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Thread: 455 Central Park West

  1. #1

    Default 455 Central Park West

    The Towers, on Central Park West at 105th Street, has long been one of the city's spookiest ruins. But developer Dan McLean thinks that when his renovation is done, affluent New Yorkers will flock to it, as they once flocked to the Dakota. Is he crazy? Maybe, maybe not. But he is from Chicago.


    You might think there isn't much of a market for a $5 million apartment on 105th Street, but Dan McLean disagrees. The Chicago developer, who built a significant chunk of his city's South Loop and purchased most of Fisher Island off the Miami coast, is making his first foray into the New York market. He's transforming a long-derelict Victorian cancer hospital on 455 Central Park West into $800-a-square-foot condos with a 25-story tower soaring behind it.

    At the moment, however, the once lordly looking brick-and-Belleville-stone ch§Óteau with conical towers and arched windows looks more like the urban version of The Amityville Horror. Worse, it's within gunshot range of the Frederick Douglass Houses, a project that not so long ago hosted a brisk crack trade.

    The Towers, as it's known, seems to be a haunted site. (Perhaps literally. One of the architects looking at a historic photo of the place spotted what he joked was a ghost in one of the windows.) At least three developers have tried to realize their visions for the project in recent years, but none have even gotten a spade in the ground -- until McLean.

    "I've been lucky enough to be able to see things other people haven't necessarily seen," says McLean, who's not referring to ghosts. "I discovered early on that if you did a big enough project you could create new neighborhoods. A die-hard New Yorker wouldn't have lived there ten years ago. But you can become jaded in your own city. I look at it and see that it's on the park, there are women jogging. It's the Dakota of the north."

    Building it is one thing. Getting Manhattan's most affluent apartment hunters up above 96th Street is another. McLean's MCL Companies has shelled out a reported $24 million in cash for the property (development will cost him another $150 million) precisely at the moment when the demand for super-luxury apartments shows signs of slowing down. Still, the person with the wherewithal to pay for that 4,000-square-foot duplex in a former chapel with stained-glass windows has got to feel, when he steps out of his private elevator, that his or her values are reflected. A condo, these days, is a statement of self, a message. That's what McLean has been spending much of his energies working on.

    At the first of many Tuesday-morning marketing meetings, this one at the offices of Douglas Elliman, the building's sales agent, a phalanx of marketing and P.R. people pick at muffins, looking eagerly at McLean, whose sunny midwestern countenance is a surprise in the hyperintense world of Manhattan development. Mock-ups of 455 CPW stationery are being passed out for his approval: green paper with a small Four Seasons- esque tree mounted against black posterboard. "It's an important signature of the property," says a marketer. "That's the conservative choice. But then again, a lot of people do ivory. I think 'moss' gives it a little more signature. And again, it's the green of the park." "I'd go with green, sure," says McLean.

    Later, at the Union Square offices of Perkins Eastman, one of McLean's two architecture firms, the fixtures are the focus. Chicago vs. New York standards go head to head. "Brass?" says MCL development director Anne Miller. "Brushed stainless," everyone retorts in unison. In McLean's Chicago buildings, he has a design center that offers thousands of options, but such customization is too costly in New York, he explains, flipping through binders of kitchen samples. "Here you just pick out a nice level of standards."

    The Towers was originally put up in 1884 by John Jacob Astor III as the New York Cancer Hospital (a precursor of Sloan-Kettering). Its rounded towers were designed on the theory that germs couldn't hide in the corners.

    In the fifties, it became the infamous Towers Nursing Home, which was shut down after owner Bernard Bergman was convicted of Medicaid fraud. Developer Lewis Futterman bought the property from the city for back taxes in the mid-eighties, and then spent three years getting plans for renovation and a tower designed by Peter Bafitis (the other architect, now of RKT&B, who has become the project's de facto historian) approved by the Landmarks Commission. He then turned a profit selling the package to Ian Schrager in 1988. It was Schrager who shifted the entrance from 106th Street to Central Park West, super-sized the units, and envisioned a kind of self-contained compound with a grocery store, a health club, and a gigantic parking garage, for which he had to apply to the zoning board.

    When the market turned bad, Schrager was unable to get his project off the ground. Nine years later, Savanna Partners snapped up the Towers -- from the bank -- to build an assisted-living facility and brought in Perkins Eastman, which specializes in such ventures, to reconfigure the plans into smaller units. The zoning was changed from "residential" to "residential hotel."

