Chinese lamps, leather chairs and carpeting reminiscent of the orient set the mood of subtle elegance in the lobby of Douglas Elliman’s executive offices. Company publications, Treasury of Fine Homes and Folio of Fine Homes, are set out for visitors to peruse as they wait to be admitted past this luxurious, hushed anteroom. An entirely different aura presents itself in the interior space of this brokerage space at 575 Madison Avenue.
The subdued tone of the lobby has fused into an area swirling with the activity of brokers at their desks, accessorized with prerequisite computers and ringing telephones. This is only one of Douglas Elliman’s 11 Manhattan offices and is headquarters for the firm. The company also maintains six additional branch offices in the New York Tri-State area and has affiliated offices throughout the world. Over 800 agents work for Douglas Ellilman, brokering $2.2 billion in sales during 1999. The company anticipates that number to be dwarfed by the year 2000’s real estate sales. Although the exterior may seem quiet, a company doing these numbers could not possibly be anything but explosive.
Chairman and chief executive officer Alan J. Rogers, an Englishman, initially became involved with real estate in London during the 1970s when he did commercial leasing for a firm called Knight Frank & Rutley. In 1979, he headed for Brussels to head the company’s office and in 1982, went to Hong Kong for the firm to set up a joint venture. On Thanksgiving of 1984, Rogers landed in New York to set up an office for Knight Frank, affiliated with Douglas Elliman. When the company wanted him back in London after three months, Rogers decided to remain in New York and joined the developer Milstein Properties. "What we were building was so diverse," he recalls. "And it was a fascinating time." Instead of managing an office, as he had done for so many years, Rogers had a new experience and headed the marketing department for the Milsteins. In 1989, the Milsteins bought Douglas Elliman, a firm which had been founded in 1911 in a basement store at 421 Madison Avenue by seven men and one woman.
Intent on becoming experts in any one given area in Manhattan, the firm originally concentrated on the "silk stocking" district, the region between Broadway and the East River from 32nd Street to Central Park, and east of the Park to 98th Street. The original creators were zealous in their study of the area, its people, businesses, strengths, weaknesses, and complexities. The firm became experts and began providing information and guidance. According to Douglas Elliman literature, "During the ensuing decades, the scope of our services grew in response to the city’s ever-changing real estate market. By adapting to our clients’ changing needs, Douglas Elliman evolved into the city’s original full-service real estate firm."