9. The Idea of Apartment Living Was a Big Question Mark When the Dakota Was Being Built

The Dakota-NYC Apartment-Central Park West-Upper West SideImage from Library of Congress

When Clark was dreaming up the idea for The Dakota, apartment living in New York City was an entirely new concept. First, it was associated with tenement living and considered undesirable. Its other relative, the hotel “were rather disreputable places, often connected to a tavern or inn…They served a useful purpose in 18th and early 19th century, but ‘nice’ people wouldn’t choose to live in such places, “writes Alpern in The Dakota: A History of the World’s Best-Known Apartment Building

As such, apartment construction for the middle and upper classes was a whole new concept and Alpern traces the earlier attempts in detail to show why The Dakota was so revolutionary, and continues to be an icon for luxury apartment buildings. He writes, “in retrospect it is perhaps too easy for us in the 21st century, from whom luxury apartment living is seemingly embedded in our DNA, to forget that the 1870s was still a new frontier, undefined and not even secure in the abstract.”

Like his work for the Singer company, Clark had to create demand for a new type of living. As Alpern writes, “For the Dakota, it was upper-class housing accommodations at a palatial level of luxury, set in a newly-developing Upper West Side whose potential for long term growth was not completely obvious to those with conventional wisdom.” Indeed, when you look at photographs of the Dakota under construction, you see it side-by-side with clapboard houses and farmland – a sharp contrast with the level of development on Manhattan’s east side, propelled by ferry connections to Brooklyn and other desirable features.