    In 1999, the Towers went on the block yet again, when the company that agreed to run the home for Savanna reneged. Columbia University made a serious run at it for faculty housing. Two private schools were interested as well, until McLean came in at the eleventh hour. Last March, the day before bids were due, he was playing golf on Fisher Island. "My friend Arthur Halleran, the only other Irish guy on the island, had known about it a while but didn't get around to telling me," he laughs. (Halleran is now an investor in 455 CPW.) "So I flew in the next day, looked at the project, and made an offer."

    Now, a year later, as demolition of what was the Tower's non-landmarked former X-ray building on the corner of 105th begins and the project finally feels like a reality, the industry forecast is decidedly mixed: "I have a hard time getting people to look above 90th Street," says one condo broker. "There are some issues," says Carol Mann, senior vice-president at Stribling. "On Manhattan Avenue, there are blocks and blocks of projects -- that will never change. But I'd be bullish on 455, no question. Columbia has come down, the Upper West side has gone up. There's a huge resurgence in Harlem. It should work."

    The winds of uptown gentrification might be in his sails, but all hasn't been smooth for McLean. For pre-development work, he hired Louise Sunshine, the brassy condo-marketing guru who helped make Trump millions and is currently overseeing high-end jobs like the AOL Time Warner tower at Columbus Circle and Richard Meier's Perry Street project. But when it came time to start selling 455, McLean's advisers wanted him to work with Elliman.

    Of course, Sunshine's ready to run down the project. "If they made it $500 a square foot they'd be successful," she says. "The other issue is that the rock formations of the park are very high on 105th and 106th Street. For park visibility you'd have to get on the upper floors of the building. It's very risky."

    "I think Louise did an excellent job helping us design the project," offers McLean. "I think it's unfortunate that she would say something derogatory about a project that she helped design."

    By 9 a.m. on an icy January morning, the crew has set to work peeling slabs off the Towers' roofs and hurling them to the snow-covered ground. No small task, considering ailanthus trees are now sprouting from the turrets. The inside is filled with pigeons, squatters, and ash from a fire in the seventies. Even the electricians are getting spooked. "You walk in there, you hear things up top," whispers one. "Crazy stuff up there," agrees another, shaking his head.

    "They'll be reused," says McLean, pointing to a growing pile of bricks in back, next to a cone-shaped smokestack that was once the hospital's crematorium. As McLean steps onto the Street, a colorfully dressed woman, who looks more like the lead singer in an East Village rock band, interrupts: "I just want you to know, I think what you're doing is terrible!" "What?" asks McLean, slightly chuckling, "Saving the building?" Then he steps over, hardhat-less, to inspect the spot where the circular driveway and fountain will someday be. "Hey!" says the foreman, known as Big Tony. "Don't die before you finish paying!"

    In his limo heading downtown, McLean thinks about what the girl said. "I think she thought we were tearing it down," he concludes. "And she had purple hair and a nose ring, so I'm not too worried." She's not the only neighborhood resident who's unhappy, however. "All I'm going to get out of it is rats running around the street for the next year," says a resident of West 103rd Street. "And I hardly consider that progress." In zoning-board hearings last summer, a group called the Save the Towers Committee tried to overturn the city ruling that changed the zoning back to "residential," citing an increase in traffic and noise level. They lobbied for a university or even, as a local psychiatrist suggested, an American Museum of Medicine. Either idea would not cover the $20 million needed for the restoration. "Building a condo," says McLean, "and having the new tower is, economically, the only way."

    At the next marketing meeting, there is some good news: They've signed David Rockwell to do the lobby and children's room. "It's a name!" says LD&A's Len Dugow. "Anne was beating him up on the price," laughs McLean. "And he says, "Well, you are going to use my name aren't you?" A final mock-up of the brochure is ready. "I didn't care for 'sleek modern architecture,' " says Miller. "I'd use 'traditional.' And where it says 'slate and marble finishes'? We don't have slate. The rest is great." Next are the photos: autumn parkscapes, jazz caf¨¦s, and one abstract shot of a gigantic black-and-white dog asleep on a red velvet couch. "I like it. It says we're tender, dog-friendly," jokes McLean, "and that the rooms are big enough to fit a dog that size," adds an Elliman broker. "How long's it going to take to print?" asks McLean. "Six weeks? Jeeze, give it to me, we'll take it to Chicago and get it done in two."

    Next on the agenda are amenities. It is decided to amp up the health club and lap pool and turn it over to American Leisure and the Rockwell group to configure. "How about a storage area?" someone suggests. "Will the valet wash cars?" "We can put that in," says McLean. "Tailoring maybe?" "Sure." A debate ensues over what to call the extra-helpful concierge. "Supierege" is voted down. "That's not right," sighs Miller. "We'll work on it." "How about a temperature-controlled wine cellar?" say Dugow. "We can charge by the bottle," says McLean.

