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
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.