Written by Matthew Haag
The town house where financier Jeffrey Epstein is accused of engaging in sex acts with underage girls is one of the largest private homes in Manhattan, a short walk from Central Park.
The seven-story residence at 9 E. 71st St., between Fifth and Madison avenues, sprawls across 21,000 square feet and has five bathrooms, a two-story reception room and many bedrooms, including three three-room suites on the fourth floor.
It also has a heated sidewalk in front to melt the snow during the winter months. On the second floor, Epstein hung a mural he had commissioned in recent years: A photorealistic prison scene that included barbed wire, corrections officers and a guard station, with Epstein portrayed in the middle.
“He said, ‘That’s me, and I had this painted because there is always the possibility that could be me again,’” said R. Couri Hay, a public relations specialist invited by Epstein to a meeting at his home and to view the mural three months ago.
Another person who visited the town house last year remembered Epstein doing work at the mansion while seated at a large dining table in the rear of the house that fit 20 people, with multiple computer monitors and a phone alongside. Behind him was a table covered with framed photographs of celebrities and dignitaries, including a signed photograph of former President Bill Clinton.
The visitor to the mansion was greeted by a woman who spoke with an Eastern European accent and led guests up a marble staircase to a study on another floor. A wall of the room was covered with photographs of famous people, including Woody Allen, and another that Epstein pointed out was of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.
Epstein, 66, is accused of engaging in sex acts with young girls from 2002 to 2005 during naked massage sessions and paying them hundreds of dollars in cash, according to an indictment unsealed on Monday.
During the search of his town house Saturday, investigators seized nude photographs of underage girls, federal prosecutors said. “The alleged behavior shocks the conscience,” Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said Monday.
Prosecutors said they were moving to seize Epstein’s town house.
Epstein, however, was not even supposed to become the owner of the opulent stone house on the Upper East Side.
In 1989, Epstein’s mentor, Leslie H. Wexner, founder and chairman of L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, bought the seven-story Beaux-Arts home for $13.2 million. At the time, it was the highest recorded sale price for a town house in Manhattan.
Wexner then spent at least that much on artwork — including multiple works by Picasso — art deco furnishings, Russian antiques, rosewood tables and doors and a gut renovation of the home. Security devices, including a network of cameras, were installed. A cellar was divided into separate spaces, one for red wines and another for white. The renovation was featured on the cover of the December 1995 issue of Architectural Digest.
The town house had been a longtime private school and Wexner spent years converting it into a lavish estate.
Wexner, however, never moved; he decided to stay in Columbus, Ohio, where L Brands has its headquarters.
But another person did move in: Epstein. “Les never spent more than two months there,” Epstein told The New York Times in 1996.
The home has a history of going unoccupied by its owner. Herbert N. Straus, an heir to the Macy’s fortune, commissioned the 40-room mansion in the early 1930s and hired prominent architect Horace Trumbauer to design it. But Straus died in 1933, leaving the property unfinished and unoccupied.
The Straus family gave the residence to a hospital in 1944. In 1962, the private school, Birch Wathen School, bought it and converted it into a schoolhouse. The school, which was started in 1921 with an emphasis on the arts, relocated after Wexner bought the house. (It later merged with another private school to start the Birch Wathen Lenox School.)
Epstein said in the 1996 interview that the mansion was now his, though the transaction has never appeared in New York City records online. In 2011, he transferred ownership of the property from a trust connected to Epstein and Wexner to Maple Inc., a U.S. Virgin Islands-based entity under Epstein’s control, according to records.
The transfer document, from Nine East 71st Street Corp. to Maple Inc, did not list a purchase price, indicating that it did not involve any exchange of money.
A spokeswoman for Wexner said he “severed ties” with Epstein about a decade ago. Erika Kellerhals, a lawyer in the Virgin Islands who handled the 2011 transfer for Epstein, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Prosecutors say the home is valued at $77 million, but the city’s Department of Finance estimated this year that the mansion was valued closer to $56 million. The 2019 property taxes for the home, which are based on a much lower assessed value, were an estimated $347,000. (The property’s tax bill in 2008 was the fourth highest-taxed single-family home in New York City.)
Epstein also owns a home in Palm Beach, Florida, a 7,500-acre ranch in New Mexico and an apartment in Paris. He also owns a private island in the Caribbean, and at least 15 cars.
From the street, Epstein’s Manhattan mansion has features that make it a commanding presence on the block: a 15-foot-tall oak front door (which the police pried open with a crow bar Saturday during a search of the property), large arched windows on the ground floor and a balcony on the second floor. Epstein’s initials are on a brass plaque near the front door.
While Epstein has tried to maintain a private life, he did allow a reporter for Vanity Fair magazine to visit the mansion for a 2003 profile, “The Talented Mr. Epstein.”
The article describes a main hallway that was covered with rows of artificial eyeballs from England that had been made for wounded soldiers.
The room connected to the hallway was a marble foyer adorned with a painting that resembled works by French artist Jean Dubuffet. “The host coyly refuses to tell visitors who painted it,” the reporter, Vicky Ward, wrote.
The article was published around the same time he started to recruit underage girls to the mansion, according to the indictment unsealed Monday.