Reading Passage 1
New York’s Famous Dakota Building
Situated in the north-west corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West, in the upper West Side of Manhattan with Central Park frontage, the address of 1 West 72nd Street, New York City, is one of the most exclusive and historical residential buildings in New York City. It is the address of the Dakota apartment building. Famous for being the home of many of New York’s most creative residents, the Dakota today still retains its ‘old-worldliness’ and creativity, with its residents’ cooperative board deciding on the eligibility and suitability of prospective tenants with a view to maintaining the building’s unique character, traditions and atmosphere. Legendary stories abound regarding the myriad of famous residents who have passed through its magnificent doors.
In the 1880s, when the Dakota was built, the upper West Side of New York was relatively uninhabited and was considered to be some distance from the more populated areas of Manhattan. Henry Clark, who headed a famous sewing machine company, had a vision to create an architecturally magnificent building and to run it in a benevolent fashion, looking after the tenants. The architect Henry Hardenbergh was commissioned to design the building and his track-record included the famous Waldorf-Astoria and Plaza Hotels in New York. Construction began in 1880 and was completed in 1884, with approximately 100 apartments built. They were not originally for the mega-wealthy – the first rents were between $1000 and $5000 a year, close to $30,000 in today’s money, but, nowadays, the apartments sell for an average $10,000,000 each.
It has long been held, though also contradicted, that the name ‘Dakota’ was chosen because the building was in the sparsely-populated area of the upper West Side, similarities being drawn to the largely uninhabited state (then territory) of Dakota in the north-west of the United States. In support of the theory, on the top southern side near the roof of the building is a magnificent carved panel depicting what is believed to be a Dakota Indian. In fact, it has been said that the man behind the project, Henry Clark, when naming the Dakota, wanted all the new avenues running through this area to be named after western states, such as Montana Place, Wyoming Place and Arizona Place, all three of these locations now bearing their current and famous names, Central Park West, Columbus Avenue and Broadway respectively.
The Dakota apartment building is square, constructed around a huge central courtyard and the large arched main entrance was originally built to allow horse-drawn carriages to enter and to remain under shelter. Other outside features included a garden, croquet lawns and tennis courts, all connected to the main building. Inside there are large sweeping marble staircases, spacious hallways which connect rooms and apartments, oak- and mahogany-wood panelled dining rooms, ceilings stretching up to fifteen feet, huge fireplaces and views across Central Park. The apartments for residents occupy the first seven floors, and the two top floors were originally designed for staff, because they were hotter, being at the top of the building, and the rooms were much smaller with low sloping ceilings.
Other innovative features on its opening included electricity, this being powered by the building’s own generator, and central heating to offset New York’s bitter winters. Interestingly, no two apartments are alike, ranging in size from four rooms to up to 20 rooms, with elevators in all four corners of the building, and multi-staircases throughout. The elevators were operated by uniformed women, indeed, until well into the 20th century, and there is a large central dining room which is used on occasion by all residents in the community spirit of the building.
However, one of the most intriguing aspects of the Dakota, that which has kept the public’s attention over the years, is the clientele, the number of interesting residents who have claimed the Dakota as their home. In the beginning, it was home to the merchants and businessmen and women of the time, but as the decades passed, the Dakota became home to the artistic, the creators and the creative – actors, musicians, artists and those moving slightly outside the mainstream. In addition, the collective spirit of the residents, along with the benevolent spirit of the original owners, the Clark family, saw that anyone who was in need, or unable to maintain their rent, was looked after. A famous incident occurred in the 1960s when the Dakota went from a rental building to a cooperative ownership, and one elderly couple was unable to purchase their apartment, and the residents banded together, and a benefactor was approached who bought the apartment on behalf of the resident couple and allowed them to stay on. Not only for philanthropic reasons perhaps, as the apartment was purchased for $26,000 in the 1960s and sold for $1.3 million in 1990.
Famous tenants have included, originally, members of the famous piano-making company, the Steinways, and actors of early days such as Lillian Gish and Boris Karloff. More recently, the great American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein called the Dakota home, while filmmakers, classical dancers and writers have all lived in the Dakota’s revered apartments, from Lauren Bacall through to Albert Maysles. Films, such as the horror ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ in the 1960s, were set at the Dakota, and the Dakota has featured in many New York motion pictures as a landmark building, imposing high over Central Park. Perhaps most famously among all the residents was the musician John Lennon of the rock group The Beatles, who was murdered outside the entrance by a deranged fan in 1980 in front of Lennon’s wife, the artist Yoko Ono, who still lives there.
It is of interest that a number of high profile applicants have been denied the opportunity of residency in the Dakota. In 2014, one of the apartments sold for more than $27 million, and with more and more apartment buildings rising up in the Manhattan skyline at ever-increasing prices, even though prices also increase at the Dakota, there is still something to be said about its tradition, its values and its invaluable character that draws people who want to make 1 West 72nd Street their home address.