World

Alice Mason, Real Estate Fixer and Hostess to the Elite, Dies at 100

Alice Mason, a real estate broker and hostess whose talent at social engineering reworked the populations of Manhattan’s most restrictive co-ops — the tony apartment buildings that lined Park and Fifth Avenues — and for a time altered the nightlife of what used to be known as New York society, died on Jan. 4 at her home in Manhattan. She was 100.

Her daughter, Dominique Richard, announced her death.

When she was a young woman in the 1950s, Ms. Mason taught dance — rumba, salsa, cha-cha — and her earliest real estate clients were actors, like Marilyn Monroe and Rex Harrison. But when she met Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, a horsy scion of the railroad clan, she found herself unable to place him in certain buildings.

Vanderbilt money, as it happened, was too new for certain communities in the 1950s. And so she began to study the peculiar social structure of the Manhattan cooperative. (She eventually found Mr. Vanderbilt a penthouse on East 79th Street.) By the 1980s, the Reagan years, she was a master at the game, running her own firm, Alice F. Mason Ltd., when even newer money was ascendant and the leveraged-buyout kings and their wives needed help passing muster with the gatekeepers of exclusive buildings like 740 Park, once home to the Rockefellers and the Bouviers.

“The 1980s were the last gasp of New York’s old hierarchy, when the oldest and the newest richest families traded the palatial apartments that symbolized the underlying continuity of the city’s evolving elite,” Michael Gross, whose 2005 book, “740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building,” mapped that evolution, said by email. “Alice was more matchmaker than real estate broker. She knew the buildings, the co-op boards and the buyers and greased the wheels for all concerned.”

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