Focus on 57th Street: Manhattan real estate insiders Leslie Hirsch and Howard Morrel chart the rise of Billionaires’ Row


New York City’s most successful real estate agents make it their business to know the city’s highlights, hot spots, secrets, and specialties; many are NYC natives or longtime residents whose love for the city’s streets and avenues adds indisputable value to their career of choice. We’ve asked a few top agents to tell us about their favorite neighborhoods and share their views on what the city’s future may hold. Read on for insights from Leslie Hirsch, an insider with an enviable view from Billionaires’ Row.

Photo by Diane Picchiottino on Unsplash

Leslie Hirsch has worked with her business partner, Howard Morrel, at Compass Real Estate in New York City for the past 16 years. Together they have achieved sales records year after year while transacting over $2.8 billion in sales.

Looking north towards Billionaires’ Row in 2021 © 6sqft 

The pair has sold over 300 apartments on 57th Street in Manhattan, where Howard started his career in 1986 working in the sales office of Metropolitan Tower. Today, they’re still the leading agents in the building. Hirsch and Morrel are also the team behind 57th Street Report, a blog focused on new construction, shopping, and dining in this ascendant 21st-century neighborhood that continues to rise, both literally and as a growing residential destination.

Photo by Miikka A. on Unsplash

What, in your opinion, was the change, action, or event that had the most influence or impact on the neighborhood’s 21st-century emergence as a corridor of wealth?

The emergence of 57th Street, famously dubbed Billionaires’ Row, as a corridor of wealth in the 21st century can be largely attributed to a combination of zoning regulations and economic factors. One pivotal event was the rezoning of the area in the mid-2000s, which allowed for the construction of super-tall luxury towers. Visionary developers such as Gary Barnett, Harry Macklowe, and JDS seized the opportunity to create some of the most exclusive residential buildings in the world, catering to the ultra-wealthy clientele seeking unparalleled luxury and breathtaking views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline.

One hears a lot about foreign buyers; in the past 10 years, how has the international buyer changed, and what’s currently the status of the neighborhood as an investment for buyers from outside the U.S.? Which countries are currently leading this trend?

The neighborhood around 57th Street has always attracted foreign buyers because of its proximity to Central Park, Broadway, and Fifth Avenue shopping. Foreigners purchased apartments to use as a pied-a-terres or invested properties to rent out.

Over the past decade, the profile of international buyers in the area has evolved to include ultra-high-net-worth individuals who purchased apartments as a hedge against investments in their own countries. Many times these apartments will sit empty, like a safe deposit box in the sky.

Traditional powerhouse countries such as Russia, China, and the Middle East continue to play a significant role, but we’ve also witnessed a surge in interest from emerging markets like India, Brazil, and Nigeria. The neighborhood’s status as an investment hotspot for international buyers remains strong, driven by its prestigious reputation, prime location, and potential for high returns.

A penthouse at Central Park Tower; image courtesy of Extell

How has the neighborhood vibe changed since it emerged as a sought-after place to live? What are some things that have come to define it as a residential neighborhood?

The neighborhood vibe has shifted from being primarily commercial to becoming a highly sought-after residential destination. What defines it now: Its iconic skyscrapers housing some of the world’s wealthiest individuals, coupled with a growing number of luxury amenities and services catering to the discerning tastes of its residents. It’s a haven of exclusivity, sophistication, and opulence, where privacy and luxury converge to create an unparalleled living experience. Luxury retail shopping is now drifting westward from Fifth Avenue.

Photo courtesy of the Aman New York

How do you see the next decade looking on Billionaires’ Row? What are some trends you’re starting to see?

Development is moving eastward, and we will see 57th Street change dramatically over the next decade. There are many planned development sites moving east from 6th Avenue.

When you walk along 57th, you can see many vacant lots, boarded-up buildings, and planned projects. It is very exciting. The newest project to be completed was Soloviev’s luxury rental building next to 9 West 57th, and the Aman condo at the Crown building. We foresee more condominiums with luxury brand partnerships.

Photo courtesy of the Fifth Avenue Association

What are some of your favorite things about the neighborhood overall?

Some of our favorite things about the neighborhood include its vibrant energy, unparalleled views, and proximity to world-class dining, shopping, and cultural institutions. Walking along 57th Street, one encounters people from every country and walk of life, it’s amazing!

The Museum of Modern Art, 53rd Street Elevation; Photo by Brett Beyer, courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Photo credit: Altamarea Group
Per Se restaurant; photo by City Foodsters via Wiki Commons

What are your favorite spots (restaurants, shopping, culture, fun)?

As for favorite spots, there are so many to choose from! For dining, we highly recommend Per Se for an unforgettable fine dining experience or Marea for exquisite Italian seafood. Some exciting new restaurants have popped up recently, such as 53. There’s great live music in many of the hotel lounges–The Thompson has some great free live jazz.

For shopping, you can’t go wrong with a stroll down Fifth Avenue, home to luxury boutiques and flagship stores of renowned fashion houses. And for culture and entertainment, a visit to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) or a show on Broadway is a must. There’s a wonderful hidden gem coffee spot right off of 57th Street at Zibetto Espresso Bar on 6th Avenue between 56th and 57th; it is a tiny hole-in-the-wall with the best cappuccino in the city.

Central Park Tower. Photo: Cody Boone for SERHANT.
Photo of 220 Central Park South in front of 111 West 57th Street (cropped) by Jim Henderson via Wikimedia Commons
Penthouse at 432 Park Avenue; photo by Donna Dotan

Which are your favorite residential buildings in the neighborhood and why? New or planned buildings that you’re excited about?

The amenities at Central Park Tower are amazing and 220 Central Park South is in a league of its own. We also love the classics: The Osborne has the most exquisite gilded lobby, and the pre-war buildings closer to the East River have a completely different feeling from what’s on the west side. Another standout is 432 Park Avenue, known for its striking simplicity and status as the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere.

One57; photo via Extell Development

What was your most memorable or notable sale?

One of my most memorable sales to date was brokering the purchase of a three-bedroom stunner at One57 for a prominent international businessman. It was a highly competitive transaction, but seeing the joy and satisfaction on our client’s face when he secured his dream home with the most amazing views made it all worth it. It’s moments like these that remind us why we love what we do and why Billionaires’ Row will always hold a special place in our hearts.


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