Inside the Grinnell cooperative in New York, where units are rarely for sale

The Grinnell, a stately cooperative in upper Manhattan, may just be the city’s best-kept secret, for now.

Filled with spacious homes, a strong sense of community, and significantly lower maintenance costs than comparable buildings, the property is located in a sleepy corner of Washington Heights at 800 Riverside Drive. It also rarely has openings, but house hunters and other property-curious locales now have their best chance in years to become members of this exclusive, hidden club.

At this 83-unit facility, where residents typically spend decades, there are now an unprecedented four apartments for sale. When they swap hands, they’ll mark the first sales at the Grinnell since 2020, according to StreetEasy, when just two units were sold. In 2019, only three units found new owners.

The Grinnell is home to units with dazzling old-world features, like this wood-paneled dining room within a $1.99 million listing for the GRI unit.
Hauseit
The GRI Unit's kitchen features restored original oak cabinetry.
The GRI Unit’s kitchen features restored original oak cabinetry.
Hauseit
Hardwood floors and moldings galore compliment the GRI unit features.
Hardwood floors and moldings galore compliment the GRI unit features.
Hauseit

“I don’t remember when [four homes] they were on the market at the same time,” said Bruce Robertson, 71, a longtime Grinnell resident. Robertson, also a Compass broker, is representing the six-room 8H unit, which listed Saturday at $1.59 million, the first time it was listed for sale in 45 years. Aptly called a “hidden treasure” in its marketing description, this top floor apartment has three bedrooms, a 23-foot-long great room, a windowed kitchen with the original glass-fronted cabinetry, a formal with wainscoting and views of the George Washington Bridge.

A day later, a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment — and pops of tone like the moldings in the pictures — listed for $1 million with RE/MAX Sparrow Realty, according to StreetEasy, according to StreetEasy.

Among other offerings: Unit GRI, an eight-room duplex, is now asking for $1.99 million after listing at $2.2 million in April. It boasts three bedrooms and two full bathrooms. Features include French doors, a wood paneled dining room, original oak floors and furniture, and mirrored mahogany doors. (Instead of a traditional listing, this home — represented by Hauseit — is an assisted offering for sale by the owner.)

There’s also Unit 2A: an 1,800-square-foot three-bedroom with French doors, crown molding, and bonus spaces including a library, foyer, maid’s room, and pantry. It went public in September for $1.35 million and is represented by Jamella Swift of Keller Williams NYC.

Light unit 2A, listed for $1.35 million, has French doors.
Light unit 2A, listed for $1.35 million, has French doors.
Keller Williams New York
Unit 2A also has chic wainscoting and molding details.
Unit 2A also has chic wainscoting and molding details.
Keller Williams New York

Occupying an entire block in the shape of a triangle between 157th and 158th Streets – and Riverside Drive and Edward Morgan Place – the Grinnell offers homes from a bygone New York era. The smaller apartment has five rooms and measures 1,100 square feet; the largest has more than 10 rooms and spans 2,700 square feet. Built in 1911 and designed by architects Schwartz & Gross, it is a historic building with a Mediterranean-style facade, a porte-cochere entrance to an interior courtyard, and other classic interior details including hardwood floors, leaded glass transoms, and 10 feet ceilings. Facilities include gym, bicycle storage and panoramic terrace.

Aside from the glamor of grande dames and million-dollar asking prices, many New Yorkers are unaware that it is a cooperative of the Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC), which means it is part of the city’s affordable housing stock and is subject to certain income restrictions for home purchases. It is one of the most successful cooperatives of its kind and one that “has worked well to maintain Grinnell’s large infrastructure over the years,” said Robertson.

That said, the Grinnell is the early 20th century uptown condominium fit for New York royalty who, with the proper income requirements, can act now to secure a coveted deal. Unsurprisingly, residents end up staying.

The Grinnell is located on an entire block in the shape of a triangle on Riverside Drive in Washington Heights.
The Grinnell is located on an entire block in the shape of a triangle on Riverside Drive in Washington Heights.
Stefano Giovannini
The mighty building commands the view in all directions, this one looking north on West 158th Street.
The mighty building commands the view in all directions, this one looking north on West 158th Street.
Stefano Giovannini
The Grinnell dates back to 1911.
The Grinnell dates back to 1911.
Stefano Giovannini

“People who buy at Grinnell don’t move because it’s a wonderful place to live,” said Robertson, who is also a former board member of the building and has sold 10 units in the building over the years.

