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New York City..sigh.

Turtle Bay; for those of us who live far away from the USA, it sounds very Hampton-esque, Boston-esque … rich-est kind of place.

One out of three ain’t bad with Turtle Bay being in, of all places, Manhattan. Still a bit lost? – well the neighbourhood encompasses the Chrysler Building (a little thrill just went through me) and the United Nations building.

Turtle Bay has long been a cog in the mighty wheel of NYC – dating back to when the Dutch ran the place, and celebrities such as Edgar Allen Poe, were to be found on its streets.

However, it entered a very untidy period after the Civil War, taking on a rather industrial shabbiness and the beautiful historic homes were all but deserted. A fall from grace, until….

In 1919 Mrs Charlotte Martin, a visionary with money (and aren’t they always the best visionaries to have?) decided it would be super fun to buy 20 properties, renovate them and create a Medici inspired common garden. She must have spent a bomb renovating all the homes, and in the end, she remained holding only 226-228 East 49th St., selling off the rest to ‘arty types’ as they were called.

The original development of Turtle Bay, 1920. Photo from the Library of Congress

Kathryn Hepburn, Bob Dylan, Stephen Sondheim, the brilliant screen play writer Garson Kanin (just love Kanin’s stories of life in early Hollywood) and earlier the writer E.B White, have all been attracted to living here over the years, with the glorious hidden courtyard gardens, an almost secret escape from the cheek by jowl life in Manhattan.

What a fabulous film. A publicity shot from Philadephia Story, stars included Kathryn Hepburn

In the post war period, around 1949 E.B. White wrote what some have called a ‘love letter’ to New York in his book Here Is New York, in which he uses a willow tree in Turtle Bay garden as a metaphor for his beloved city.

A block or two west of the new City of Man in Turtle Bay is an old willow tree that presides over an interior garden. It is a battered tree, long suffering and much climbed, held together by strands of wire but beloved of those who know it. In a way, it symbolises the city: life under difficulties, growth against odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete and the steady reaching for the sun” *

Ah, the inspiring history of this town is too often overshadowed by its boisterous and boastful reputation of bright lights and booze.

This week a part of that marvellous Mrs Martin dream has come back to the market, in a state of, well, undress.

Digitally altered to show the enormous potential of the courtyards ….

Olivier Sarkozy (yes, of those Sarkozys) bought the property (is 8,700 square feet, over five floors) seven or so years ago, just before he wed the diminutive Mary-Kate Olsen.

Sarkozy and Olsen

It was supposed to be a huge renovation, the house not the marriage – but in the end neither came to a happy ending and the now divorced millionaire has put the home on the market through Sotheby’s.

He is reported to have paid, via a limited liability company) $USD13.5m, but due to the ‘mid reno’ condition of the mansion, is now asking a mere $USD11.5m

My elder son has been living in the states for years now, the last couple in NYC – not far from this address. It has energised me to find out more about this rather mythic metropolis.

*The famous willow tree came to a natural end in 2009, but not before professionals took cuttings which have been successfully grown. The trees are planned to be planted, appropriately,  across the parks New York City .

Prue Miller is a property journalist who loves spending a freezing Christmas in New York ..and hopes to again one day soon.