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Most Expensive Penthouses In The U.S. 2005
Sara Clemence - Janaury 27, 2005

Is it lonely at the top? Maybe. But one thing is for sure: it's more costly to live among the clouds.

We are talking about penthouses, those crowning apartments that are synonymous with glamorous metropolitan living and dramatic views. Today, for many buyers, they are literally--and figuratively--the apex of real estate.

However, that wasn't always the case.

Until the 1920s, when elevators finally became common features in apartment buildings, the top floors were the least-desirable places to live. These were the attics and garrets, home to nurseries, servants, starving artists, pigeons and the terminally strapped for cash.

It took a while for some developers to appreciate the aesthetic and financial advantages afforded by penthouses. According to Carol Maryan, a New York City architect whose own sunny penthouse on the Upper West Side was created from former servants' quarters on the roof, in some older buildings, the elevator doesn't even reach the penthouse. "It was considered more the service part of the building. Now, it's obviously the most sought-out place. Isn't it funny? Next it'll be the basement."

As anyone who has gazed down from the rarefied heights of a penthouse at the antlike pedestrians below can attest, there's little commonplace about today's top floors. It would be difficult to find a better example of their desirability than the opulent triplex penthouse in The Pierre hotel, with broad views over Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and the wide acres of Central Park. Financier and author Martin Zweig has it on the market for $70 million, making it the most expensive apartment listing ever in New York City.

"The allure of a penthouse is being on the top," says Elizabeth Lee Sample, a broker for Brown Harris Stevens who has the listing.

While you can find pricey penthouses in other cities, including Las Vegas, Chicago and Los Angeles, Manhattan is still penthouse central. In the 1920s, New York was one of the cities where architects such as James E.R. Carpenter and Rosario Candela created a new paradigm for luxury-apartment living. Candela developed terraced setbacks, resulting in the wedding-cake-like buildings that narrow as they extend up from the street, and providing desirable outdoor space.

In fact, New York's abundance of penthouses--and the prices they demand in this super-active market--is the reason we decided to rank the top penthouses by city. Otherwise, they would all have been in Manhattan, where buyers are willing to pay anywhere from 10% to 20% more per square foot for a property at the top, brokers say.

"With the word 'penthouse' in the specific address, it's a premium, as opposed to 16H," says Nancy Lee, a real estate broker with The Corcoran Group who recently had a single-female client who would settle for nothing less than the topmost floor. "Everybody that wants a penthouse is usually at a point in their career that they want that 'wow,' breathtaking property."

Penthouses have cachet, but they are more than status symbols. The top-floor apartments often come with spectacular views, great light, outdoor space and unique layouts. Located just below--or sometimes on top of--the roof, it's possible to have wood-burning fireplaces, skylights and higher ceilings. And speaking of ceilings, another appeal is the lack of upstairs neighbors to clomp around doing God-knows-what at three o'clock in the morning--a common complaint, even in the best apartment buildings.

But, some developers are a bit ambiguous when defining what makes an apartment a penthouse.. "If you look at all these new condos and coops that are going up, they will squeeze in as many 'penthouses' as they can," Maryan says.

Manhattan's Millennium Tower, for example, has several floors of penthouses, points out Sample, who sold a unit to radio-talk-show host Howard Stern, who was 23rd on Forbes' 2004 list of the 100 Top Celebrities.

"It's very much a trend right now," Sample says. "Though to me, a penthouse is really the top floor."

This trend is also very much in evidence in Miami, a city we added to our list this year because of all of the high-priced towers that have sprouted in South Beach. In Miami, every new building has a penthouse that is vastly grander than the other units--perhaps with an outdoor pool or elaborate garden. But large, luxurious apartments on lower floors may also be billed as "penthouses," says Mark Zilbert, a broker with Brown Harris Stevens | Zilbert - Zilbert International Realty - Zilbert Realty Group.

"It doesn't matter how expensive or how large you make the apartments, they sell very quickly," Zilbert explained. "There's a shortage in South Beach. Other than Manhattan, it's probably the only place where you could have a penthouse-housing crisis."

The moral of the story? Life is good when you're on top.