Robertson has lived in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with his wife, also a real estate agent, for the past 22 years. They found the apartment on a whim after receiving a price from their Upper East Side condo and quickly knew the building was special. Love the south facing windows, bright light, solid construction, high ceilings, hardwood floors, and stillness.

“All in all, it’s hard to encapsulate how Grinnell is so special and how she came to be. Mainly because it’s truly a community of cohesive residents, many families who have grown up, now replaced by young families, who care for one another,” Robertson said. “We don’t always agree on the problems facing any 102-year-old monumental building of its size and scope. But we work through them and are proud of a beautiful property that seems to live in a castle, in an area with a bucolic feel with wonderful neighbors in other similar buildings.

Robertson has sold nearly a number of units in Grinnell over the years.
Robertson has sold nearly a number of units in Grinnell over the years.
Stefano Giovannini
Robertson is also a 22-year resident of the building.
Robertson is also a 22-year resident of the building.
Stefano Giovannini
A virtually staged image of the 8H unit, which Robertson represents.
A virtually staged image of the 8H unit, which Robertson represents.
Tina Gallo Photography

Other longtime residents agree it’s a building with a lovely spirit.

Bruce Kanze, age 74, adjunct professor at nearby City College of New York, moved to the Grinnell in December 1977 and lived in apartment 3B. He moved to 8F in March 1982, an eight-room, two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with his wife and three children, where he has lived ever since.

“There is a sense of belonging to a community and we love our neighbors,” Kanze said. She recalled fond memories of climbing the mulberry tree in front of the building and picking berries with her daughters, setting up summer lemonade stands with them, and crab parties with neighbors. “We’d buy bushels and cover the tables with paper bags and see who had the tallest pile of crab shells,” she added.

But another reason people stay so long in Grinnell is because of its HDFC title. It is one of 1,100 HDFC cooperatives in the city, where residents are shareholders and collectively own the building. The status dates back to 1982, when residents successfully bought the Grinnell from the city after a campaign that included the slogan “Buildings for the people, not for profit”. Aside from the tony interior and like-minded community, part of the terms for the property include a flip tax, which also keeps residents. The resulting funds go to the capital reserve of the building.

Unit 8H, on the top floor, also has great light exposure, as well as beautiful hardwood floors and moldings.
Unit 8H, on the top floor, also has great light exposure, as well as beautiful hardwood floors and moldings.
Stefano Giovannini
The kitchen inside the 8H cabinet.
The kitchen inside the 8H cabinet.
Tina Gallo Photography
The wood paneled dining room inside at 8H.
The wood paneled dining room inside at 8H.
Stefano Giovannini
8H has a northwest view of the George Washington Bridge.
8H has a northwest view of the George Washington Bridge.
Stefano Giovannini

In addition to the restrictions on income, a reduction in the property tax makes keeping it lower than other co-ops of comparable size and stature. In contrast, a 2,000-square-foot, four-room apartment at 116 Pinehurst Ave. will cost you $1.58 million with $3,400 a month in maintenance. Similarly, a three-bedroom coop on the century-old Riviera across West 157th Street from the Grinnell costs $1.79 million with $2,174 a month in maintenance. Robertson’s $1.59 million list, for example, has $1,448 a month in maintenance. Both the GRI and 2A units have a monthly fee of $1,450, StreetEasy shows.

Wayne Benjamin, 64, an architect who bought a 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom cooperative at Grinnell in 1987 for just $85,000 — about $228,000 today — has no plans to go anywhere. He enjoys cooking in his full-size kitchen and listening to music on his vinyl record player or jazz on an old-fashioned FM radio with a pair of speakers. It also enjoys New York City’s rare cross ventilation, as every room in the apartment is exposed, so it can open the dining room windows, which overlook the courtyard, and the French doors and living room windows across of the corridor, facing the street and enjoy the breeze all year round.

But ultimately, it’s the people.

“It depends on what’s important,” Benjamin said of Grinnell’s attraction to keeping him there. “There are things you share in common with others: common concerns and interests that you come together to address. This is what creates the sense of community that can make a building or neighborhood a vibrant and wonderful place to live.”

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