Poet James Fenton’s townhouse is Harlem’s priciest listing

Here’s a recipe for turning the plain into poetry.

When the famend British poet James Fenton — alongside together with his companion, the award-winning author Darryl Pinckney — set out on a Manhattan home hunt greater than a decade in the past, the pair sought a house with sufficient area to suit their library of 10,000 books.

Not solely did they discover that in a ten,000-square-foot, five-story Harlem townhouse, which they bought for $1.85 million in 2010 — however in addition they stumbled upon a possibility to revive the decrepit shell of a previously grand residence.

“Once we found this place, of course the motivation to preserve it in some kind of way became quite important for us,” Fenton, 72 — a former Oxford Professor of Poetry, identified for his affiliation with Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis — instructed The Post.

Built in 1890 for John Dwight, a co-inventor of Arm & Hammer baking soda, the house at 1 W. 123rd St. later gave approach to an arts faculty; then a black synagogue; a single-room occupancy; and eventually a hideaway for squatters, graffiti vandals and a drug vendor who offered PCP. Now, the property — which the couple and their serving to palms spent 11 years meticulously renovating — is prepared for a brand new chapter.

Interior shot of 1 West 123rd Street.
Acclaimed British poet James Fenton is seeking to unload his five-story, 10,000-square-foot house (above) — the nabe’s priciest townhouse listing at $8.5 million.
Tina Gallo

Located within the Mount Morris Park Historic District, the 25-foot-wide unfold lately listed on the market, asking $8.5 million — the best ask for a townhouse in Harlem.

With different tastefully restored perks — together with eight fireplaces and a grand wood staircase — the house is a far cry from how Fenton and Pinckney discovered it, once they bought it from builders who didn’t intestine it into condominiums. The cellar was beneath 3 inches of water. The eating room, in addition to the three oval-shaped bedrooms on the degrees above, had been chopped up into odd areas with bogs tucked to the perimeters. Someone had even sealed off the grand wood staircase. Luckily it wasn’t past restore, and due to accessing authentic photographs and blueprints, that they had a full understanding of its earlier look.

“In some ways it had been rather well-preserved because nobody had gone to the expense of ripping out the interior,” mentioned Fenton. “There was a lot of stuff still around, but it all, like everything about the house, needed renewing.”

A side by side of the building from the 1800s and how it appears now.
Then and now: Built in 1890, the decaying unfold was restored to its Gilded Age glory by the scribe and his companion at a price of “millions.”
Tina Gallo

Fenton declined to disclose how a lot it has value to date to deliver every part to form, however mentioned “it’s millions,” and a brand new proprietor should carry the remainder of the work throughout the end line. For occasion, plans are in place for a yet-to-be-installed elevator and central air-con. Certain already-completed tasks wanted a heavy raise. One of them was cleansing the house’s mahogany and oak paneling — a specialised activity that took practically a 12 months. Replacing all 52 home windows required Landmarks Preservation Commission approval.

The couple tapped Samuel G. White, 74, a founding companion of PBDW Architects, because the architect of report to assist with administrative processes and design, and it wasn’t a random rent. A Boston painter named Franklin Hill Smith designed the house for Dwight, with obvious influences from McKim, Mead & White — the famed Gilded Age structure agency co-founded by Stanford White, Samuel’s great-grandfather, who famously designed the Washington Square Arch.

Interior shot of 1 West 123rd Street and its myriad books.
Today, the large unfold appears to be like good — even the trendy kitchen options rows and rows of books.
Tina Gallo

By the late 1800s, McKim, Mead & White had left their mark on Boston, partially, by designing tony houses alongside Commonwealth Avenue, one in every of which belonged to US Rep. John F. Andrew and — much like the Harlem townhouse — options bay-shaped protrusions in its facade.

“[It also] had elaborate woodwork … there were elements made out of oak that were highly finished,” mentioned the youthful White of this Boston house. “You get the sense that Smith must have seen that house and it just made an impression on him, because there was nothing at the time that McKim, Mead & White did that was anything like it. Smith had very few models to copy from.”

“Once we found this place, of course the motivation to preserve it in some kind of way became quite important for us.”

James Fenton

In sum, the extent of the work has “cleaned up the block,” mentioned Compass affiliate dealer Bruce Robertson, who shares this listing with Compass’ Nick Rafello. “[The home] was derelict and a real eyesore. They cleaned up that corner, and it’s just one more positive step forward in the Harlem Renaissance, in my opinion.”

That’s an analogous sentiment that others have shared with Fenton.

“It was something that I think a lot of people had felt ought to be done,” he mentioned.

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