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At the Grinnell Co-op in NYC where units are rarely offered for sale

At the Grinnell Co-op in NYC where units are rarely offered for sale
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The Grinnell, a stately co-op in Upper Manhattan, may be the city’s best-kept secret — for now.

Replete with spacious homes, a strong sense of community, and maintenance fees significantly lower than comparable properties, the property sits in a sleepy corner of Washington Heights at 800 Riverside Drive. Vacancies are also rare – but locals looking for apartments and otherwise interested in real estate now have their best chance in years to become members of this exclusive and under-the-radar club.

An unprecedented four apartments are now for sale in this 83-unit structure where residents typically spend decades. When they swap hands they will mark the first sales at the Grinnell since 2020, according to StreetEasy, when only two units were sold. In 2019 only three units found new owners.

The Grinnell houses units with dazzling old-world features — like this wood-paneled dining room in a $1.99 million listing for Unit GRI.
The Grinnell houses units with dazzling old-world features — like this wood-paneled dining room in a $1.99 million listing for Unit GRI.
houseit
Unit GRI's kitchen features restored original oak cabinets.
Unit GRI’s kitchen features restored original oak cabinets.
houseit
Hardwood floors and moldings galore complete the GRI unit's amenities.
Hardwood floors and moldings galore complete the GRI unit’s amenities.
houseit

“I can’t remember when [four homes] were on the market at the same time,” said Bruce Robertson, 71, a longtime resident of Grinnell. Robertson, also a Compass broker, represents the six-bedroom unit 8H, those listed on Saturday for $1.59 million – the first time it’s been up for sale in 45 years. Aptly named the “hidden treasure” in its marketing description, this loft layout features three bedrooms, a 23-foot great room, a windowed kitchen with the original glass-fronted cabinets, a formal dining room with paneling and views of the George Washington Bridge.

A day later, according to StreetEasy, a two-bedroom, one-bathroom two-story apartment — and tricky touches like picture moldings — was listed on RE/MAX Sparrow Realty for $1 million.

Among the others available: Unit GRI, an eight-room duplex, which now charges $1.99 million after listing for $2.2 million in April. It has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Features include French doors, a wood paneled dining room, original oak floors and cabinets and mirrored mahogany doors. (Instead of a traditional listing, this home – represented by Hauseit – is an offer for sale by the owner.)

There’s even Unit 2A — a 1,800-square-foot three-bedroom with French doors, crown molding, and bonus rooms, including a library, foyer, maid’s room, and pantry. It noted in September for $1.35 million – and is represented by Jamella Swift of Keller Williams NYC.

The light-filled Unit 2A, listed for $1.35 million, has French doors.
The light-filled Unit 2A, listed for $1.35 million, has French doors.
Keller Williams New York
Unit 2A also has paneling and chic molding details.
Unit 2A also has paneling and chic molding details.
Keller Williams New York

Occupying an entire triangular block between 157th and 158th Streets — and Riverside Drive and Edward Morgan Place — the Grinnell features homes from a bygone New York era. The smallest apartment has five rooms and measures 1,100 square meters; the largest has more than 10 rooms and spans 2,700 square feet. Built in 1911 and designed by architects Schwartz & Gross, it’s a historic highlight, with a Mediterranean-style facade, a porte-cochere entrance to a courtyard — and other classic interior details like hardwood floors, leaded glass beams, and 10-foot ceilings. Facilities include a fitness room, a bicycle room and a roof terrace.

Aside from the grande dame glamor and asking prices in the millions, many New Yorkers don’t know it’s a Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) co-op — meaning it’s part of the city’s affordable housing stock and certain income restrictions subject to home purchases. It’s one of the most successful cooperatives of its kind, and it “has worked well over the years to maintain Grinnell’s great infrastructure,” Robertson said.

Nonetheless, the Grinnell is the early 20th-century uptown residence suited to savvy New York royalty who, with the appropriate income requirements, can act now to secure a coveted deal. It’s no surprise that residents end up staying where they are.

The Grinnell occupies a fully triangular block on Riverside Drive in Washington Heights.
The Grinnell occupies a fully triangular block on Riverside Drive in Washington Heights.
Stephen Giovannini
The mighty building offers views in all directions, this one looking north across West 158th Street.
The mighty building offers views in all directions, this one looking north across West 158th Street.
Stephen Giovannini
The Grinnell dates from 1911.
The Grinnell dates from 1911.
Stephen Giovannini

“People who buy at the Grinnell don’t move because it’s a wonderful place to live,” said Robertson, who is also a former building committee member and has sold 10 units in the building over the years.

