Great Architects of New York: Henry J. Hardenbergh
The Dakota
Address
1 West 72nd Street
New York, N.Y. 10023
Location
Central Park West from West 72nd to 73rd Streets, west side
Neighborhood
Upper West Side
Built
Oct. 25, 1880, to Oct. 27, 1884
Style
German Renaissance
Use
Cooperative apartments
AIA Guide
"The city's first luxury apartment house. Designed for Singer Sewing Machine heir Edward S. Clark, it dominated Central Park before the park drives were paved. A prestige address, particularly for those in the arts, since the days when this part of the city was thought to be as remote as the Dakota Territory. Note the railings with griffins and Zeuses, or are they Neptunes and sea monsters?"
Landmark Status
Designated an individual landmark in 1979, and it's part of the Upper West Side-Central Park West Historic District, designated in 1990. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Web resources
The City Review
NYU
Wikipedia
New York Architecture Images

This is often considered Hardenbergh's best work, and one of the greatest buildings in New York City. A midcareer review of Hardenbergh's work written by Montgomery Schuyler in Architectural Record notes that Hardenbergh had to make this a great building, because it was the first tall building along Central Park. Park users had come to expect that the park would be a place apart from the city, and the sight of a building from deep within the park ruined their respite there. "To erect what was in 1883 a towering building of eight stories fronting it, and visible from a great part of it, was for an architect, artistically speaking, to take his life in his hand," Schuyler wrote. "Even if he made what in any other place would have beeen a success, the chances were that the judicious visitor to the Park would prefer nothing in its place."

There is a persistent myth that people took to calling this building "the Dakota" because when it was built it was "so remote that it might as well be in the Dakota territory." But while that part of town was nowhere near as built up as it is now, it was burgeoning when the Dakota opened, with plenty of rowhouses built and being built (including many by Hardenbergh one block away), and an elevated subway running along what is now Columbus Avenue.

In fact, the developer of Dakota, Edwin S. Clark, gave the building its name when it was built. It appears to have been part of an attempt to name many things on the Upper West Side after Western states and territories. He named another one of his apartment buildings the Wyoming, and he pushed to rename what were then Eighth, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Avenues in the Upper West Side as Montana Place, Wyoming Place, Arizona Place and Idaho Place. (In fact, these were renamed Central Park West and Columbus, Amsterdam and West End Avenues.) The origin of the rumor seems a newspaper interview from 1933, in which the Dakota's manager since 1897, George P. Douglass, surmised: "Probably it was called 'Dakota' because it was so far west and so far north." Over the years, the north and west as part of Clark's Western-state theme for other buildings and avenues in the neighborhood has given way to a false sense that this building was somehow originally remote and not part of the growing city.

One of the greatest books set in New York City, Time and Again, uses the Dakota as its setting. So does the 1968 horror movie Rosemary's Baby. John Lennon, who lived in the Dakota, was shot and killed at the main entrance on the evening of Dec. 8, 1980, by a deranged fan.

There is a bit of mystery surrounding the identity of the two bas-relief profile portraits that adorn the main entrance, on 72nd Street — a man and a woman looking at one another across the carriageway. Who are they? In 2005, Michael Pollak of The New York Times suggested that the man is Isaac Merrit Singer, the founder of the Singer sewing machine company and business partner of the developer of the Dakota, Edward S. Clark. "Singer," Pollak wrote, "was a foulmouthed, cantankerous polygamist who acknowledged 25 children in his will, only 8 of them born of marriage. Although he and the patrician Clark detested each other, they made each other rich." Pollak speculates that the woman is "the last unfortunate Mrs. Singer," Isabella Boyer Singer, who put in a legal claim to be his widow after he died in 1875, and was supported in that claim by Clark. She won the case, moved to Paris, married a Duke and may have been one of the models for the Statue of Liberty. Notice the resemblance?

Newspaper articles

  • Pollak, Michael. "F.Y.I.: Dakota's Mystery Couple." The New York Times, Aug. 14, 2005; Sec. 14, p. 2.
  • Gray, Christopher. "Streetscapes: The Dakota; The Elusive Mystery of Its Name." The New York Times, Aug. 15, 1993; Sec. 10, p. 7.
  • Gray, Christopher. "What Are Dakota and Montana Doing in New York?" The New York Times, Sept. 28, 1986; Sec. 8, p. 7.


  • The south facade faces 72nd Street: One gable, two turrets and the main entrance.


    The east facade faces Central Park: Two gables, a mansard roof and a flagpole.


    The east facade, through the park.


    The north facade faces 73rd Street: Two gables between six dormer windows.


    The railings: "griffins and Zeuses, or are they Neptunes and sea monsters?"

    Probably Isaac Merrit Singer, "foulmouthed, cantankerous polygamist" of the sewing machine fame.Bas relief profiles are carved over the main entrance on 72nd Street.The Statue of Liberty may have been based in part on Isabella Boyer Singer. Is this her?

