Civil rights lawyer William Kunstler’s former Village townhouse sells for $6.5M

January 10, 2023

Photos courtesy of Brown Harris Stevens unless otherwise noted

The Greenwich Village townhouse of late civil rights attorney William Kunstler sold last month for $6,500,000, according to CityRealty. Kunstler, who famously defended the Chicago Seven, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and others, and his wife, attorney Margaret Ratner Kunstler, paid $225,000 for the townhouse in 1981, as the Wall Street Journal reported. Located at 13 Gay Street, the four-story brick Greek Revival townhouse was built in 1844 and retains the same 19th-century charm of its neighbors.

The 2,660-square-foot home has historic details like wide-plank floors, ironwork, and fireplaces, but has been updated and is move-in ready. There are six bedrooms and a first-floor space with a private entrance under the stoop that Kunstler used as a law office. Two garden floor spaces are zoned for live/work.

There’s an open parlor floor that leads to an upgraded kitchen, which incorporated a Viking range set into the original hearth. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors open onto a deck and a paved patio.

“We really didn’t change too much,” Margaret Ratner Kunstler, who moved to Brooklyn years after her husband died in 1995 and has rented the home out since, told the Wall Street Journal. “Part of the charm was the sense that it had been there for a long time.”

The home was first listed last April for $7,900,000. The price tag then dropped to $6,900,000 this fall before selling for $6,500,000 in December, roughly 29 times the amount the Kunstlers paid for it more than 40 years ago.

Photo by Spencer Means on Flickr

Across the street, a 200-year-old property once home to author Ruth McKenny is at the center of a preservation controversy. The city’s Department of Buildings in November ordered the immediate demolition of the rowhouse at 14 Gay Street after learning unpermitted work on the building has left it at risk of collapsing.

Lionel Nazarian of Nazarian Property Group acquired the two-story building at 14 Gay Street, along with 16 and 18 Gay Street and 16-20 Christopher Street, in April for $12 million. Nazarian told Commercial Observer the group was aware of structural issues at 14 Gay Street from a 2003 fire and immediately began work on the property. According to the DOB, the work done was not approved by the agency and the building was “compromised structurally” and in danger of collapsing.

McKenney lived at 14 Gay Street in the 1930s with her sister. The apartment was featured in a series of stories written by McKenney for The New Yorker, which later became a book titled My Sister Eileen. 

The Landmarks Preservation Commission said it is working with the city and Nazarian to “minimize the impact of the emergency demolition” and plans to salvage materials for a possible reconstruction of the building.


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