The Dakota. The Apthorp. The San Remo. The names of these legendary New York apartment buildings evoke images of marble-lined lobbies, uniformed doormen, and sunlit penthouses with sweeping Central Park views. Built from the 1880s through 1930s, classic prewar apartments were designed to lure townhouse dwellers reluctant to share a roof with other families. These downtown enclaves, ten to twenty stories high, whose popularity emerged in 1890 to 1900 were the solution to a population that doubled in New York. At the onset, these city buildings did not attract the wealthy as they disliked the idea of being too close to their neighbors. This was a time when the rich inhabited estates and their property lines were so vast that neighbors were not visible from the homes. It required a luxurious, exclusive and prominent way of life to entice them to leave the estates behind for city living.
Rosario Candela, Emery Roth, Robert Lyons, JER Carpenter and Bing & Bing- all became prominent in the era of these private mansions in the sky. These apartments promised a charmed Manhattan lifestyle of elegance and luxury in a building inhabited by a certain class and stature. These architects were self taught. They were immigrants who could not afford first rate architectural schooling but were propelled to fame as a result of the construction boom in the 1920s until 1929, when the stock market crashed.
Here is a peek into some of the most celebrated Manhattan pre-war apartments. The staid exterior facade shows a reverent although limited glimpse- into the grandeur and magnificence of these apartments.
Take note of the generous square footage for rooms and the presence of wide and long hallways, foyers, butler’s pantries, maids and servants quarters (even separate entrances).
Although many of them have maintained the same footprint, there are a number of coop buildings that have subdivided these units into smaller, less lavish floor plans.
The courtyard is one of the most distinct feature of pre-war buildings. It provides an area of open space and light and air, elements that the wealthy former estate dwellers enjoyed in their country homes, and now in their new modern city apartments.
Pre-war buildings abound in New York and although the ones that are high profile are along Fifth Avenue, Upper East and Upper West Sides, Downtown and Riverside Drive, there are many less opulent ones (though not less note-worthy) in less prominent areas of the city.
Photographs by Evan Joseph and Mike Tauber from Manhattan Classic : New York’s Finest Pre-War Apartments by Geoffrey Lynch.