxury condos to be conceptualized – so of course I wanted in!
GG: Who are your buyers? What kinds of people are gravitating to the building?
VM: We have a lot of interest from current neighborhood residents who now want to own. I’m finding there is a very strong sense of community, and people feel a special attachment to the neighborhood.
GG: Give us your top three nearby restaurants, coffee shops, or bars.
VM: I LOVE Robert’s, the restaurant at the Museum of Arts and Design. It’s a great date spot with views of Central Park. I also love Per Se and Bouchon Bakery, both at Columbus Circle; and Marea, a high-end Italian restaurant on Central Park South.
I know you said three, but I also really love Pertrossian. It’s divine…stop in, have some champagne and a blini with caviar. And last one: lunch on the patio at Medi Wine Bar. It’s super fresh, and they have a great wine selection.
GG: Let’s talk art. What kind of access to art does 53rd & 8th offer?VM:
- MoMa (Museum of Modern Art): two avenue blocks away
- Museum of Arts and Design is at Columbus Circle- literally 5 blocks north.
- In the summer you can walk south 20 plus blocks and find yourself amongst all of the Chelsea Galleries.
- Fountain Gallery is on 9th Ave and 49th street.
- I like to call 57th street “Gallery Row.” There are hundreds of galleries. (Pace, Marian Goodman, Marlborough, too many to name!)
- International Center of Photography
- Lincoln Center and the American Folk Art Museum are at 64th, so just a quick walk north.
- The Armory Art Show is held at Pier 92 and 94, which is on 53rd street and 11th avenue.
GG: Before you leave us, please give us your top three art destinations in NYC.
VM: Chelsea, of course. I love popping in and out of galleries all day. Some of my favorites are the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, Gagosian Gallery, Friedman Benda, Matthew Marks, Mary Boone. There are just so many galleries to choose from! Nowhere else in New York or even the world can you do that. After touring, I love to grab a bite at the Red Cat.
Museum of Arts and Design is one of my favorite destinations. Its small, intimate, not overly crowded.
Meatpacking District – I love shopping at Jeffrey and Matthew Williamson. Lunch at Chelsea Market is the best. There are so many vendors. Sunset drinks at Maritime Hotel’s rooftop is divine. If I’m feeling a night with girlfriends, I love Electric Room and Gilded Lilly. As far as upcoming art, I can’t wait for the new Whitney Museum opening this May. I used to work at the former Madison Avenue location so it will be exciting to see the collections in a new light (literally).