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279 Central Park West

Northwest corner at 88th Street
279 Central Park West

279 Central Park West

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the newer apartment houses on Central Park West, this building was erected as a condominium in 1988 and is one of the few buildings in the city to have curved-glass corner windows.

The windows not only are very graceful notes to the building's asymmetrical composition but also take advantage of its stupendous views of Central Park.

View of the building from the southeast

View of the building from the southeast

The building's asymmetrical shape was determined by special "contextual" zoning that the city enacted in the 1980s that called for floors to be setback above the boulevard's traditional "building wall height" of 15 stories. Similar zoning is in place along much of Broadway where numerous buildings with the same kind of setbacks were built beginning in the 1980s, although most of those had more symmetrical setbacks because they were on larger sites. The only other building on Central Park West similar to this one is at 353 Central Park West at 95th Street, but it does not have curved-glass windows.

This building has only 38 apartments, some of which are duplexes. It has a three-story limestone base with very handsome window grills on the first floor. Its canopied entrance leads to a revolving door and a large lobby with dark wood paneling.

Building's base

Base of the building

There is excellent cross-town bus service as well as a subway station two blocks south on Central Park West at 86th Street.

Although the building's silhouette is a bit clumsy, it offers great views, modern conveniences, a good location and the exclusivity of few apartments.

There are many terraces and bay windows and there is excellent public transportation within a couple of blocks. The building has no garage and no balconies and no sundeck. The building has a concierge.

In his excellent book, "Luxury Apartment Houses Of Manhattan, An Illustrated History," (Dover Publications, Inc., 1992), Andrew Alpern devotes an entire chapter to this fascinating building and its neighbor just to the south, a high-rise apartment building at 279 Central Park West that replaced the Italian-Renaissance-palazzo-style Progress Club that was subsequently converted into the Walden School.

"The St. Urban," Alpern wrote, "has not been a stranger to notoriety and controversy....its stockholder-residents banded together in 1987 in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain official landmark status for the adjoining former Progress Club. Trying futilely to block the building's high-rise replacement tower, the residents were motivated at least in part by the potential loss of park views from their southern windows. They were ultimately rebuffed by New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission, which pointed to the 1958 removal of the club building's massive cornice and the addition of a fifth floor by the school."

View from across the  reservoir

View of 279 Central Park West and St. Urban from Central Park Reservoir

"A cornice," Alpern continued, "had figured in an earlier controversy. In 1905, even before the St. Urban was completed, attorneys for the Progress Club filed a lawsuit against Peter Banner arguing that the cornice at the top of the southern wall encroached upon their air space and caused rainwater to drip onto the northern portion of their roof garden, reducing its usefulness. During the construction of Banner's building there was a partial collapse of the structure. Although no one was killed, the incident caused the builder much grief and may have contributed to his ultimate loss of the building." Alpern reported that Banner hoped to rent apartments for $3,000 to $4,500 a year, but overextended himself and defaulted on his mortgage. "The building was brought at a foreclosure sale by a lawyer, Albert Forsch, for $1,130,000. Forsch, in turn, sold it in August 1906 to the Barstun Realty Company, which rented out the units," Alpern wrote.

The Progress Club completed its handsome building designed by Louis Korn in 1904, but closed in 1931 and subsequently the building was acquired by the school, which altered and expanded the building.

For more information about this building check its entry at CityRealty.com

 

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