The Dakota - NYC's First Luxury Apartment House

Home of Ex-Beatle John Lennon

NYC's First Luxury Apartment House

Yellow brick building on a busy street beneath blue sky
The Dakota, New York's first luxury apartment building and home to ex-Beatle John Lennon.

 © Robert Holmes/Corbis/VCG

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."
—National Register of Historic Places Inventory

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.

The Dakota

  • Location: Between 72nd and 73rd streets, West Central Park, New York City
  • Constructed: 1880-1884
  • Developer: Edward S. Clark (1875-1882), President of Singer Sewing Machine
  • Architect: Henry J. Hardenbergh
  • Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival

Architecture at The Dakota

Soaring 10 stories high, The Dakota was an impressive structure when it was built. Architect Henry J. Hardenbergh instilled the building with the romanticism of the German Renaissance style.

The yellow brick is trimmed with carved Nova Scotia freestone, terra cotta spandrels, cornices, and other ornamentation. Architectural details include bay and octagon windows, niches, and balconies with balustrades. Two of the stories are tucked beneath an imposing mansard roof.

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. This private inner courtyard provided natural light and ventilation. Fire escapes, now required by law, 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."
—National Register of Historic Places Inventory

A basement is carved out under the courtyard. 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?"

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 charged with elitism and racism, leading to multiple legal woes. Read more at 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.

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

Sources:

  • The Dakota: A History of the World's Best-Known Apartment Building by Andrew Alpern, Princeton Architectural Press, 2015
  • The Dakota Apartments: A Pictorial History of New York's Legendary Landmark by The Cardinals, Campfire Network, 2015
  • Landmarks Preservation Commission Designation Report, February 11, 1969 (PDF) http://www.neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/DAKOTA-APTS.pdf
  • National Register of Historic Places Inventory -- Nomination Form prepared by Carolyn Pitts, 8/10/76 (PDF) https://npgallery.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NHLS/Text/72000869.pdf