The Dakota from Central Park in 1895. Photo via Museum of the City of New York
The new book, The Dakota: A History of the World’s Best-Known Apartment Building is a historical and architectural history, deliberately eschewing the gossip that could easily fill the pages of a book with such a name. Nearly at the end of the book, the author, historian Andrew Alpern, accounts for this, stating “As almost ever article about the Dakota will tell you, much of its renown derives from its stellar list of dramatis personae. While on that score this book may disappoint by not providing the juicy details and tabloid gossip, several now-departed former residents maintained distinctive apartments in the building…” As such, this book is well-targeted for our reader and these secrets, which we sourced from the book, fall within the realm of architecture rather than popular culture.
Indeed, even without the “juicy details,” the Dakota has a fascinating history. Built with a budget of $1 million (equivalent to $24 million today), it ended up costing somewhere between $1.5 and $2 million in the end. Construction took four years, from 1880 to 1884, and by that time, the man who single-handedly brought it to life had died. Designed as a luxury family hotel, the 54 suites ranged from 5 to 20 rooms, with 500 rooms total. Its construction dispelled the myth that construction on the Upper West Side was inhospitable and heralded a new wave of housing, which included the whole range of New York City housing–from tenement, to brownstone, to apartments. As reported in The New York Sun in 1999, “a splendid new city built up where five years ago there were only rocks, swamps, goats and shanties.” The Dakota also made apartment living not only acceptable, but desirable.
Here are ten of our favorite secrets we learned from the book The Dakota: A History of the World’s Best-Known Apartment Building.
Edward Clark, the visionary behind the development of The Dakota was originally a lawyer. He found a partner in Isaac Merritt Singer, a tinkerer who would have thrived in today’s makerspaces. In exchange for ownership interest in various inventions, Clark provided the necessary legal expertise to get Singer’s inventions past legal claims and through the patent process and came to own half of the Singer company. Clark’s shrewd business sense and his talent for marketing ensured the success of the Singer company and would come into good use in the development of The Dakota.