New York Foundling has listed its building on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal

For a century, a four-story stone-and-brick building at the center of Greenwich Village has stood as a beacon of hope for women and children and struggling New Yorkers.

But now, the latest not-for-profit owner of the graceful building with soaring curved windows, has, like many other charitable enterprises, heard the call of New York's strong real-estate market: It has put the building up for sale with an asking price of $47.5 million.

New York Foundling, a large foster and child-care agency that dates back 145 years, paid about $3 million for the building at 27 Christopher St. in 2002.

Now Bill Baccaglini, the president and chief executive of the agency, said that rather than investing millions in a much-needed renovation, the group decided to plow the proceeds of the sale into new programs for children, especially those with a focus on support for children aging out of regular foster care.

"The Foundling has always prided itself in staying responsive to the current needs of children," he said.

The planned sale follows many others by not-for-profits in recent years, as some institutions take advantage of rising and record building and land prices in many Manhattan neighborhoods. Developers and wealthy individuals are driving prices higher, competing for the limited supply of housing sites.

The sales have raised questions, for some, about whether wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods are becoming too homogeneous, as long-established neighborhood institutions move out.

Offices of the child-care agency Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal

The Foundling building has always served charitable purposes. It was constructed in 1911 by two Irish sisters, Margaret and Sarah Switzer, who arrived in New York as poor immigrants, and built a fortune as dressmakers and designers. They turned it into a residence and school for 38 working women.

It was purchased by St. Joseph's Parish in the 1920s for use as a parochial school, and sold to St. Vincent's Medical Center in 1976 for use as a nursing school.

After its purchase by New York Foundling, it housed the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection, which provides training for child care workers, and advocacy on behalf of children. It was named for the longtime medical director of the agency.

The building comes with a deed restriction, imposed by the parish, requiring that it be used for health-care purposes through January 2016.

A wealthy buyer or a condo developer will get a palazzo-style building with 14,540 square feet of space over four floors, with a first floor of stone and a second floor of brick with tall, round arched windows, on a quiet corner of Christopher Street and Waverly Place in the center of the Greenwich Village Historic District.

It comes with a 4,283-square-foot basement, and 3,980 square feet of outdoor space, mainly on the roof with views of the tops of skyscrapers and a glimpse of the Hudson River. Ceiling heights range up to more than 15 feet, though much of the height and some of the windows are now hidden below a dropped, institutional ceiling.

Dolly Lenz, the broker who has the listing, said that she expected it to sell to foreign royalty or an American billionaire, who would transform it into a private mansion. She noted that Wall Street bonuses were up sharply this year. "That bodes well for a sale," she said.

But Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said the latest planned sale—like others before it, including the conversion of the St. Vincent's Medical Center main campus into condominiums now under construction—was troubling.

"This is definitely kind of a disconcerting trend," he said. "We are seeing all of these old institutions in the neighborhood that served a wide range of people of varying needs, supplying housing for the 1% of the 1%."

In the past few years, another child-centric group, the Children's Aid Society, has been active in the real-estate market, closing programs and putting sites on the market in now wealthy neighborhoods, like Greenwich Village and Yorkville on the Upper East Side. They are using the proceeds to expand programs in the Bronx and other needy neighborhoods.

In 2011 the Children's Aid Society received $33 million for several lots on Sullivan Street in the Village. In late February, Broad Street Development put 25 condominiums on the market there at prices ranging between $3 million and $18 million.

In addition the society is now listing a 50-foot-wide, four-story mansion on the Upper East Side, home of the Rhinelander Children's Center, for $18 million. (That is down from $20 million when it first went on the market in December.)

Anthony Ramos, a spokesman for the society, said programming at the center was due to close in June. He said that the society had been providing services in the Village and in Yorkville for more than 100 years. "Greenwich Village is no longer a high poverty neighborhood, as you know," he said.

New York Foundling has a budget of more than $100 million, with more than 90% of revenue coming from government contracts for serving children in foster care and keeping families together.

Last year, in another foray into real estate, the agency sold the lower floors of its headquarters building on Sixth Avenue and 16th Street to the New York City School Construction Authority for $59 million. The proceeds of that sale were used to provide funding for a charter school in the Bronx started by New York Foundling, as well for an adjacent medical clinic.

The Fontana Center will be moved to the ninth floor of the Sixth Avenue building.

Write to Josh Barbanel at