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The Prásáda

50 Central Park West

Southwest corner at 65th Street

The Prásáda

The Prásáda has arched windows on its first floor

By Carter B. Horsley

Erected in 1907 by Franklin and Samuel Haines and designed by Charles W. Romeyn and Henry R. Wynne, the Prásáda originally was a delightful French Second Empire-style apartment house.

In 1919, however, its mansard roof was removed and the top floor slightly expanded to its current configuration which is relatively flush with the next two highest floors. As a result, the building's composition has been seriously tampered with and truncated, although the alteration does not leave visible scars as in some of the more outrageous instances of cornice removal in the city.

View from the southeast

View from the southeast

The undeniable exterior charm of this structure, however, remains otherwise largely intact.

It is most distinguished by its grand entrance that has four large, two-story banded columns that support a cartouche with the engraved name of the building above the entrance steps that lead to a semi-circular loggia entrance. The first-floor windows are arched and very large and the ground floor has a "dry" moat. Most of the fourth floor has balustraded balconies. The fourth through the ninth floors have angled bay windows at the edges of the building.

Building's entrance

 In his fine book, "Luxury Apartment Houses of New York, An Illustrated History," (Dover Publications Inc., 1992), Andrew Alpern finds the architects to have been "heavy-handed at best" in this building, which may be true as far as being pure to French Second Empire style but perhaps far too critical a judgment by New York City standards as this is a very impressive structure.

"Beginning at the third floor and going up," Alpern wrote, "the facade presents stiffly academic interpretations of classical French detailing in inelegant combinations....The upper floors offer pseudo-French casement windows with vestigial iron balcony railings, pressed-steel spandrels and a cornice supported on voluted and floriated consoles. Above the cornice are two more stories. Originally there was an elaborately detailed mansard roof embellished with ornamental cresting that concealed the top-floor apartments."

"Inside, the Prásáda was also lavishly designed, but with a defter touch than on the outside....At the center axis of the loggia are the entrance doors to the building, which open onto a succession of spaces culminating in a spectacular Palm Room....This waiting space and visual enhancement was designed with a barrel-vaulted, leaded glass skylight roof supported by four large carved classical caryatids. It also boasted an elegant stone fountain backlighted by a wall of leaded stained-glass windows. With the marble benches, the potted palms and the immense oriental rug, the Prásáda's Palm Room was a rival of the public spaces of the finest of New York's hotels, albeit on a smaller scale."

The building originally had three apartments per floor and only a few have subsequently been subdivided. Each rear apartment consists of eight rooms, while each of the two in front has ten. According to Alpern, the spacious apartments did not have many bathrooms but their dining rooms, libraries and parlors were aligned with "sliding pocket doors" so they could be combined into larger spaces. There was a mail chute on each floor.

Alpern notes that a newspaper report in 1918 indicated that Penrhyn Stanlaws and Walter Russell, who had developed some "studio" apartment buildings nearby such as the Hotel des Artistes on West 67th Street, were planning to spend $1,350,000 on this building and rebuild it into a club, hotel and apartment facility, according to plans by Starrett and Van Vleck, with dining rooms on the first floor, a pool in the basement and room service.

Apparently, the only change made was to the roof and a plan to convert the rental apartments to cooperatives was abandoned at the time. It finally was converted to a cooperative building in 1988.

In his August 20, 2000 "Streetscapes" column in The New York Times, Christopher Gray noted that the building was designed "with typical turn-of-the-century ebullience, with Beaux-Arts detailing capped by a two-story-high mansard roof," adding that "the origin of the name Prasada is not clear."  

Mr. Gray, surprisingly, maintained that while "the four banded columns at the entrance make an impressive statement...., overall the result is tepid."  From the street, the pedestrian is not aware that the building has lost its mansard roof and is likely to be very impressed with the large, arched windows and the grand entrance with the banded columns.

Mr. Gray's article went on, however, to document the building's lavishness:

"On the inside, the Prasada is organized around a central open court, illuminating three broad stained-glass skylights over the lobby - designated the 'Palm Room' on an early plan - originally with a fountain facing the front doorway.  The typical floors were divided into three apartments each of eight to 12 rooms, renting from $190 to $300 a month.  They showed the typical quirks of apartment planning at the time.  None of the bedrooms had private bathrooms, and many rooms had sinks set inside closets, presumably to reduce the load on sanitary facilities.  Each apartment had a long hall - visitors generally made a substantial trek past kitchens and bedrooms until they got to the entertaining rooms.  On the other hand, the stair hall had three large windows giving natural air and light, and the layouts often introduced 45-degree angles and odd-shaped rooms that give an interest and charm which the later, more efficient planning of the 1920's could not rival."

Mr. Gray reported in his article that"sometime before the 1940's, the iron railings at each apartment window and the masonry balustrades at the fourth and 10th floors were stripped off, emphasizing the bare appearance of the facade," adding that "the exteiror still looks dour," but the lobby was renovated in 1999.

According to Mr. Gray, prominent residents over the years included Moses Stroock of the law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan and Edna Ferber.

The building has spectacular views of Central Park and the Upper East Side and midtown skylines as well as the glittering nighttime illumination at Tavern-on-the-Green. It is convenient to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and all the restaurants and stores in that area and the cross-town bus to the East Side runs on 65th Street.

With its fine location and magnificent entrance, the 49-unit Prásáda is one of the premier buildings on Central Park West despite its sadly altered roof. It has sidewalk landscaping, but no garage, inconsistent fenestration and no health club and there is considerable traffic as the building is at the entrance to an eastbound Central Park transverse road.

For more information about the Prasada check its entry at CityRealty.com


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