285 Central Park West, New York City
A view from Central Park
|Architect||Robert T. Lyons|
|Number of Units||56|
|Number of Floors||12|
|Type of Roof||Mansard (sloped)|
|285 Central Park West, New York City|
|Distance to Public Transit||Less than one block|
|Region||New York City|
|Municipality||New York City|
|Title of Land||Cooperative|
In 1904, 285 Central Park West was one of the last remaining open sites in the area. The neighborhood had been nearly complete since 1891, with only three vacant blocks on Central Park West north of 66th Street. A major addition to the area was the Progress Club building. The Progress Club had catered especially to German Jews since being founded in 1864, and had seen the West Side emerge as a choice neighborhood for many potential members. In 1904, the Progress Club built a clubhouse at West 88th Street and Central Park West, hoping to cater to the large German population they perceived to be in the area. With the Club, along with three churches, a synagogue, mid rise apartment houses, brownstones, and various institutions including the New York Cancer Hospital and the American Museum of Natural History, the area seemed complete.
But merchant Peter Banner saw something missing. Except for the Dakota, Banner noted that the only apartment houses on Central Park West were simple and small. He envisioned something grand at 285, a massive building designed in a French style that would communicate elegance and chic.
Banner approached up-and-coming architect Robert Timothy Lyons, who had designed the Kaufman Arcade on West 35th Street. Banner asked for a building of ostentatious French flats that would appeal to the affluent local market, and Lyons responded with a Beaux-Arts style apartment building which defied conventional marketing by offering only a single size of apartment aimed at a very narrow demographic. Each unit included living and dining rooms, master bedrooms, maids' rooms, and separate maid's bathrooms. Banner's intent was clear: to corner the market on the area's super-wealthy residents and potential residents. Those without need of maids' quarters and private libraries could look elsewhere.
The Progress Club had been correct, and many of the St. Urban's first tenants were wealthy German-Jewish merchants, manufacturers, and professionals. Banner, however, was not the one collecting the rent. St. Urban, an $800,000 gamble, had not paid off for the merchant, who defaulted on the mortgage in 1906. The building was bought, and its units rented out, by Barstun Realty Company.
The St. Urban was converted into a cooperative in 1966.
St. Urban is a part of the Central Park West Historic District, which contains many prominent New York City landmarks including The Century, the American Museum of Natural History, and 55 Central Park West, which is known as "Spook Central" or "The Ghostbusters Building" since being immortalized in the 1984 film.
The National Register considers the area historically important primarily for its architecture, as many of New York's earliest apartment buildings, including, of course, the St. Urban, are contained therein.
Lined with historic, old style buildings, Central Park West around St. Urban exudes a strong sense of history from each block and structure, and many buildings including St. Urban are distinctive additions to New York's skyline.
The area around St. Urban is primarily residential, and non-residential buildings are primarily neighborhood-oriented, such as the nearby college preparatory Dwight School, the grades 6-12 Trevor Day School, the Lillian Weber School for the Arts, and various doctors, churches, and markets. Right at the corner of Central Park West, St. Urban overlooks Central Park, a major part of the area's residential feel.
The construction of the St. Urban began in 1904. If everything had gone smoothly during the build, Peter Banner might have retained ownership of the building, but it was not to be. Long before construction was complete, the next-door Progress Club complained that the cornice on the southern wall protruded into their air space and dripped rainwater onto their roof garden. Their attorneys took Banner through a costly legal battle, though the cornice was eventually built, and remained until 1958.
Later during construction, the St. Urban suffered a partial collapse. Though workers escaped unharmed, the mishap was an added financial burden for Banner.
The building was constructed on a three-story limestone base and finally finished in 1906, the same year that it was foreclosed upon and sold.
Layout and Features
The St. Urban is considered an architectural triumph, and is strikingly elegant and historical in appearance. The building makes use of French Second Empire and Beaux-Arts styles, with a mansard roof with angled dormer windows, balustrade belt courses, and even ornamented brackets with stone lion heads.
The building is particularly known for its spectacular driveway, a recessed carriage driveway with two arch lavish arch surrounds, though this driveway no longer serves as the building's main entrance. The new entrance, pictured above, was built decades later, and is capped with a vaulted iron marquee.
Another obvious exterior feature -- the building's domed tower, pictured right -- lends the building an asymmetry which makes it a particularly distinct part of the city skyline.
The building, with 56 apartments ranging up to 4,000 square feet with up to 11 foot ceilings, has kept the lavish character originally envisioned by Peter Banner. Many apartments feature length entrance galleries or foyers, and some apartments still feature libraries and, in keeping with the building's classic feel, wood-burning fireplaces.
The general mood of the apartments is grand, with large dining rooms and kitchens and unobstructed views of Central Park that become more impressive with each floor, culminating in the view from the penthouse, a two-level apartment that features a double-height room in St. Urban's turret and whose owner, architect Lee Harris Pomeroy, redesigned and sold for over $9,000,000. Most units even have wine cellars.
Units also feature private chillers, which are powered by a central refrigeration system. The building also features a full-size indoor basketball court, perhaps an unexpectedly modern addition to the building.
In keeping with its historic feel, the building lacks some staples of modern apartment buildings, and is without a health club or garage.
Here are some of the floor plans available at St. Urban.
- 24-hour doorman
- Basketball court
- Bicycle storage
|St. Urban Bylaws|
- The building allows rentals.
- There is no age restriction for residents.
- Apartments are pet-friendly.
Built long before the time of widespread environmental awareness and concern, the St. Urban has no definitively sustainability-oriented characteristics, apart from what owners have installed themselves.
- Ada Louise Huxtable, famous architecture critic and the winner of the very first Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, grew up in an apartment in St. Urban, which probably greatly influenced her love for architecture and her preservationist views on historical buildings. Other notable residents include Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes" and actor/singer Kevin Bacon.
- Down Central Park West, at 74th Street, a plaque is dedicated to Henry Bliss. Bliss and the neighborhood share the dubious honor of being, respectively, the very first person to be run down or killed by a motor vehicle, and the site of that accident.
- Architect Robert Lyons was particularly happy with the facade of the St. Urban, and planned to replicate it exactly, turreted dome and all, on a much larger scale for a proposed hotel in Brooklyn. The hotel project, however, fell through, and St. Urban remained unique in its appearance.
- The nearby Sol Bloom Playground, dedicated to the eponymous Congressman, is a playground uniquely designed to relate to the theme of "blooming." Examples include a sunflower spray shower, a colored concrete sundial/compass, and a freestanding panel adorned by animals from The Wizard of Oz.
- The Central Park Radio Foundation Studio, just across the street from St. Urban in the park, is the site of all manner of audio recording, including, appropriately, that of the Central Park Conservancy, which fought to restore Central Park in the late 1970s. Many New York celebrities have recorded at Foundation Studio, including Alec Baldwin, John Lithgow, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Matthew Broderick.
- Robert Lyons
- St. Urban
- Carter Horsley
- Central Park Historic District
- Carter Horsley
- Carter Horsley
- Dwellings NYC
- City Realty
- Dwellings NYC
- NY Times
- Sol Bloom Playground
- Foundation Studio
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