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There’s no shortage of myths and legends about the Dakota, that formidable, castle-like apartment building at West 72nd Street and Central Park West in Manhattan. There’s the unshakeable attachment to the 1980 murder of John Lennon just outside, and Yoko Ono’s continued residency. There’s its turn as the exterior of the eerie home of Mia Farrow and her tormenting satanists in Roman Polanski’s 1968 Rosemary’s Baby. And like any old structure, it has its share of ghost stories, including, as related on a recent Bowery Boys podcast, the specter of its developer Edward Clark.
You won’t find any of that in the new book The Dakota: A History of the World’s Best-Known Apartment Building by Andrew Alpern, out last month from Princeton Architectural Press. Instead, the architectural historian is interested in the Dakota’s 19th-century beginnings, and how the completion of the building in 1884 by Clark influenced apartment-style living in New York City and beyond. Clark was a co-founder of the Singer Sewing Company, and with architect Henry Hardenbergh, whose designs were also behind the Plaza and the now-demolished Waldorf and Astoria hotels, envisioned a goliath structure with peaking roofs, and even a dry moat bordered with iron dragons. “Clark’s project was the pioneer, and unquestionably the first truly luxury apartment building in New York,” Alpern writes.
For The Dakota, Alpern sourced descriptions from the writing of architectural historian Christopher Gray, who shared his articles for mining, and collaborated with architect Mia Ho on recreating floor plans from rental plans, alteration drawings, and other sources because “the original architectural drawings for the Dakota have eluded discovery.” Interestingly, the plan for the Dakota wasn’t to be an astronomically priced palace, as it is today, but something for the upper-middle class.
Contrary to popular belief, the Dakota didn’t get its name for being so far from Manhattan civilization that it might as well be the Upper Midwest. Alpern writes that “while it is true that when the Dakota was built there was little in its immediate area, that ‘little’ included the American Museum of Natural History, the fast elevated trains running up what is now Columbus Avenue, and several score of row houses.” He adds that “everyone agreed on the great prospects for the area: The El made commuting downtown from the West Side faster than by surface transit from much father south, and Central Park had been a major tourist attraction for a decade … West Side terra was hardly incognita, or even Dakota.”
Still, the Renaissance-inspired building was a contrast to the low constructions around it, which felt rural in many ways. A whimsical drawing from an 1889 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper shows country homes with goats and ducks running free, and the startling silhouette of the Dakota looming behind. The area had been gridded since the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, waiting for the population to push north. With its 60+ apartments, some with up to 20 rooms, all with high ceilings, fine wood walls, and staircases built from marble, it aimed for a new kind of communal living for a city where the wealthier classes were interested in opulent convenience.
Along with other buildings going up at the same time like the Osborne, Navarro, and the Gramercy, the Dakota was pivotal in introducing New York City to the idea of living in apartments as desirable, even elitist. Long before famous names like Judy Garland, Rudolf Nureyev, Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Boris Karloff, and numerous others made it an iconic status symbol, it was a reflection of the city’s growth and emerging 20th-century character.
The Dakota: A History of the World’s Best-Known Apartment Building by Andrew Alpern is out now from Princeton Architectural Press.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…