    He may not be part of the New York real-estate elite, but McLean is, as they say, a big deal. His 350-acre estate in Wisconsin has an eighteen-hole golf course. The sand traps spell out his initials. "Oh, I know Christie Hefner," he says, when she comes up in conversation. "Very serious girl." Mayor Daley lives in one of his buildings. Oprah -- is there a bigger Chicago name? -- has a place on Fisher Island. "The other day, my sales guy was talking to these college kids," says McLean. "I said to my secretary, 'Why is he wasting his time with those kids!' And she goes, 'Dan, those are the Backstreet Boys.' "

    Still, one has to wonder if he has other, perhaps greater, worries about the Manhattan market. "Things are very different than they were in the overbuilding days of the eighties," he says, shrugging off even the possibility that he's missed one of the city's greatest booms. "More people want to stay in the city. They've already branched out to Chelsea, the 59th Street Bridge . . . there are not very many opportunities elsewhere."

    This week, the triple trailers that will make up the sales office have been installed where the X-ray building was. Despite a few last-minute glitches (like the fact that LD&A suddenly went out of business), the selling is set to begin the first week of April. Even now, MCL gets two or three calls a week from eagle-eyed buyers who've tracked them down from the tiny logo posted on the site. There are rumored to be sports figures who've come calling. "No one we can say," says McLean. The resident who McLean is really hoping for, however, is one he figures can easily commute to his new office: Bill Clinton. "It's a natural," he says, his excitement gaining speed. "We are definitely," he says, "definitely sending him a brochure."

  2. #2

    Default 455 Central Park South

    March 28, 2002

    Questions are swirling about the beleaguered luxury condo project 455 Central Park West (between 105th St. and Duke Ellington Blvd.). So far, developers of the project, the Chicago-based MCL group, have sold the first 15 floors of units in a proposed 26-story tower to Columbia University to serve as faculty housing. Sources say the remaining unsold condos in the tower and in the separate landmark castle building, a former Cancer hospital financed by John Jacob Astor in the 1880s, may well be snapped up by the space-crunched college as well.

    A Columbia spokesperson would not comment on any ongoing negotiations, while MCL's flack also declined comment. What seems clear - it ain't sellin'.

    Although it's located on Central Park, the project has a blocks-long, 40-foot-high rock formation directly across the street obstructing most park and city views from the 4-story landmark building in the transitional neighborhood.

    Most of the condos - ranging in price from $1.2 million to $7.2 million - are still available on the Insignia Douglas Elliman Web site. Last fall, construction inexplicably stopped, and many permits displayed at the site are expired after the renovation began more than a year ago.

  3. #3

    Default 455 Central Park South

    December 1, 2002
    One More Rescue Attempt for a Battered Landmark

    Like a patient on life-support, the old Towers Nursing Home, a chateau-style landmark at 106th Street and Central Park West, has long teetered on the brink. But this time, some preservationists were afraid that death was near.

    Built in 1884 as the nation's first cancer hospital, the building had sat dormant for 27 years, despite a parade of developers who took turns trying to resuscitate the ailing landmark. They included Ian Schrager, of Studio 54 fame, who tried but failed to renovate it into apartments.

    In early 2001, a Chicago developer actually broke ground on a $200 million project to transform the hospital into a regal foothold for a 26-story residential tower.

    Work proceeded steadily. The interiors were gutted, delicately, so as not weaken the red-brick and sandstone-trim shell. Ailanthus trees, otherwise known as "tenement palms," that had sprouted from the turrets were surgically removed. Slabs from the roof were peeled off, bringing sunlight where pigeons and crack users once nested.

    Then last November, without any word to neighbors, construction stopped.

    "The building has been opened to the elements," said Kate Wood, executive director of Landmark West, an advocacy group. Instead of stabilizing and preserving the building, Ms. Wood said, the developer was accelerating its deterioration. "It's demolition by neglect," she added.

    According to the developer, Daniel E. McLean, the president of MCL Companies in Chicago, the problem was money.

    "The financing we had was stopped," he said. "After Sept. 11, there were a lot of people who lost confidence."

    Last month, local preservationists pleaded with the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to intervene before it was too late. The building had been granted landmark status in 1976 as "one of the most distinguished buildings facing Central Park."

    Unknown to the letter writers, Columbia University had stepped in a month earlier and bought 50 of the 99 units for its faculty. The condominiums, which were being marketed for $1.3 million to $7.2 million, will offer valet parking, a health spa and views of Central Park. Few units had been sold previously, in part because of the neighborhood's untested market for multi-million-dollar apartments.

