who's buying

The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture Mansion’s Not-So-Secret Buyer

Photo: Kenneth Grant/Alamy Stock Photo

When the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture mansion went on the market in 2021, it seemed possible that the building, asking $30 million, would set a borough record. But the neo-Jacobean house at 53 Prospect Park West ultimately went for the considerably reduced price of $13.5 million, as the Real Deal first reported this week. While it still appears to have set a neighborhood record, it didn’t come close to the Brooklyn record: a $25.5 million brownstone in Brooklyn Heights.

The sale has yet to hit city records, and the rumored buyer, the tony private school next door, Poly Prep, did not respond to a request for comment. Marc Solomon and Jim St. André, the Compass brokers who represented the Society for Ethical Culture in the off-market deal, said they were unable to disclose the buyer. But several brokers we spoke with said that “everyone seems to know” the buyer is the private school, which also has a sprawling campus in Dyker Heights. (The school also bought its current Park Slope home — the 12,000-square-foot Hulbert Mansion — from Ethical Culture.)

Photo: Photo: Edward Menashy/Evan Joseph Photography

Certainly, a Poly Prep purchase would make the most sense — zoned commercial and used for the past 74 years as a kind of community center and events space (many Brooklynites have been to a wedding or bar mitzvah there), the mansion would require a massive renovation to be used as a single-family home. Several brokers estimated it would have easily cost $10 million to convert and update the space. Not that some people weren’t interested in trying.

“It was appealing to all different sorts of buyers — single-family users, commercial uses,” St. André told me. “A 100-foot-wide property — you just never see that in Brooklyn. At one point we were talking to someone about bringing a Blue Hill–like farm-to-table restaurant there. We talked to some people about really interesting single-family concepts, too.”

Photo: Photo: Edward Menashy/Evan Joseph Photography

The house, a freestanding, nearly 6,000-square-foot Park Slope mansion built in 1901, is 30-feet wide and looks directly out onto Prospect Park. It has an enormous quarter-acre fenced-in yard and is all historic details: multiple fireplaces, stained and leaded glass windows, hand-painted friezes.

But selling it to a single-family buyer was always going to be a stretch. It’s in a very prominent, public location, exposed on all four sides on a bustling thoroughfare. And it’s also landmarked, meaning that everything would be scrutinized by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. (And one of the major criteria they consider when an owner applies to make changes — is it visible from the street — would apply to basically anything that was done to the building.)  “One of the main issues is that it was very unclear if someone would be able to enlarge the building,” a broker told me. Wasn’t 6,000 square feet of living space enough? “Well, that’s one of the things the price was based on,” she told me. “That’s what people would have been paying for.”

Photo: Photo: Edward Menashy/Evan Joseph Photography
Who bought the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture Mansion?