The board of directors of the American Irish Historical Society (AIHS) – or what remains of the leadership – is looking to unload its prized building at 991 Fifth Avenue at the steeply discounted price of $44 million, an $8 million reduction from the original ask of $52 million when the six and a half-floor townhouse came on the market in January of 2021.
The sharp drop in price indicates that the AIHS is looking to make a deal on the historic building, located across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, despite an ongoing investigation into any sale by New York State Attorney General Letitia James.
The development comes after a whirlwind of activity surrounding the AIHS, exclusively reported last weekend by our sister website IrishCentral.com, that saw the recent resignation of four long-time board members, and the uncontested election of Michael D. Higgins Junior as the society’s new president-general. Higgins is the son of Irish President Michael D. Higgins, and his new position with the AIHS has struck many observers as bizarre given that the Irish government has been vocal in its opposition to the sale of the Fifth Avenue headquarters.
The decades-long leadership of the AIHS, led by the family of a prominent physician and humanitarian Dr. Kevin Cahill, is seeking to move its base of operations, including its rare Irish historical documents, to Otsego in upstate New York, not far from Cooperstown where the Baseball Hall of Fame is located and about 200 miles from Fifth Avenue.
“Who is going to drive three and a half hours to visit the society? Or if a scholar wants to study the archives which are not digitized, they would have to drive 200 miles to get access. It makes no sense,” one board member who resigned told IrishCentral.com.
The price cut for 991 Fifth Avenue occurred on February 4, according to property history records on realtor.com. The site reported that the listing was removed in January and offered at its new $44 million price this month.
Paula Del Nunzio of Brown Harris Stevens, one of the top-grossing agents in the country who specializes in high-end properties, maintains the AIHS listing. “Since just 2006, Paula has closed over $1.46 billion in only 82 townhouse sales and achieved an average of 94 percent of the last asking price,” her biography states. (The reduced AIHS price represents a 15.38 percent price drop.) Her bio also notes that she is a member of the “American Irish Society.”
But any sale of the AIHS remains problematic because James opened an investigation last March after the Irish American community’s widespread shock over the possible loss of the AIHS home.
“I take the recent concerns regarding the future of the building seriously. We are vigilantly monitoring the situation, and I want to reassure Irish communities here and abroad that any potential transaction would not move forward without consent from my office or consent from the courts,” James said in a statement.
“I firmly stand in support of the Irish American community and this historic landmark, on St. Patrick’s Day and every day.”
Morgan Rubin, first deputy press secretary in the Office of the Attorney General, told the Irish Voice on Tuesday morning that “the (investigation) is still ongoing,” with no indication at this time when it will conclude.
There was fanfare in January of last year when The Wall Street Journal showcased a new luxury townhouse listing, a rarely available jewel located at 991 Fifth Avenue, “one of the few remaining Upper East Side mansions dating to the Gilded Age.”
The offering, the AIHS headquarters since 1939, and news of the potential sale blindsided the Irish American community and angered the Irish government, which had donated more than $1 million to a 2006 renovation of the premises.
"I am concerned and disappointed about the proposed sale. I would urge the board of the AIHS to reconsider this decision,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.
At the time, a spokesperson for the AIHS said, “The decision to place the building on the market has been made in order to best enable the society to pursue its cultural and scholarly mission in a sustainable manner.”
Love Irish history? Share your favorite stories with other history buffs in the IrishCentral History Facebook group.