    With half the units now sold, Mr. McLean secured a $130 million construction loan three weeks ago, and work crews returned to the site almost immediately.

    "There's been a lot of rumors floating around," Mr. McLean said. "The building should be complete in 18 months."

  4. #4

    Default 455 Central Park South

    The view on 455 CPW construction on 2 March 2002.

    The view on 455 CPW construction on 21 October 2001.

  5. #5

    Default 455 Central Park South

    455 Central Park West
    26 stories
    RKTB Architects
    Under Construction 2001-2003


    Renderings by Gilbert Gorski:

    From Savanna Properties

    The Towers at Central Park West was a proposed 276-unit assisted-living project located at 455 Central Park West consisting of (i) a gut renovation of an 89,000 square foot landmark structure comprising the entire block on Central Park West between West 105th Street and West 106th Street, and (ii) the construction of a new 218,000 square foot, twenty-seven (27) story residential tower.

    Savanna recognized the extraordinary potential of the site given its location on Central Park West and the value of the in-place approvals to build a 218,000 square foot residential building, given the stringent regulatory review and approval process endemic to New York City.

    The property was purchased from the Greater New York Savings Bank in September 1997 with a bridge loan provided by Bank Leumi. *Following the acquisition, Savanna completed the asbestos abatement, obtained additional third-party reports and prepared schematic architectural drawings. *The property was sold in September 2001 to MCL Properties, a Chicago-based developer.

  6. #6
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002


    December 21, 2003
    Columbia Help Puts Tower at Landmark Site

    No longer will passers-by wonder what, if anything at all, is being done to salvage the once splendid French Renaissance chateau that has sat decaying and abandoned for more than 25 years on Central Park West between 105th and 106th Streets.

    The onetime hospital is undergoing a long-promised massive renovation that will transform it to luxury housing. And it has acquired a sibling, a 26-story condominium tower that is nearing completion at the rear of the property.

    Over the years one developer after another has tried and failed to revive the building at 455 Central Park West, with its twin circular turrets, which was the city's first cancer hospital and later a nursing home operated by Bernard Bergman, who was convicted of Medicaid and tax fraud.

    With high hopes and generous financing, Daniel E. McLean, president and chief executive of the MCL Companies, a Chicago-based developer, entered the picture in March 2000, when he bought the property for $21 million and began construction. But like numerous predecessors he was forced to halt the work. "After 9/11 we lost our construction loan and had to wait for about a year to get a new one," he said.

    His salvation came from a onetime competitor for the site, Columbia University. It has bought the second through 15th floors, which hold 53 apartments that range in size from two to four bedrooms and which will house senior faculty and visiting dignitaries.

    "They were the losing bidder when I bought the building," Mr. McLean said. "They wanted to make it half dormitory and half a faculty residence and sell the landmark portion to a private school. But they offered $200,000 less than my bid. When we had a problem, we were approached by a broker who suggested I sell some of the units to Columbia."

    He would not specify how much the university had paid, but said it averaged about $1 million a unit.

    The remaining 44 units went on the market earlier this month at prices of $1.35 million to $4.5 million. In addition to the requisite amenities — generously sized rooms, eat-in kitchens, formal dining rooms, high ceilings, granite countertops, marble bathrooms with showers and tubs big enough for two, and an on-site lap pool — a panoply of services will be available through the concierge, ranging from catering to passport renewal.

    The new building will share a lobby and courtyard designed by David Rockwell with the chateau-style structure, which is being almost totally rebuilt from the inside out. There, each of the 17 condos will have at least one circular room measuring about 38 feet in diameter. Mr. McLean said he expected the units in the original building to sell for $3.5 million to $7.5 million. NADINE BROZAN

  7. #7
    Senior Member
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    Far West Village, NYC


  8. #8
    Forum Veteran krulltime's Avatar
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    Sep 2003
    Manhattan - UWS


    Wow I can't wait to see the old hospital getting rebuilt though. It is such an amazing building...people living there will be very happy.

  9. #9
    Forum Veteran krulltime's Avatar
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    Sep 2003
    Manhattan - UWS



    August 13, 2004

    Columbia University ponied up $45.38 million for 53 luxury condominiums in the new tower at 455 Central Park West at 106th St.

    The deal to buy the two- and three-bedroom condos on the 2nd to 15th floors of the 26-story building was cut in December 2002, long before the building was constructed. The pact was first disclosed in The Post. Columbia officials have declined to comment.

