the dakota

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De­clared a New York City land­mark in 1969, the leg­endary build­ing re­mains the premier lux­ury apart­ment com­plex and most de­sired ad­dress on the is­land of Man­hat­tan.

1 Af­ter the close of the Civil War, the city of New York ex­pe­ri­enced an up­surge in pop­u­la­tion and a need for all lev­els of hous­ing. While trans­porta­tion by horse­car and el­e­vated rail­way to both the Up­per East Side and Up­per West Side of Man­hat­tan ex­isted, the lat­ter didn’t achieve a build­ing growth un­til the 1870s due to the ex­pense of lev­el­ing and fill­ing the ter­rain’s rocky geography and raised to­pog­ra­phy. Boul­ders, con­sist­ing pri­mar­ily of Man­hat­tan schist, blocked the paths of fu­ture road­ways and led to in­con­sis­tent el­e­va­tions.

2 Ed­ward Clark, an at­tor­ney and en­tre­pre­neur who made his for­tune from the Singer Sewing Ma­chine en­ter­prise, was a ma­jor player on the Up­per West Side real es­tate scene and one of the most in­flu­en­tial in­no­va­tors of New York City res­i­den­tial liv­ing. He wit­nessed the way many Euro­peans lived, in row houses and apart­ment build­ings, and cap­i­tal­ized on the hous­ing short­age by pur­chas­ing West Side land in­vest­ments rang­ing from 55th Street to 86th Street. He bought the piece of land where the Dakota was built in De­cem­ber 1877.

3 Want­ing to con­struct a lux­u­ri­ous up­per-class “fam­ily ho­tel” that was more con­ve­nient than a typ­i­cal brown­stone, Clark brought in his fa­vorite ar­chi­tect, Henry Janeway Har­den­bergh, best known for his de­sign of the Plaza Ho­tel and build­ing struc­tures for “long-term use, not short­term profit.” In­flu­enced by Ger­man Re­nais­sance mo­tifs and the French con­cept of a large court­yard, Clark and Har­den­bergh be­gan con­struc­tion in 1880.

4 De­signed with buff brick, Nova Sco­tia free­stone trim­mings, and terra-cotta dec­o­ra­tion, the build­ing en­com­passed nine sto­ries above­ground and a base­ment level be­low. The orig­i­nal plan in­cluded eight apart­ments—all with a sep­a­rate ser­vants’ en­trance and maids’ quar­ters—on each floor, with the ex­cep­tion of the sub-court­yard with a kitchen and the top two floors, which acted as ser­vants’ quar­ters. Ful­fill­ing many ten­ants’ de­sire for more space, th­ese plans changed along the way and apart­ments then var­ied in sizes and num­bers per floor. When the Dakota made its de­but in Oc­to­ber 1884, it boasted 58 suites with 8 to 20 rooms in each, mar­ble floors, rich ma­hogany wood­work, and elec­tric light­ing—one of the first large-scale res­i­dences to boast such a pro­vi­sion. It was also out­fit­ted with eight el­e­va­tors (four for pas­sen­gers and four for ser­vice). With a price tag of around $2 mil­lion to build, it was hailed as “one of the no­blest apart­ment houses of the world.”

5 Since open­ing its doors, the Dakota has been home to many celebri­ties and artists, in­clud­ing John Len­non and Yoko Ono, Lau­ren Ba­call, and Judy Gar­land. In 1961, the build­ing be­came a co­op­er­a­tive, and res­i­dents took on per­sonal and fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to main­tain its up­keep. Over the past 50 years, the Dakota has un­der­gone ma­jor ren­o­va­tions—in­clud­ing plumb­ing re­pairs, win­dow re­place­ments, and, most re­cently, a newly built court­yard— to main­tain its pres­tige and clas­sic spirit. To­day, it re­mains a fa­vorite land­mark for tourists and na­tive New York­ers alike.

“The Dakota: A History of the World’s Best-known Apart­ment Build­ing” by An­drew Alpern for Prince­ton Ar­chi­tec­tural Press

$55 domino.com/win­ter15

The New Yorker, July 12, 1982, illustration by Iris Van Ryn­bach.

From the Daily Graphic re­port­ing on the com­pleted Dakota, Septem­ber 10, 1884.

Ed­ward Clark at about age 60.

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