There’s something about architects and businessmen wanting to live in the places they create. And we’re not talking about a live-work studio. We’ve been noticing a historical trend of apartments in grand civic spaces–from apartments atop the Eiffel Tower, Radio City, Bergdorf Goodman, the second Madison Square Garden–to more modern-day expressions of exclusivity–a cabin in a loft in Brooklyn, suburban houses plopped atop existing apartment buildings, an Fifth Avenue apartment full of secret riddles and compartments. Here’s a little about each of these idiosyncratic apartments.
1. Stanford White’s Seduction Lair at Madison Square Garden
Photo from Library of Congress
In the second Madison Square Garden (the last actually at Madison Square), playboy architect Stanford White built a Moorish style building in 1890. It had a 33-story tower, making it the second tallest skyscraper in New York City at the time. White had an apartment in the tower, out of public view. Not only was White married, but he also had a penchant for teenage girls which he entertained and seduced here and in his nearby row house on 24th Street.
White’s tower apartment apartment also gave him easy access to the entertainment on the rooftop pleasure garden at Madison Square Garden, and it is there that the Nesbit’s husband, the jealous Henry Kendall Thaw, shot white in the head. White had long since moved on from Nesbit but Thaw was reportedly mentally unstable and had a long-running hatred of White.
2. Bergdorf Goodman Penthouse Apartment
Bergdorf Goodman once had a seventeen-room apartment overlooking Fifth Avenue and Central Park. When Edwin Goodman, who bought out Herman Bergdorf’s share of the company in 1903, decided to move the store to its current location on the corner of 58th Street and Fifth Ave., he made sure the new building would include a private apartment for his family. Rumor has it he drew the first sketch of the building on a cocktail napkin in the bar of the Plaza Hotel. Bergdorf Goodman even had a private elevator that only made two stops–Goodman’s office on the seventh floor and the penthouse suite. But here’s the kicker: due to zoning laws, Edwin and his son Andrew had to call themselves janitors in order to live inside the store!
Bergdorf Goodman sits on the site of the former Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion, so it’s not surprising that the Bergdorfs would also want that great view of Central Park!
3. Lyceum Theater Apartment
The Lyceum Theater on 45th Street next to Times Square had an apartment in the roof of the theater for impresario Daniel Frohman, who created the theater. From there Frohman could oversee the productions. Today, the apartment is used as offices for the Schubert Archives. See what it looks like today in this video. The Lyceum was the first Broadway theater to achieve landmark status.
4. Eiffel Tower Apartment
Within a year of the completion of the Eiffel Tower, it was reported by writer Henri Girard that Gustav Eiffel “the object of general envy.” But it wasn’t for his engineering and design feat, it was for an apartment he had at the third-to-highest level of the Eiffel Tower. Girard wrote that the famous apartment was “furnished in the simple style dear to scientists.
Eiffel used mostly for meeting important guests like Thomas Edison, who visited in September 1889, rather than for debaucherous parties. Here is a lovely essay on the apartment, describing how the apartment embodied many of the philosophical dreams of 19th century thinkers. Today it also contains mannequins of Eiffel and Edison. Read more secrets of the Eiffel Tower here.
5. Radio City Music Hall Apartment
Image via Atlas Obscura by Luke Spencer
The architect of Art Deco Radio City Music Hall, Edward Durrell Stone, and its interior designer Donald Deskey, built an apartment inside Radio City for famous entertainer Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel. With the same Art Deco design, the apartment was the perfect place to entertain the greats of Hollywood’s golden era like Alfred Hitchcok, Samuel Goldwyn, Olivia de Havilland. As reported by Atlas Obscura, the “20 foot high ceilings covered in gold leaf, and walls decorated floor to ceiling with plush drapes, Roxy’s apartment was as mesmerizing as his opulent stages shows below.” It is reportedly still in pristine condition.
6. Chrysler Building Apartment
Photo by Dark Cyanide
LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White is well-known for her images on skyscrapers in the 1920s and 30s. So enamored was she, that she lived in two–including one on the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building. It was on this floor that Bourke-White herself was photographed atop one of the gargoyles in 1934. The lease was co-signed by Time, Inc. because the building wouldn’t rent it to a woman, despite her wealth and fame. She paid $387.92 per month to live there, a good amount of money at the time. According to The New York Times, Bourke-White hired “her good friend, John Vassos, an industrial designer, to create an Art Moderne stylish interior, with extensive built-ins, subdued palette, woods and metals. There was a main sitting area, an alcove for her desk, stairs that go out to the terrace. The superintendent reminded Bourke-White that her lease did not include access to the terrace, and she wrote back, “Of course.” But she invited businessmen whom she wanted to befriend to have cocktails on the terrace.”
7. Abercrombie & Fitch Rooftop Cabin
Inside the Madison Avenue Abercrombie & Fitch store (1913). Photo via Museum of the City of New York
The Abercrombie & Fitch brand originated as an outdoor outfitter company who supplied adventurers like Theodore Roosevelt Admiral Byrd, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earheart. In 1917 the company moved to a 12-story building on Madison Avenue and 45th Street. At the top, Fitch built a furnished 20×50 foot log cabin with a wood burning fireplace, which he made into his town house. There was a pool, where a fly and bait-casting instructor gave fly fishing lessons. It was also the site of the first Adirondack Club meetings. (h/t to reader P Gavan for the tip!)
8. Houses Atop New York City Apartments
There’s enough of these suburban houses built onto New York City apartments that we previously rounded them up. We’re not sure which one’s our favorite, ranging from the Cape Cod-style beach house to the suburban spread, but this ski chalet-like tucked between high-rises on the Upper West Side is particularly lovely.
9. Cabin in a Loft
Ever wanted to get a rustic-feel amidst the urbanity of New York City? Designers Terri Chiao and Adam Fezza built a cabin and treehouse into their live-work space in a former textile factory in Brooklyn, dubbed A Cabin in a Loft. Each space, situated with a view onto the street, has sleeping quarters and a “garden.” As Chiao writes, “Living in the space can feel like living outdoors, in a small community of two houses.”
9. Mystery on Fifth Avenue
When Wall Street businessman Steven B. Klinsky hired designer Eric Clough from 212box to remodel a Fifth Avenue apartment, little did he know that the apartment would be hidden with clues and riddles. They were built into hidden panels in a custom made credenza, attached to the custom bed, cut into a radiator grille, locked drawers filled with crossword puzzles, magnetic cubes that open up panels and more. The owners didn’t realize they were there, and certainly not the extent of the riddle, until a few months in–so well disguised the puzzle pieces were. The family was tipped off with the arrival of a mysterious letter, allegedly from a previous occupant of the apartment who had died decades before. The architect enlisted many friends to be contribute to this hidden aspect of the apartment–including musicians and author Jonathan Safran Froer, who wrote a narrative book to accompany the puzzle. The story of the apartment was optioned by J.J. Abrams for a possible forthcoming movie.
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This article also partially written by Laura Itzkowitz.