    According to a spokesperson for the project, the units are not going to be used as college dorm rooms but are targeted for certain important professors and visiting dignitaries. The building has a total of 98 units, with 81 in the tower and 17 in the landmarked, former hospital turrets.

    The project was developed MCL Companies of Chicago that is headed by Dan McLean.

    Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc.

  10. #10


    January 23, 2005

    Shadows on the Wall


    The Gothic hulk on Central Park West, once a cancer hospital, then a scandal-ridden nursing home, is being reborn as a luxury condominium.

    The building during its days as a cancer hospital.

    ON a late night in the early 1980's, Mary Beth Polasek, accompanied by her then-husband, Ted, and a friend named Charlie, ventured into the old castle on Central Park West and 106th Street. Guided by the beams of their flashlights, they creaked up the stairs to the top floor, passed through a wide hall, then entered one of the turrets. The circular room was vast and empty, and littered with chunks of plaster. The high conical roof, damaged years earlier in a fire, gaped open to the elements and the dim stars.

    Long ago, the building had been the notorious Towers Nursing Home, and long before that, the renowned New York Cancer Hospital. Now it was an abandoned ruin. Everyone in the neighborhood simply called it "the castle" because its gray stone walls, five turrets and gabled dormers all gave it the countenance of a Gothic fortress. Like any castle worthy of the name, this one was gloomy and forbidding. Stray cats slinked through the weeds and rubbish. Next door, the Castle Hotel ran a brisk trade in prostitution and crack.

    Ms. Polasek should have been afraid that night, but she was not. "I've seen a lot of ghosts since then," she said recently. "But I didn't see any that night. I wasn't spooked. We were young and foolish. We were crazy, happy kids."

    Before leaving, Ms. Polasek rescued a few discarded artifacts. In one room, she came upon an "unspeakably lovely" antique wooden toilet. In another, she discovered sepia-stained photographs of men and women spilling out of several open suitcases. Ms. Polasek, an artist, took the photographs home and set them into a collage. "They must be the people who lived there," she said. "I wanted to save them."

    Only later did it occur to her that their spirits might have been present the night she entered the castle. Or, more to the point, that they are still there today, looking down in shock from their spectral perches as 455 Central Park West - as the castle was recently christened - is reborn as a luxury condominium.

    Ms. Polasek will not be among those moving in. "As much as I would love to have $7 million for an apartment," she said, "I would never want to live in a building that I think is probably haunted."

    This sentiment is shared by many who have lived near the castle through its long demise and, now, its astonishing transformation. Whether they believe the castle is literally haunted by the dead or only figuratively haunted by the past, many Manhattan Valley residents find its restoration strangely unsettling, not to mention utterly incongruous with the dilapidated ruin they came to know and even love.

    Next month, with most of the units in its new adjoining 26-story high-rise already taken, 17 apartments in the landmark castle will be finished and ready for occupancy. Priced from $3.5 million to $7 million, the apartments will feature cavernous circular living rooms with lofty ceilings and splendid park views, and will include such amenities as a spa, an indoor lap pool, and 24-hour concierge service. As the sales brochure puts it, residents will be bathed in "surpassing opulence" and "timeless elegance," while "reverently preserved architectural details echo a grander age."

    Not to be heard among the echoes is a word about the actual past of the building. The omission is slightly ludicrous but entirely predictable. As anyone who has lived in New York longer than a few weeks knows, the past is easily discarded in this city. Buildings change, their contents shift, and eventually just about everybody who knew what was once where forgets or dies.

    This truth is hard enough to accept when it applies to a favorite corner restaurant; harder still when it applies to a building with a troubling past. Surely such buildings have earned themselves immunity from forgetfulness.

    In fact, though, they have not. Addresses that once seared themselves into the city's consciousness - the Kew Gardens foyer where Kitty Genovese was slain by a psychopath in 1964; the Greenwich Village brownstone where Joel Steinberg beat his daughter and wife in the 1980's - are forgotten. The Octagon Tower on Roosevelt Island, once home of the forlorn New York City Lunatics Asylum, is about to be incorporated into a mixed-income housing development. The former Asch Building near Washington Square, where 146 people perished in the 1911 Triangle Waist Company fire, now thrives as a biology building at New York University.

    It's a good bet that most New Yorkers could not identify that building if they walked right past it, a memory lapse that would have been unthinkable to anyone who lived here in 1911 - nearly as unthinkable as the possibility that future New Yorkers will be unable to identify the spot where the World Trade Center once stood.

    Morphine and Champagne

    Nothing as harrowing as the Triangle fire ever occurred at 455 Central Park West, but the building has endured a good deal of misfortune. When the New York Cancer Hospital was founded in the 1880's, cancer was widely considered incurable, as well as contagious and shameful. The hospital was the country's first to devote itself exclusively to the care of cancer patients, and every effort was made to build a state-of-the-art facility equal to the task.

