Despite early notoriety,
this large complex has survived as one of the more attractive
of its kind in the city and its location adjacent to Central Park
and the renaissance of the Upper West Side above 86th Street have
made it quite desirable.
This 20-story, 414-unit
building is one of seven red-brick slab towers that comprise the
Park West Village complex that was designed by Skidmore, Owings
& Merrill, the famous architects of Manhattan House on the
Upper East Side and Lever House on Park Avenue, among many other
prominent buildings in the city. Park West Village was built by
Webb & Knapp, the development company of William Zeckendorf,
the legendary builder, and the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa).
One of the city's largest
and most controversial "urban renewal" projects, Park
West Village was initially known as Manhattantown and then West
The multi-block development,
which included tennis courts located at the northeast corner of
Amsterdam Avenue and Ninety-Seventh Street that were managed as
a private club, took more than a decade to come to fruition in
1960 and scandals relating to it ultimately led to a rethinking
of the "slum clearance" programs of the era.
Webb & Knapp and S.O.M.,
however, were not involved in the original controversies over
the development and had been brought in to rescue it in 1957.
In his book, "Public
Works: A Dangerous Trade," (McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1970),
the imperious master builder Robert Moses, who had been the City
Construction Coordinator and the chairman of the city's Committee
on Slum Clearance when the project was initiated, recalled that:
"The project was conceived
in the spring of 1949 when seven local civic organizations joined
to form the West Side Housing Committee. Later that year, the
committee reported on their findings and requested action on a
slum clearance and public housing project for the Bloomingdale
section west of Central Park. In June of 1950, Congressman Franklin
D. Roosevelt Jr., whose 20th Congressional District embraced this
area, started to translate the report into concrete action. Because
of the high assessed valuation of the land, an initial request
to the New York City Housing Authority was not granted, but a
subsequent request prepared in accordance with Title I and directed
to the Slum Clearance Committee was viewed favorably."
In 1951, Moses sent to the
Board of Estimate a plan to clear a large Upper West Side site
bounded by Central Park West, Amsterdam Avenue and 97th and 100th
Streets. Part of the plan called for eliminating 98th and 99th
Streets within the site and widening the north and south perimeter
streets. The site had been occupied by tenements, garages and
apartment buildings, many of which had become single-room-occupancy
Moses eventually had 4,212
"slum" apartments on the site cleared and they were
replaced by 2,662 apartments.
"When the sponsor [Caspert
and Company] took possession of the area, the regulations issued
by the State Rent Administrator pursuant to the Emergency Rent
Laws did not authorize evictions in such situations unless the
new buildings contained a greater number of housing units than
presently existed. This was not the case in Manhattantown. The
regulations had to be amended. But in the meantime, the sponsor
was unable to proceed with its relocation and demolition activities
because many tenants, knowing that Manhattantown could not remove
them, refused reasonable relocation offers....Although it had
been understood that it would be necessary for the FHA to insure
the mortgage loans for the construction of the new buildings,
the initial reaction of the FHA in May, 1953, was that it would
not approve slum sites in New York City for FHA loans. The local
FHA office later agreed to process an application but insisted
on considering the area a slum area. This would have the effect
of decreasing the amortization period, which would increase the
yearly carrying charges and make the apartments more difficult
to rent...," Moses wrote.
Some progress was made in
clearing the site, but the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency
hearings in 1954 revealed "that the sponsors had been indulging
in questionable and petty management practices," Moses wrote,
quoting one of his letters of the time that although "the
petty chiseling which is going on has little relation to City
and Federal write-down and the ultimate economics of projects,
a very bad public impression has been created." "I don't
know," he continued, "whether some of our builders can
be cured of established chiseling practices, but certainly some
effort should be made along this line."
The erudite Moses was never
cavalier nor off-hand, but dogged, bulldozzerly and determined,
an arrogant and remarkable man both in his great achievements
and his major mistakes.
Manhattantown, it turned
out, was plagued with corruption and despite superb investigative
reporting by Gene Gleason and Fred J. Cook of the World Telegram
& Sun Moses, then at the height of his incredible planning
and development powers unrivaled in the city's history, was not
The city had taken over
the site in 1952 under Title 1 of the Housing Act of 1949, and
before long the plan was criticized by several civic groups, including
the Women's City Club, for its handling of the relocation of residents
on the site.
the first massive renewal project to be scrutinized on a cost-benefit
basis that took into serious consideration the plight of those
living on the site," noted Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins
and David Fishman in their book, "New York 1960," (The
Monacelli Press, 1995).
"Opponents of the project,"
they continued, "argued that the city's current residents
would not benefit from the renewal process because the...new dwelling
units proposed for the seventeen twenty-story buildings [in the
original plan] would not only be too expensive but would also
represent a significant reduction in the amount of housing presently
available on the site. It was not statistical analysis, however,
but charges of rampant corruption running throughout the entire
Title 1 slum clearance program in New York that compromised Manhattantown.
