Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Dakota History

The Dakota, 1 West 72nd Street

The city's most legendary apartment building, the Dakota is a massive, fortress-like building with a large center courtyard and very large apartments with very high ceilings.
With an impressive, arched entrance with sentry box flanked by large planters, the buff-colored building is surrounded by a very attractive and dramatic low cast-iron fence in front of a "dry moat." The four corners of the courtyard, which has a fountain, lead to separate lobbies and passenger elevators. (Service elevators run up the middle of each side of the building.)
The building exudes solidity as well it should since its bottom walls are 28 inches thick, but its profusion of architectural elements and pale yellow brickwork that contrasts with dark brown masonry at the corners produce a lively and graceful appearance of considerable visual interest because of the mix of gables, arches, balconies, oriel windows, dormers, finials and other ornamentation including a flagpole at the top of its park facade.
When it was built in 1884, it towered over the Upper West Side and was an immediate success with all its apartments rented on opening day. Its developer, Edward Severin Clark, an heir to a sewing machine fortune, died two years before it opened. The building's name allegedly reflected the fact that the building was so far removed from the city's established luxury residential areas that it might as well be in the Dakota territory. Its 72nd Street façade, indeed, has an image of a Native American carved on its façade.
Designed by Henry J. Hardenbergh, who would later design the Plaza Hotel, the building had tennis courts and a croquet field on the adjoining 175-foot-long lot on West 72nd Street that was later developed after World War II as a separate apartment building.
Many of residents of its cooperative apartments have been celebrities including Leonard Bernstein, the composer and conductor, Lauren Bacall, the actress, Judy Garland, the singer, William Inge, the playwright, Jo Mielziner, the stage designer, Rex Reed, the columnist.
"The Dakota," Elizabeth Hawes wrote in her excellent book, "New York, New York, How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City (1869-1930)," (An Owl Book, Henry Holt and Company, 1993), "was a daring building and a daring venture. Although its situation seemed enviable - the peace and quiet, the unobstructed light, the country air, the boundless vista - many New Yorkers thought the view to a vast greensward was a lonely prospect. Others condemned the intrusion of a bulky nine-story silhouette into the precious arcadian landscape of the park. There was, in fact, no other significant shape on the western horizon. The Upper West Side was still a patchwork of small sleepy settlements and vacant lots, interrupted here and there by a country house, an inn, an asylum or a saloon. In 1880, the Sixth Avenue Elevated had been extended up Ninth Avenue to 155th Street, which Clark hoped would spur development in the area. That year, Riverside Drive had been officially opened too….The most daring aspect of Clark's scheme was the extravagance of his building….Behind a façade described as Brewery Brick Victorian neo-Gothic Eclectic, the building was shaped like a huge hollow square, with a large open courtyard, 55 by 90 feet, planned as a carriage drive at center, and separate entryways to its apartments at the corners. Inside, the building was immense and contained 65 suites and 623 rooms in all….The largest room was the public dining room on the ground floor, which was fashioned after an example in an English manor house, with a baronial fifteen-foot fireplace, an inlaid marble floor, and an elaborately carved, quartered-oak ceiling. Adjacent…was a smaller private dining room, fitted with mahogany and large beveled-glass windows, and a ladies' reception room, which…featured a frieze of clematis painted by the famous Greatorex sisters."
Because elevators were quite new at the time and as was the concept of apartment living for the well-to-do, the eighth and ninth floors of the building were originally used for servants' quarters and laundry and storage rooms, although they would eventually be converted to apartments, and the tenth floor included a roof garden and a children's playroom.
The 93-unit building's Victorian and Gothic architectural details and ambiance were featured in the popular spooky movie, "Rosemary's Baby," but it is famed more now for its spectacular apartments. John Lennon was it's most famous resident, he was slain on 8th December 1980 by Mark Chapman. Yoko Ono continues to live in apartment No. 72, and owns another apartment within the building, which is used for storage; mainly John Lennon artifacts and memorabilia alongside her own clothes (fur-coats), art and other items. Some people believe that Yoko Ono still keeps John Lennon's ashes in an urn in this same storage-apartment... Who knows?

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