It seems that Dr. Nicholas Bartha got what he apparently wanted: If he could not live in the town house on East 62nd Street, no one could.
In the five years since he is presumed to have blown it up, nothing has been built there.
The city approved plans for a replacement town house in 2007. But the lot remains empty — 2,000 expensive square feet, hidden behind a plywood fence. A peek reveals nothing to excite would-be sidewalk superintendents: No bulldozers, no foundation being dug, no bricks waiting to become straight new walls.
So what is happening with this bit of unbuilt New York?
“Very little, I’m sad to say,” said Preston T. Phillips, an architect, who designed the replacement with Abelow Sherman Architects. “We have geared up twice to get it started. We have just had to pull back.”
He blamed the recession and the real estate slowdown. “The economic downturn coincided almost immediately with the plans to begin,” he said. “I think that every time there’s a glimmer of hope in the economy, it turns the other way, and it’s just kept the project at bay.”
The lot was sold in 2007 to Janna Bullock, a Russian-born real estate developer. Tabloid newspapers have described how she went from baby-sitting in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, to private jets and an art collection. But in the go-go years, she appeared to have a knack for breathing new life into town houses and marketing them at a profit.
She paid $8.3 million for the East 62nd Street lot and announced plans for what promised to be the ultimate green town house. It was to have a geothermal heating and cooling system that involved channeling 1,500 feet down into the earth. There would be a way to collect rainwater runoff, clean it and use it to irrigate a garden on the roof.
Then the recession hit. The doormen at the apartment building next door — which had been rocked by the explosion — watched and wondered when the work would begin. “It’s weird, being next to an empty lot,” William Montanez, a building worker, said.
Dr. Bartha, 66, a physician, is believed to have destroyed the house to prevent a forced sale that would have involved dividing the proceeds with his ex-wife, Cordula. A sheriff’s deputy had served him with eviction papers a few days earlier; about an hour before the blast, he sent Mrs. Bartha a rambling e-mail that said, among other things, “I always told you I will leave the house only if I am dead.”
A long plastic tube was connected to the gas line in front of the house. Investigators thought Dr. Bartha unwound the tube, playing it out as he crossed the threshold.
Dr. Bartha, who weighed about 350 pounds, was pulled from the wreckage after the blast, still alive. He died five days later. The explosion also injured 10 firefighters and 5 passers-by.
As for the town house that Ms. Bullock had in mind for the site, a person associated with the project said that she was simply waiting for the real estate market to stabilize — that is, to reach a point where a “top-tier luxury contemporary town house” could be completed and sold without a lag. “She does not want it to sit on the market for any length of time,” the person said.
Mr. Phillips, who has images of the planned town house on his Web site, said he had “a number of communications” with Ms. Bullock last summer.
“We had a financial meeting last July where it looked as if things were going to happen,” he said, “and then it just never materialized.”
He said he still hoped for a green light for the project, adding, “Her enthusiasm had not waned a bit.”