    Inspired as much by modern medical theory as by 16th-century French chateaux, the architect Charles Haight's round towers were designed to deter germs and dirt from accumulating in sharp corners. An airshaft running vertically through the center of each tower - the very latest in 19th-century ventilation technology - prevented air from stagnating in the wards. Altogether, commended The New York Times in 1888, the features marked "a new departure in hospital construction and make this admirable structure a model of its kind."

    For all the purified air, tragedy seeped quickly into the hospital's thick walls. One of its chief benefactors, Elizabeth Hamilton Cullum, died of uterine cancer within months of laying the cornerstone. Another, Charlotte Augusta Astor (she and her husband, John Jacob Astor III, donated most of the money) died of cancer a week after the hospital opened in December 1887, missing her chance to be cured.

    Not that she could have been cured. Treatment for cancer was mostly palliative in those days. Many patients who came to West 106th came, in effect, to die, assuaged by morphine, whiskey and Champagne. (Tellingly, the hospital spent more on alcoholic beverages than on medical supplies.) Other forms of relief included carriage rides in Central Park and Sunday services in the hospital's Chapel of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, patron saint of the suffering.

    Largely because cancer remained so deadly, the hospital soon ran into money troubles. It came to be known as "the Bastille," a place to be feared and avoided by patients and patrons. In 1899, in an effort to attract more of both, administrators of the beleaguered hospital changed its name to the General Memorial Hospital for the Treatment of Cancer and Allied Diseases.

    The new name heralded a golden age for the hospital - a positively glowing age, in fact. Using radium, the radioactive material discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie, doctors at Memorial pioneered new techniques to burn away cancers with X-rays. By 1920, Memorial was among the world's leading cancer hospitals. It was also the country's single largest repository of radium, holding just shy of four grams (valued at $400,000) in a brick and steel vault. The following year, Madame Curie herself came to West 106th Street to admire the hospital's advancements.

    In retrospect, early radiation treatments were often worse than the disease they were meant to cure. Radiation caused severe burns and, in some cases, additional cancers. There may have been cause for hope at West 106th Street, but there was no end to suffering, a suffering made all the more dreadful by the vision, through the windows, of a smokestack to the west of the main building. Back there was the crematorium.

    Only after Memorial moved out of the building to the East Side of Manhattan (where it expanded into the present day Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) did life at the castle reach its full measure of dreadfulness. In 1955, the building became the Towers Nursing Home, the largest and most infamous member of a nursing home empire run by Bernard Bergman and his family. By the early 1970's, the Towers was at the center of state and federal investigations into Medicaid fraud and other crimes.

    In the meantime, the home's elderly charges went neglected. A Times reporter visiting in 1974 noted that patients looked bleary-eyed and stupefied. Floors were filthy, and a "pervasive odor" tainted the air. Patients testified to "atrocious conditions," including inadequate heat, pest infestations and physical abuse.

    The nursing home was finally closed in 1974. There was talk of tearing it down, but in 1976, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the building a landmark, thereby condemning it not to the wrecking ball but to slow death by decrepitude.

    Where Beasts Were Born (on Film)

    It was during this third, and seemingly terminal, stage of the castle's life that many Manhattan Valley residents first came to know it. Even those who never dared set foot in the place felt its gravitational pull. Michael Kelly, a local filmmaker, often trained his camera on the building for hours at a time, transfixed. Gary Dennis, now owner of a neighborhood video store, recalls sneaking out at lunch from Public School 145 to surveil the castle with his friends.

    "We never got real close," Mr. Dennis said. "It was too scary."

    Among Mr. Dennis's current wares is a 1982 movie entitled "Q: The Winged Serpent." The plot concerns a dragonlike beast that lives atop the Chrysler Building and preys on Manhattanites. In the last shot, after the beast has been slain and order restored, the camera pans down 106th Street, into a burnt-out turret of the castle, then closes in on a giant egg hidden inside the ruin. The castle was exactly the sort of place you'd expect to find the giant egg of a man-eating serpent.

    Years passed, and trees grew from the mortar between the bricks. Mysterious fires lit the roof, graffiti blemished the walls. But as it crumbled, its allure grew. Martha Flach, a graduate student at Columbia in the early 90's, was intrigued enough to devote her master's thesis to the building. The project required frequent excursions to what was then a dicey neighborhood.