    To quote from the 1970 novel Time and Again:

    [Our protagonist, Simon Morley, is taken to the rooftop of a warehouse in what is described as the Upper West Side, but sounds more like the industrial area along far west 125th Street: "an area of small factories, machine shops, wholesalers, binderies." There, Dr. E. E. Danziger explains the details of a project he's going to ask Si to help with. As the two look out over the city, Dr. Danziger says:]

    "There lies what? New York? And the world beyond it? Yes, you can say that, of course; the New York and world of the moment. But you can equally well say that there lies November twenty-sixth. Out there lies the day you walked through this morning; it is filled with the inescapable facts that make it today. It will be almost identical tomorrow, very likely, but not quite. In some households things will have worn out, used today for the last time. An old dish will have finally broken, a hair or two come out gray at the roots, the first flick of a new illness begun. Some people alive today will be dead. Some scattered buildings will be a little closer to completion. Or destruction. And what will lie out there then, equally inescapably, will be a little different New York and world and therefore a little different day. …

    "The degree of change each day is usually too slight to perceive much difference. Yet those tiny daily changes have brought us from a time when what you'd have seen down there instead of traffic lights and hooting fire engines, was farmland, treetops, and streams; cows at pasture, men in tricornered hats; and British sailing ships anchored in a clear-running, tree-shaded East River. It was out there once, Si. Can you see it? …

    "Can't do it, can you? Of course not. You can see yesterday; most of it is still left. And there's plenty of 1965, '62, '58. There's even a good deal left of nineteen hundred. And in spite of all the indistinguishable glass boxes and of monstrosities like the Pan Am Building and other crimes against nature and the people" — he waggled a hand before his face as though erasing them from sight — "there are fragments of still earlier days. Single buildings. Sometimes several together. And once you get away from midtown, there are entire city blocks that have been where they still stand for fifty, seventy, even eighty and ninety years. There are scattered places a century or more old, and a very few which actually knew the presence of Washington. … Those places are fragments still remaining, Si" — Danziger's fork swept the horizon once more — "of days which once lay out there as real as the day lying out there now: still-surviving fragments of a clear April morning of 1871, a gray winter afternoon of 1840, a rainy dawn of 1793. — One of those survivals, in my opinion, is close to being a kind of miracle. Have you ever seen the Dakota?"

    "The what?"

    He nodded. "If you'd ever seen it, you'd remember that name."

    [Dr. Danziger asks an assistant, Ruben Prien, to take Si to see Central Park. As the two walk through the park, Ruben says:]

    "This park itself is something of a miracle of survival, too. Right there in the heart of what must be the world's most changeable city are, not just acres, but several square miles that have been preserved pratically unchaged for decades. Lay a Central Park map of the early eighteen eighties beside a map of today, and there on both maps are all the old names and places: the reservoir, the lake, North Meadow, the Green, the pool, Harlem Mere, the obelisk. … Si, the very curve of this road, and nearly all the roads and even the footpaths, are unaltered.

    "Details are changed, of course," Rube was saying. "The kinds of benches, trash baskets, and painted signs, the way the paths and roads are surfaced. But the old photographs all show that except for automobiles on the roadways there is no difference you can see from, say, six or seven stories up." Rube must have timed what he was saying, or maybe it was past experience at this, because now as we passed under a final tree beside the walk, rounding the curve that led off the West Drive and onto the Seventy-second Street exit from the park, he lifted an arm to point ahead. As we walked out from under the branches of the tree he said, "From an upper apartment of that building, for example," and then I saw it and stopped dead in my tracks.

    There across the street just outside the park stood a tall block-wide structure utterly unlike any I'd ever before seen in all New York. One look and you knew it was what Danziger had said: a magnificent survival of another time. … [T]he building you see there is pale yellow brick handsomely trimmed in chocolate-colored stone, and as one of my later shots shows, each of its eight stories is just twice as high as the stories of the modern apartment house beside it.

    It's a wonderful sight, and the roof almost instantly pulled my eyes up; it was like a miniature town up there — of gables, turrets, pyramids, towers, peaks. From roof edge to highest peak it must have been forty feet tall; acres of slanted surfaces shingled in slate, trimmed with age-greened copper, and peppered with uncountable windows, dormer and flush; square, round, and rectangular; big and small; wide, and as narrow as archers' slits. As the shot that I took on the roof shows — at the bottom of the opposite page — it rose into flagpoles and ornamental stone spires; it flattened out into promenades rimmed with lacy wrought-iron fences; and everywhere it sprouted huge fireplace chimneys. All I could do was turn to Rube, shaking my head and grinning with pleasure.

    He was grinning, too, as proud as though he'd built the place. "That's the way they did things in the eighties, sonny!"