Biglaw, Dissolution, Fabulosity, Goldman Sachs, Lawyerly Lairs, Money, Real Estate

Lawyerly Lairs: A $16 Million Brooklyn Brownstone

192 Columbia Heights

What happens to people who work for failed law firms? Some of them wind up filing for personal bankruptcy.

But some of them experience far happier endings. Some of them wind up living in 25-foot-wide, 8,000-square-foot, $16 million townhouses.

Okay, a caveat: $16 million is what the owners are asking for their home. It’s not clear they’ll get that price, which would set a record for a single family home in Brooklyn Heights.

No matter which way you slice it, though, this is still an eight-figure home. Who’s the lawyer living in such luxury, and where did she once work?

Move over, Cliff and Clair Huxtable. Make way for Don and Saundra Cornwell.

The Huxtables were a well-to-do African-American family living in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone; the Cornwells are a well-to-do African-American family living in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. Clair Huxtable was a lawyer; Saundra Cornwell is a lawyer. Cliff Huxtable was a doctor; Don Cornwell is a… Goldman Sachs banker turned CEO. Oh, and the Huxtables were fictional and the Cornwells are real.

And so is the Cornwells’ house — real nice, and real expensive. The New York Times reports:

A perfectly positioned and expertly renovated historic townhouse perched high above the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with idyllic views of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and beyond, is about to enter the market at $16 million.

If met, the asking price for the 7,900-square-foot, five-story brownstone at 192 Columbia Heights between Clark and Pierrepont Streets would set a record for a single-family townhouse in the Heights.

Don and Saundra Cornwell

That would be a very happy ending for two people who have experienced highs and lows over the years. Things started off quite well, as you can see from the Cornwells’ 1983 New York Times wedding announcement, Saundra Williams Marries a Banker. At the time, the well-educated Saundra Clarke Williams — bachelor’s degree from Manhattanville College, master’s degree in comparative literature from Howard University, law degree from St. John’s University — was an associate at a prominent New York law firm, Bower & Gardner. Her similarly pedigreed husband, W. Don Cornwell — bachelor’s degree from Occidental College, business degree from Harvard — was a vice president at Goldman Sachs.

Cornwell later left Goldman to co-found a venture called Granite Broadcasting, a New York-based broadcasting holding company. For years, the company flourished: “In [Don Cornwell's] 21 years as the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, the corporation amassed fifteen television stations to become the largest African American controlled television broadcast company in America. At its peak, Granite Broadcasting generated $169 million in revenue.”

Alas, in the wake of the 2006 United States broadcast TV realignment, the company stumbled. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2006. But it did manage to restructure itself, emerging from Chapter 11 in June 2007. Cornwell left as CEO in 2009.

Saundra Cornwell has also seen her professional ups and downs. She made partner at Bower & Gardner and worked at the firm as a partner from 1984 to 1994. But in 1994, the firm dissolved, for reasons that are open to dispute. At some point thereafter, Saundra Cornwell retired from the practice of law.

It appears she devoted some of her time and energy to renovating and restoring 192 Columbia Heights, which the Cornwells purchased in 1995. According to the Times, “the home was transformed in 1996-97 by Ben Baxt of Baxt/Ingui Architects and the construction firm Interior Alterations, Brooklyn’s go-to specialists for 19th-century townhouse renovations.”

Let’s see the result of the renovations, shall we?

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