    "I'd go to photograph it, and the police would see this skinny white girl and tell me to be careful," said Ms. Flach, who now works for the World Monuments Fund. "But the people who lived around there, even the drug dealers and the prostitutes, were always coming up to me to ask me questions about it. They were fascinated."

    Occasionally, a developer expressed interest in the property, most promisingly Ian Schrager, the hotel impresario, who bought it in the late 1980's. But inevitably, the deals fell through, and the decay continued.

    "We used to stand in the dog park on top of the hill, and people would play this game," Mr. Kelly said. "We called it the Castle Fantasy Game. Given unlimited resources, what would you do with the building?"

    A condo might not have been high on anyone's fantasy list, but it was the solution favored by Daniel McLean, the Chicago developer who purchased the property in 2000. He would have many opportunities to regret his decision. No sooner had he secured financing than 9/11 struck, causing the bank to withdraw its loan. After resuming construction a year later, he fired the superintendent, who exacted revenge by reporting the building for health code violations.

    "Six weeks into the deal he's calling the city telling them we have dead birds inside and West Nile virus," Mr. McLean said. "It just for some reason was the kind of building that anything that could go wrong, went wrong."

    The hardest challenge may be yet to come. Trying to entice very wealthy buyers to live above West 96th Street flies in the face of conventional real estate wisdom. Then there is the building's macabre past. "We obviously don't dwell on that part of the history," Mr. McLean acknowledged. "We don't go into the crematorium part."

    At least one buyer has no trouble accepting either the building's location or its history. Daniel Lufkin, founding partner of the securities firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, has bought what may be the most spectacular apartment in the complex, if not the city: the former Chapel of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, now a duplex with high arched windows and original wooden beams.

    Mr. Lufkin is aware of the building's past, but said it did nothing to dampen his or his wife's ardor. "It could have been a prison and we'd have been interested," he said. "The history is fascinating, but what's really fascinating is the building itself." Mr. Lufkin is convinced that, after a year or so, other buyers will flock in behind. "Everybody and his brother will be trying to move in."

    Renovated, Then Resurrected

    He may be right, and there, in a nutshell, is the moral of the tale. One person's haunted castle is another's park-vu condo. A building's history, however gripping or traumatic, is not lapidary, not even when posted on a plaque. That buildings find new reasons for being is not in itself a bad thing.

    "You go to Rome, you go to Paris, you go to any old city, buildings keep being reused," said Françoise Bollack, an architect and historic preservationist who has studied the castle. "And some of them have really terrible pasts." Formerly Fascist monoliths in Berlin, she points out, are filled with ghosts far less friendly than any likely to haunt the old castle on Central Park West.

    Old buildings are there to tell us who we were. When their stories are odd or chilling, all the more reason to listen. The trick, Ms. Bollack said, is to acknowledge a building's previous life while embracing its future. "The past should never be forgotten," she said. Still, she added, "Life goes on."

    It's a paradox Ms. Polasek struggles to accept as she watches the neighborhood she has lived in for more than 20 years change under the shadows of the castle that has so long defined it.

    "They just put millions of dollars into a place that was falling apart," Ms. Polasek said. "I don't want to be judgmental. I want to try to like what has happened. I want to try to accept that nothing stays the same."

    After Ms. Polasek and her husband divorced, a boyfriend persuaded her to purge some of the objects she'd gathered from the castle that night long ago; he thought they reminded her too much of her ex-husband. As she stood by, weeping, he tossed out the old things, including the exquisite toilet, an apt metaphor for flushing away the past.

    The boyfriend is gone now, too. Ms. Polasek still has the photographs, though, and on a cold bright day she sat by her window, just a stone's throw from the old castle, looking down at the faces of the dead people. She wishes the castle's new tenants the best. But she is fairly certain they will be sharing the place with ghosts.

    This is exactly how it should be. Those who wish to seize the day may go ahead and seize it. Those who care to see the ghosts are free to see them. In a great old building like the castle, there is room for both the living and the dead.

    Jim Rasenberger is the author of "High Steel: The Daring Men Who Built the World's Greatest Skyline."

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  11. #11
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002



    Opportunity to Duplex 3 Bedroom at the Castle on CPW. For the first time there is an opportunity to combine a 455 sq. ft duplex with a 1241 sq. ft. convertible two bedroom in the Castle section of the condominium known as the Castle on Central Park West. The combination will achieve 1696 sq. ft of flexible space with 12' ceilings, washer/dryer, 2 1/2 baths all facing the very attractive "western" planted gardens creating an oasis of calm and privacy in the upper West Side of Manhattan...

  12. #12


    This site called 'Period Homes' has a section with some history (a few good pics) on this project: surprisingly this 'gothic' gem did not get as much notice in the architectural press (and here at WNY) as one might expect.


