Barbra's 5-Story Compromise

by Rita Reif (1970)

Photo: Gene Maggio

Photo of Streisand in hallway

Barbra Streisand, the house-hater, the art nouveau, art deco and cranberry glass collector, the German Expressionist admirer, the cupcake baker and décor maker, looked serious, spoke softly and moved swiftly through her unfurnished town house at 49 East 80th Street the other night.

“This house represents a compromise for me,” she said. “I've never wanted to live in a house. But I'm going ahead with it anyway.”

She had spent the greater part of the previous two hours Wednesday evening being interviewed, and in climbing up and down the sweeping, staircase, of her five-story residence, a house that she purchased on March 31 for $420,000.

It's a house that even she says she would sell if a buyer could be found and if, in turn, she could purchase a suitable co-op in an apartment building where she is welcome. Her applications for two co-ops—one on Park Avenue and the other on Fifth Avenue—have been rejected in the last year because, she said, “I am an actress.”

“I would much rather have the 17 rooms horizontally than vertically—or on two instead of five levels,” Miss Streisand said. “My life is too transient. But it may be easier to sell finished than the way it looks now.”

Vintage Hat—and House

Miss Streisand"s frown was only partially concealed under a blue slouch hat that could have been designed the year this house was built—1929. That was the year that art deco, the twenties-thirties decorative arts style, was moving into high gear.

Harry Allan Jacobs, the late architect, masterminded the residence with its Léger-like iron-and-glass front door for Lionello Perera, the Italian-born banker.

After Perera died in 1942, the house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Edward Sachs. His grandfather was a founder of the investment banking firm of Goldman, Sachs & Co. Mrs. Mary Williamson Sachs continued to live in the house after the couple were divorced and she left in mid-February.

Mr. Jacobs was also responsible for the score of art deco lighting fixtures in shell, scroll and angular shapes that appear as sconces and chandeliers in all major rooms except the living room.

“We're going to need a light in the living room,” said Miss Streisand, who was wearing a red sweater and belled denim pants. She intends to put all her French 18th-century furnishings and an impressive collection of boxes from the same period in this room.

What was really on her, mind, she explained, was how her guests would be able to move about safely next Tuesday evening, when she will open her house to the public. The event will be a party at which visitors will meet Bella Abzug, the lawyer who is fighting Representative Leonard Farbstein in the June 23 primary for the Democratic party's nomination in the 19th Congressional District.

Miss Streisand's 3,000 invitations went out more than a week ago, urging all who wish to contribute $25 to the cause of sending to Washington next January that "very special lady running for Congress who is dedicated to peace" to drop in between 5 and 8 P.M. "There will be stars of stage, screen and radio!— drinks—canapés but no furniture!!," her invitation read.

The house will be clean, thanks to a crew of "'Bella-Boosters," as Mrs. Abzug's volunteers are called. They have made sure that the windows were washed ("Now I can see the sycamore out front," Miss Streisand exclaimed).

And, with some professional assistance, the volunteers have mopped the floors, washed the Walls, scrubbed the bathrooms and decorated the rooms with paper flowers and posters. Mrs. Abzug came by Wednesday night to thank her helpers and spread political cheer.

Mrs. Max Gordon, a Bella Booster who is coordinating the party, explained that she and others are manning telephones (861-0493 or 737-6036) for those who wish to attend.

Bella Abzug

(Photo, Right): Bella Abzug, Democratic Congressional hopeful, at the rear near her campaign poster, came by to cheer volunteer workers as they cleaned and decorated Barbra Streisand's town house for a party.


Plans for Gymnasium

The one room that the volunteers do not have to decorate, since it looks fully furnished, is the gymnasium at the top of the house. But this is the one room that eventually will be completely changed. Its exercise equipment and the paneling will be ripped out to make way for laundry equipment before the entertainer moves in with her 3-year-old son, Jason Gould (Miss Streisand is separated from her husband, Elliott Gould).

A more dramatic addition will be made in an adjoining room, where Jason will have his bedroom and playroom. The leaded glass panels from a Victorian gazebo, which Miss Streisand bought from the set of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," will replace the front windows. And it is here that she hopes to place her red and green cranberry glass to intensify in glitter and color the gazebo panels.

"I have so much stuff that I've been collecting for years," she commented. "Most of it is in storage because our apartment is so small. I want to give all those things a home."

Besides the cranberry glass, some of the things that will come out of storage will be her Victorian shop furnishings, including an ice cream parlor bar, a gum machine and penny candy and spool cabinets. These will be installed near Jason's room and should provide a sharp contrast to the modem décor of his bedroom, which will be designed around a Frank Stella painting and filled with white furniture.

One major structural change envisioned for the main floor would provide a service entrance and change the kitchen windows. But Miss Streisand, who is working with Ira Goldfarb, a Brooklyn architect, is not quite certain yet whether they will repeat the art deco, layered, leaf-like detailing around the sandstone doorway, or whether she will incorporate a design by Erté, the Russian-born artist.

But if Erté's art deco work does not appear outside the house, it probably will be in the dining room. Miss Streisand took the artist on a tour of the premises recently and he suggested a painted wall design to fill an angular-framed recess there.

The library directly above this room will represent an earlier period, serving as a repository for the owner's art nouveau furniture and her large collection of turn-of-the-century art glass.

"I get the feeling that in this room you should be surrounded by this beautiful glass," she said, her hands weaving swirling patterns in the air as if she were running her fingers over the organic motifs imbedded in the glass. She also will probably hang her Klimt and Schiele German Expressionist art works and Mucha art nouveau posters in the room—but not against the walnut-paneled walls. "'The wood is ugly. It should be lacquered a rose color," the strawberry-blond singer insisted. "No, we don't have to remove the paneling, just paint over it."

As for the kitchen, both equipment and cabinets are slated for removal to make way for "everything in stainless steel, white and red—I love red." But Miss Streisand, who likes to cook, does not like the idea that the kitchen will be far from Jason's room or her own quarters.

"'Why, I'll have to leave a supply of cup cakes on every floor," she said as she made for the front door, her, voice still soft and warm.

And then"Tax-EE!" came the voice. She belted it out and only needed to do it once. It was a very brief Barbra Streisand concert, but the neighbors of the singer-actress on the tree lined street may as well be prepared for encores. For the way things look this week at least, Miss Streisand will be moving in by late fall.

[Barbra-Archives note: Barbra sold the house a few months later and spent a considerable amount of time on the West Coast, doing her Las Vegas concerts and filming movies.]


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