After charges of corruption led to an investigation in the Senate
Committee on Banking and Currency in the fall of 1954, Mayor Wagner
banned future work for five years on Title 1 projects of all initial
private participants in Manhattantown, including the architect
Melvin E. Kessler of S. J. Kessler & Sons, who had taken an
equity position in the development and whose fees had been misrepresented
in the sponsors' public filings. Moses's deals with developers
had come to reek of cronyism, and he had let Manhattantown drag
on for years as the first developers milked the project by collecting
rents from on-site tenants living in condemned housing, which
the temporary landlords were not obliged to maintain to any decent
standard. As a result of the Title 1 scandals, and those surrounding
the Manhattantown project in particular, Moses and his high-handed
approach began to be carefully examined in the press..."
In his exhaustive, fascinating
and vitriolic book, "The Power Broker, Robert Moses And The
Fall Of New York, (Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), author Robert Caro
documents in great detail the history of this project:
area was a slum area. Its people were poor; the average weekly
income was sixty dollars per family. Its buildings were old; there
hadn't been a new building constructed in it in twenty-five years.
Most of them were overcrowded with families of five or six members
jammed into apartments that should have held no more than three
or four, and many were dilapidated. But the area also was stable,
settled, friendly....The Mayor's Slum Clearance Committee had
handed over to Caspert and Company six square blocks of Manhattan
real estate, worth $15,000,000, for $1,000,000....[in 1956,] Manhattantown,
Inc., whose tax arrears had now topped $600,000 and were rising
every day, had, because its officers had been siphoning out the
money as fast as it came in, none available to pay the taxes any
time in the foreseeable future,...there was also no money in sight
to pay the interest on the $2,000,000 mortgage Moses had persuaded
the city to give them, let alone the amortization,...that there
was no money in sight to build any of the buildings the corporation
had, more than five years before, contracted to build....Moses
had no choice. On June 11, the Slum Clearance Committee asked
the Board of Estimate to institute foreclosure proceedings and
take back the property in the name of the city so that it could
be turned over to a new sponsor....Under the arrangement, Webb
& Knapp would not merely insure Manhattantown's principals
against any liability to the city. It would buy out the two principal
stockholders - Seymour Milstein and Jack Ferman (Caspert having
prudently sold out before the company's collapse) - for $533,250,
and put them on Webb & Knapp's payroll as `consultants' for
five years at a fee of $30,000 a year, a total of $150,000 more.
These two men, key figures in Manhattantown since its inception,
were not merely being allowed, after five years of delay - five
years during which they had made fortunes - to slip quietly into
the night without punishment. They were also being paid hundreds
of thousands of dollars to do so. And this money was not for all
their stock. Under the Moses-approved arrangements, Ferman and
Milstein would be given sizable stockholdings - between them a
total of 32 percent - in Webb & Knapp's Manhattantown subsidiary....Outcry
in the press - the afternoon press, primarily - apparently panicked
the administration" and portions of the arrangement were
subsequently revised. (Seymour Milstein would go on eventually
with his brother, Paul, to become one of the city's major developers
The Manhattantown "revelations,"
Caro continued, "hardly touched Robert Moses at all. The
fear and awe in which he was held by reporters, rewritemen, copy
editors and city editors was never more evident than on the day
following the Senate hearing on Manhattantown and in the days
that followed. Robert Moses had conceived the Manhattan project.
He had directed its planning. He had selected the cast of characters
who ran it. He had shifted the cast around when the political
winds in the city shifted. It was a Robert Moses project from
beginning to end. The [New York] Times story on Manhattantown
did not mention Robert Moses once...."
By 1957, no construction
had taken place and that July the name of the project was changed
to West Park Apartments, and shortly thereafter Park West Village.
Meanwhile, the Citizens
Housing and Planning Council had proposed, in 1954, a new "neighborhood
conservation" approach to urban renewal and in 1955 Mayor
Wagner came forward with a "vest pocket" redevelopment
that emphasized small rather than huge redevelopment schemes.
Slum clearance and urban renewal plans were no longer to be considered
This building was completed
in 1961 and converted to a condominium in 1985. It is named after
Frederick Law Olmstead, one of the designers of Central Park.
Moses would go on for many
years and soon coordinated the Lincoln Center redevelopment as
part of what he described as his "vision of a reborn West
Side, marching north from Columbus Circle, and eventually spreading
over the entire dismal and decayed West Side," Caro wrote.
The West Side is no longer
dismal and decayed and despite a controversial birth, Park West
Village emerged as one of the city's finest examples of Le Corbusier's
dream of "towers-in-a-park" urban planning.
While there was no need
for a "plaza" along Central Park West, the extension
of landscaped open space to Amsterdam Avenue is not without merit
and while there was no excuse for relocation abuses and corrupt
practices the experience of this project did led to some reforms.
The building is one block
from a subway station and has on-site parking, many balconies,
landscaped grounds, a doorman, but no health club.