Even real estate-jaded New Yorkers gasped when Wall Street financier Martin Zweig pinned the $70 million price tag on this 16-room property. Topping The Pierre hotel, this triplex includes what was once the hotel's original ballroom, and is now a grand living room with 23-foot ceilings. Zweig paid under $22 million for the spread in 1999, taking it off the hands of Australian publishing heiress Lady Mary Fairfax. The penthouse has five bedrooms, seven full baths, five fireplaces and four corner terraces. It is listed with Elizabeth Lee Sample and Brenda Powers at Brown Harris Stevens and Sharon Baum at The Corcoran Group.

This duplex takes up part of the topmost floors in The Wilshire. Decorated in grand 19th-century style, it features silk window treatments, rock-crystal chandeliers and a bronze-and-iron staircase. The family room has coffered ceilings, while the media room features a 100-inch rear-projection system. The building's amenities include a 24-hour concierge and valet, as well as a gym and swimming pool. It is listed with Joyce Rey at Coldwell Banker Previews International.

Rumors have swirled around this penthouse in the Philippe Starck-designed ICON building in South Beach. Superstar-entertainers Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony recently visited, leading to speculation that they had bought the spread. The apartment, which has never been occupied, sits atop the lower tower. According to the floor plan, it has six bedrooms, ten balconies and an outdoor pool, which the top floors of the other, upon which the neighboring tower looks down. Incidentally, we didn't include the pricey penthouse at the Apogee--although at $15 million, it would make our list. But, it was omitted because the building won't be completed until next year. Sildy Cervera at Related Cervera Realty Services is the listing agent for ICON.

This penthouse triplex in Bayou Bend Towers comes with a media room and a 500-square-foot patio with a lap pool and spa. It features four bedrooms, six-and-a-half baths, Italian mosaic floors and Baccarat finals on the stairs. The view looks out upon the upscale neighborhood of River Oaks. It is listed with Martha Turner at Martha Turner Properties.

Besides being the most expensive penthouse in this gambling Mecca, this may also be the largest. Taking up the top-two floors of Turnberry Place, the pad has two game rooms, a private elevator and a 2,000-bottle-capacity wine room. It also comes fully furnished. The property is listed with Andrea Tomich and Bob Glau at Turnberry West Realty.

Chicago's most expensive penthouse is located atop the Four Seasons Hotel, and comes with access to the luxury-hotel's services. It has no outdoor space, but does provide unobstructed views to the north, east and south in a city where clear vistas have become rare. The media room features a skylight, and this is the only apartment in the building with a wood-burning fireplace. Green marble, black granite, birds-eye maple and pear wood abound. It is listed with Pamela Miles at Rubloff.

The most expensive penthouse ever listed in Seattle is owned by a former Microsoft exec, which explains the ultra-modern feel and the super-high-tech amenities. The duplex is totally wired, with computer-controlled sound, lighting and security systems. There's also a recording studio on the lower floor, and, upstairs in the master bedroom, a plasma television that retracts into the foot of the bed. The penthouse includes 1,500 square feet of outdoor space, with views of the city skyline, Puget Sound, Lake Union and the Olympic and Cascade Mountains. It is listed with Michael Chamberlin at John L. Scott Real Estate.

*$6.5 million and an additional 1,178 square feet with the attached guest suite.

Two units were combined to create this glass-walled penthouse overlooking the San Francisco Bay. It features three bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths and views of the Oakland Hills. The north wing includes a master suit with a small terrace, while the guest suite is conveniently located on the other side of the apartment. The penthouse shares the top floor with four other units and is listed with Marilyn Picariello and Fred Villanova at Pacific Union GMAC Real Estate.

This place doesn't just have floor-to-ceiling glass, but floor-to-roof glass. The duplex occupies part of the top-two floors of the Phoenix on Peachtree, in the center of Atlanta's upscale Buckhead neighborhood. It features a private elevator, double-height living-room ceilings and a kitchen connected to the family room with a fireplace. The building provides a heated lap pool and spa, fitness center, media room, wine room, massage room and conference room. The property is listed with Liz Marshall at RE/MAX Greater Atlanta Real Estate.



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