The Dakota - NYC's First Luxury Apartment House

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NYC's First Luxury Apartment House

Dakota Apartments in NYC, brown-grey sandstone bricks and stone, gables, 19th century European look
The Dakota Apartments Viewed from Central Park. Photo ©Todos os direitos reservados ©All Rights Reserved/Moment Open Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

The Dakota Apartment Building is much more than the place where ex-Beatle John Lennon was killed.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 forever influenced building and design throughout the United States, and construction of what would become "The Dakota" was no exception. Plans submitted to build a "Family Hotel" west of Central Park included fireproof stairways and partitions of "brick or fireproof blocks." A side-effect of all this fireproofing was offered by Landmarks Preservation Commission Designation Report:

" With its massive load bearing walls, heavy interior partitions, and double thick floors of concrete, it is one of the quietest buildings in the City."

Built in an exciting time of U.S. history, The Dakota brings together many of the Significant Events of the 1880s—the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty were being assembled in Lower Manhattan, but the building site of NYC's first luxury apartment house was to be built in the unpopulated "Wild, Wild West" side of Upper Manhattan, which seemed as far away as the Dakota Territory.

About The Dakota:

Location: Between 72nd and 73rd streets, West Central Park, New York City
Construction: 1880-1884
Developer: Edward S. Clark (1875-1882), President of Singer Sewing Machine
Architect: Henry J. Hardenbergh
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival— "the romanticism of the German Renaissance style"
Size: 10 stories high (8 stories plus 2 attic stories under the roof); 200 feet square with center courtyard
Roof: Mansard
Construction Materials: Yellow brick, stone trim (carved Nova Scotia freestone), terra cotta ornamentation
Architectural Details: "bay and octagon windows, niches, balconies, and balustrades, with spandrels and panels in beautiful terra cotta work and heavy carved cornices"

Inner Courtyard:

Pedestrians can't see it from the street, but beyond the well-known arch on 72nd street lies an open area—"as large as half a dozen ordinary buildings"—originally intended for residents to disembark from their horse-drawn carriages. The center courtyard design, similar to the Rookery Building in Chicago, was certainly more expensive to build than traditional "box" buildings, but the inner court plan ensured upscale living and working. The design scheme afforded more natural light and ventilation to interior living spaces and the now-required fire escapes could be hidden from the exterior facade. Indeed, at The Dakota this was the plan:

" From the ground floor four fine bronze staircases, the metal work beautifully wrought and the walls wainscoted in rare marbles and choice hard woods, and four luxuriously fitted elevators, of the latest and safest construction, afford means of reaching the upper floors."

A basement is carved out under the courtyard, and additional stairways and elevators allowed the "domestic workers" access to all stories of the "four great divisions" that make up The Dakota.

How does it stand up?

The Dakota is not a skyscraper and does not use the "new" method of building with a steel framework. However, iron beams along with concrete and fireproof fill, were used for partitions and flooring. Developers submitted plans for a fortress-like building:

  • the foundation walls—of "Blue stone laid in cement mortar"—would be 3-4 feet thick
  • the first story walls would be 2 feet (24-28 inches) thick
  • walls of stories 2-4 would be 20-24 inches thick
  • walls of the fifth and sixth stories would be 16-20 inches thick
  • walls of the seventh story and above would be at least 1 foot thick (12-16 inches)

"Could I Live There?" You Might Ask:

Probably not. Each multi-roomed apartment sells for millions of dollars. But it's not just the money. Even multi-millionaires like Billy Joel and Madonna have been rejected by the co-operative apartment board in charge of operating the building. The Dakota has also been sued for a perception of elitism. Read more from Curbed.com.

Much has been written about The Dakota, especially since a famous resident, the musician John Lennon, was gunned down in the entrance. Blogs and videos abound on the Web, including The Dakota Apartments Free Tours by Foot.

Sources (Including Quoted Descriptions): National Register of Historic Places Inventory -- Nomination Form prepared by Carolyn Pitts, 8/10/76(PDF); Landmarks Preservation Commission Designation Report, February 11, 1969 (PDF), Neighborhood Preservation Center [accessed December 7, 2014]

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The Dakota, New York City, 1894

Historic black and white photo of mansion overlooking ice skaters in Central Park, 1894
The Dakota, Central Park Skating, 1894. Photo by Museum of the City of New York/Byron Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Learn More:

  • Learn More About The Dakota >>>
  • The Dakota: A History of the World's Best-Known Apartment Building by Andrew Alpern, Princeton Architectural Press, 2015
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  • The Dakota Apartments: A Pictorial History of New York's Legendary Landmark by The Cardinals, Campfire Network, 2015
    Buy on Amazon