Robertson has lived in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom shared apartment with his wife, who is also a real estate agent, for 22 years. They found the apartment on a whim after listing their Upper East Side condo for sale and knew immediately the building was something special. He loves the south-facing windows, the bright light, the solid construction, the high ceilings, the parquet floors and the quiet.

“All in all, it’s hard to describe why Grinnell is so special and how it came about. Mainly because it’s really a community of cohesive residents, many families that have grown and are now being replaced by young families who care for each other,” Robertson said. “We don’t always agree when it comes to issues faced by a 112-year-old listed building of its size and scope. But we are working through it and are proud of a beautiful structure that looks and feels like living in a castle, in an idyllic area with wonderful neighbors in other comparable buildings.”

Robertson has sold nearly a number of units at Grinnell over the years.
Robertson has sold nearly a number of units at Grinnell over the years.
Stephen Giovannini
Robertson is also a 22-year-old resident of the building.
Robertson is also a 22-year-old resident of the building.
Stephen Giovannini
A virtually staged image of Unit 8H representing Robertson.
A virtually staged image of Unit 8H representing Robertson.
Tina Gallo photography

Other longtime residents agree it’s a building with a beautiful spirit.

Bruce Kanze, 74, an associate professor at nearby City College of New York, moved to Grinnell in December 1977 and lived in Apartment 3B. In March 1982, he moved with his wife and three children to 8F, an eight-room, two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment where he has lived ever since.

“There’s a sense of belonging to a community, and we love our neighbors,” Kanze said. He fondly remembered climbing the mulberry tree in front of the house with his daughters and picking berries, setting up summer lemonade stands with them and celebrating crab festivals with the neighbors. “We would buy bushels and cover the tables with paper bags and see who had the highest pile of crab shells,” he added.

But another reason people are staying at the Grinnell for so long is the HDFC title. It is one of 1,100 HDFC cooperatives in the city, where residents are shareholders and jointly own the building. The status dates back to 1982, when residents successfully purchased the Grinnell from the city after a campaign using the slogan “Buildings for People, Not for Profit.” Aside from the sleek interiors and like-minded community, ownership terms include a flip tax that also keeps residents in check. The funds from this flow into the capital reserve of the building.

Unit 8H on the top floor is very light filled in addition to beautiful hardwood floors and crown molding.
Unit 8H on the top floor is very light filled in addition to beautiful hardwood floors and crown molding.
Stephen Giovannini
The kitchen inside Unit 8H.
The kitchen inside Unit 8H.
Tina Gallo photography
The wood paneled dining room at 8H.
The wood paneled dining room at 8H.
Stephen Giovannini
8H has a northwest view of the George Washington Bridge.
8H has a northwest view of the George Washington Bridge.
Stephen Giovannini

In addition to income restrictions, a property tax reduction makes maintenance lower than other cooperatives of comparable size and stature. In contrast, a 2,000-square-foot four-bedroom apartment at 116 Pinehurst Ave. will cost you $1.58 million with $3,400 monthly maintenance. Similarly, a three-bedroom co-op on the Century-Old Riviera across West 157th Street from the Grinnell costs $1.79 million with $2,174 in maintenance costs per month. For example, Robertson’s $1.59 million listing has $1,448 per month for maintenance. Both the GRI and 2A units have monthly fees of $1,450, StreetEasy shows.

Wayne Benjamin, 64, an architect who bought a 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom co-op in Grinnell in 1987 for just $85,000 — about $228,000 today — has no plans to go anywhere. He enjoys cooking in his large kitchen and listening to music on his record player – or jazz on an old-fashioned two-speaker FM radio. He also enjoys that rare New York cross ventilation, as every room in the apartment is exposed — allowing him to open the dining room windows that face the courtyard, and the French doors and windows in the living room across the hallway that face the street, and enjoy a breeze all year round.

But in the end it’s the people.

“It comes down to what’s important,” Benjamin said of the pull Grinnell has to keep him there. “There are things you have in common with others — common concerns and interests that you address together. It creates that sense of community that can make a building or neighborhood a vibrant, wonderful place to live.”

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