    Uploaded with

    excerpt from 'period homes' site -
    According to Bafitis, a confluence of events hindered the restoration. "It was politics – real-estate politics, preservation politics, New York City agency politics and the fluctuation of the economy. Then 9/11 happened and people didn't want to touch housing. On top of these issues, for a very long time the neighborhood was blighted, which was partially due to the abandoned hospital. It was a rotted hulk that attracted a lot of unsavory people."

    In response to the above statement, I can only say that is appeared to me that the area was 'blighted' long before the building fell into disrepair - and, also the "unsavory" people were there long before as well.
    Last edited by infoshare; January 15th, 2011 at 12:36 PM.

  13. #13
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002


    Haunted Castle on Central Park Now Luxury Condominums

    by Chris Berger

    Photo: RKT&B

    Luxury homebuyers don't typically seek out places associated with misery and death, but 455 Central Park West in Manhattan is an exception. The residential building, located across from Central Park between West 105th and 106th streets, is rooted in medical history. It opened in 1887 as the New York Cancer Hospital, the first of its kind solely dedicated to cancer treatment. During the Victorian era, cancer was regarded as a contagious disease that only afflicted the poor or untidy. The hospital's uberwealthy benefactors such as John Jacob Astor III sought to lift cancer's stigma and find a cure.

    Photo: New York Public Library

    Architect Charles Coolidge Haight designed the fortresslike French Renaissance style hospital to facilitate the most progressive cancer treatment methods of the day. The patient wards were located in the five turret rooms, because it was believed that germs thrived in corners. The circular spaces also maximized light and ventilation and allowed a nurse to be attentive to more patients at once. But cancer research was in its infancy, and the hospital, which had a crematorium on the grounds, gained a reputation as a death trap. The best outcome most patients could hope for was to pass their final days in a booze—and morphine—induced stupor. The hospital's reputation improved in the early 1900s as doctors experimented with X-rays. Marie Curie, who discovered radiation therapy, visited the hospital in 1921 and was impressed by its radium stockpile—at 4 grams the largest in the world. In 1939, the hospital moved to the Upper East Side and is today known as the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

    Photo: RKT&B

    The Towers Nursing Home moved into the facility in 1956. Plagued by allegations of patient abuse and nasty living conditions, the Towers closed in 1974. The crumbling former New York Cancer Hospital Building and its negative reputation seemed destined to meet the bulldozer. But preservationists recognized its architectural and historic significance and successfully lobbied the city for landmark status in 1976. Over the next 25 years the vacant building was proposed for use as apartments, a small college, an assisted-living facility, and Columbia University student housing. None came to fruition. Meanwhile, it became a haven for crack addicts, a symbol of Manhattan Valley's decline.

    Photo: RKT&B

    Hope arrived in early 2001 when developer MCL Companies paid $24 million for the property, branded 455 Central Park West. They began construction of a residential tower on the parcel's western half and the adaptive reuse of the former hospital building into luxury homes. Then came September 11. The real estate financing market froze in the aftermath, and work halted. The former New York Cancer Hospital seemed to be eternally haunted by the ghosts that reportedly roam its halls.

    The momentum shifted in late 2002, when Columbia bought 53 faculty housing units in the new, 27-story tower highrise. Shortly thereafter, MCL was approved for additional construction loans. The former hospital resembled a scene out of "Life After People." Plants and trees grew out of the walls, and the roots had dug out the mortar. Later additions were removed, and the interiors were gutted. Masons repaired the existing brick and brownstone, replicated the missing masonry, and repointed the mortar. The five conical roofs were rebuilt and left open to take advantage of the 40-foot tall ceilings. The original windows and logia were reproduced as well.

    Architect RKT&B reconfigured the interior into 17 units. Most include 13-foot tall ceilings, maple floors, and wood-burning fireplaces. Amenities include a parking garage, spa, pool, and fitness center. Some homes were not completed to allow buyers to decorate to suit their own tastes. For example, the 5,000-square-foot former chapel space now features a vaulted ceiling, medieval stencil patterns on the wall, and stone arches and columns. It recently sold for $8 million, down from the original asking price of $17.5M. A four-bedroom, six-bath duplex is available for $5.65M.

    Photo: John Bartelstone Photography

    455 Central West is a product of local historic preservation regulations; the former hospital undoubtedly would have been demolished had it not been landmarked by the city in the 1970s. Though an eyesore for decades, it has finally regained its striking appearance and has helped encourage new investment nearby. Plus, the ghosts still have a place to go bump in the night.

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