New York City

I spent three years working in New York, and for many years after, travelled there on business. New York has never failed to fascinate. Always full of energy, diversity (walking north from Madison Square Garden for 20 blocks I would seldom hear a word of English); and not to mention its rough edges and over-the-top opulence. There are apparently 8 million stories in New York, and here are just two of them, hopefully worth your time.

The photo following is of a Mansion at 9 East 71st Street in the Lennox Hill neighbourhood of Manhattan. It recently came onto to the real estate market, with an asking price of $88,000,000.

The Mansion was commissioned to be built in 1930 by Herbert Strauss, heir to the Macy department store fortune. The listing agent, the Modlin Group, describes the Mansion thusly: “Built as New York City’s largest and most luxurious French Neo-Classical Mansion on a 50 foot wide by 102.2 foot deep lot, 7 stories and in excess of 28,000 square feet, some of the property’s luxuries include 15-foot-tall oak entry doors, imported French-limestone meticulously decorated with carvings, sculpture figures and ornamental iron works. Mr. Straus even transported antiques and fixtures along with ‘entire 18th-century rooms’ from Europe.”

There are 40 rooms, with 10 bedrooms and 15 bathrooms. I am doing the math and the math says that 15 rooms remain. I have no idea what there are – kitchen, dining room, living room, library, maid’s quarters?
Taxes are $31,000 per month.

Mr. Straus passed away in 1933, and never lived in the Mansion. It was boarded up and in 1944 it was acquired by the “Roman Catholic Archbishopric of New York as an extension of St. Claire Hospital,” and then sold to the Birch Walten School, a college preparatory day school.

Listing details conclude by stating that, “This Mansion presents a once in a life-time opportunity to own the largest single-family home in New York City. This historic landmark could easily present itself as a palatial consulate, embassy, foundation, or a museum to once again house some of the world’s greatest works of art.”

What the listing details do not state, is that the Mansion’s most recent owner was Jeffrey Epstein (below, and proving that the least of his crimes was his lack of fashion sense).

We all know the Epstein story, so it is not worth spending time on that here. As for the Mansion, there is more. It was acquired in 1989 by Les Wexner, head of the L Brands retail empire (which includes Victoria’s Secret). Subsequently, in 1998, the Mansion was purchased by Epstein, for what seems a very nominal sum. In 1991 Wexner had given Epstein power of attorney over his personal fortune, and that seemed to set Epstein on a path of massive wealth accumulation. But enough of that … I will move on.

This is Larry Kelly. By all accounts a hard-working man, close to family. Larry was an aspiring actor and playwright, who became a teacher. Later in his teaching career he went back to college to earn his master’s degree, eventually becoming a vice-principal at his high school. He and his wife Dawn lived modestly on West 92nd Street in NYC, not all that far from the Epstein Mansion, but truly a world apart.

Larry taught English and drama to mostly Black and Latino students at a Harlem high school. He coached soccer and advised the drama club and the debating team. Larry started a program with students suspended from school, pressing education authorities to credit these at-risk students to receive credit towards graduation for the work done during their “detentions.” In other words, Larry gave much more than he ever took. He retired from teaching in 2017.

On the 12th of March, after a few days of not feeling well, Larry went to an urgent care centre for a coronavirus test. Five days later, very ill, without test results in hand, and while waiting for an ambulance, he asked his wife to help him into some clean underwear (I like this guy!). He went from ambulance right into the ER.

Very quickly Larry was administered oxygen and two days later, he was intubated, put into a coma and with breathing managed through a ventilator. On the 28th of March, Dawn was asked to come to the hospital to say goodbye to Larry. He wasn’t going to make it. But he had said to Dawn as he was taken away by ambulance, “I promise I’ll never stop fighting.”

He didn’t. He suffered seizures, fever, pneumonia, lost 30 pounds and spent 51 days on the ventilator. After 128 days, on the 22nd of July, Larry was able to come home. And with his sense of humour intact. Upon receiving a hospital bill for $1.3 million, he said, ”They bring you back to life and then kill you with the bill!” (Nearly all covered by insurance).