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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
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The Dakota
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The Dakota
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The most famous building from this period is the Dakota. The Dakota, on Central Park West and West Seventy-second Street, was an effort by Edwin Clark, the force behind the Singer Sewing Machine Company. And with part of his fortune he invested in real estate, including a lot of real estate on the Upper West Side. And he commissioned the architect Henry Hardenbergh to design an upper-middle-class apartment house opposite Central Park. And Hardenbergh designed a spectacular building that looks sort of like a German castle, and almost treats Central Park as if it's the castle's private estate.

And it's designed with a very picturesque roofline of gables and little tiny dormer windows, specifically so that these would be visible from the park. The top stories were originally servants' quarters, so it wasn't that people had great views from those upper levels out onto the park, it was service space. So the top was meant to be seen from the park, you weren't meant to see the park from the top of the building.

Hardenbergh designed the building in a light-yellow brick with light-sandstone trim so it would be a very cheerful structure. It was designed for affluent upper-middle-class people. It wasn't designed for the wealthy social leaders of New York, who still would not have dreamt of moving into an apartment building. But industrialists, for example, like the Steinways of the piano company or the Schirmers of the music-publishing company, rented apartments in this building.

Now this was a large building with a significant number of apartments. And so privacy was an issue. You enter the building through an arch on Seventy-second Street into a beautiful courtyard with a fountain in it. And the courtyard not only was a gracious entry, but it also provided a lot of light and air to rooms that looked out onto the courtyard.

But in addition it allowed Hardenbergh to divide the building up into four separate apartment houses. There are four elevators, and there's an entrance in each corner so that you only actually live in a building with one-quarter of the residents. And there are two apartments on each floor in each quarter of the building, so you have much more privacy. The elevators initially ran by water, they were hydraulic elevators, so they were very, very slow. But it's very early in the history of the passenger elevator.

Although the apartments in the Dakota were beautifully appointed—they had high ceilings, they had beautiful woodwork, gorgeous mantle pieces—the plan has not yet been perfected. In order to get from the parlor to the dining room, you continue to have to walk past bedrooms, and the rooms are still linked by long, narrow, dark hallways. So although this was an apartment building that catered to more affluent people and that had beautiful finishes to it, architects had yet to figure out how to plan these buildings.

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