Page 1 of 14 1234511 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 199

Thread: The Windermere - 400-406 West 57th Street at Ninth Avenue - by Theophilus G. Smith

  1. #1

    Default The Windermere - 400-406 West 57th Street at Ninth Avenue - by Theophilus G. Smith

    From New York Times

    January 20, 2002
    Ninth Avenue Noir

    LOOKING today at the Windermere, the massive eight-story apartment building at the southwest corner of Ninth Avenue and 57th Street, it is hard to imagine that for its first few years it was a grande dame of New York apartment life.

    But there are ample clues that the structure at 400-406 West 57th Street was once an architectural jewel. Built in 1881, it is the second-oldest large apartment house in the borough. Only the Manhattan on 86th Street and Second Avenue, dating from 1880, is older. The Windermere's imposing patterned arrowhead cornice still proudly faces north. Intricate brickwork and three- story bow-front windows are telltale signs that its builders relished the architectural eclecticism of the 1880's. In its prime, many of the Windermere's occupants could be found nestled in the pages of Phillips' Elite Directory, the bible of upper-class New Yorkers and their prestigious addresses.

    Today, plywood and sheet metal fill nearly every one of the building's 169 street-side windows, making the Windermere look like a beat-up jack-o'-lantern. The custom-made brick facade, once the color of burning coal, is mostly a dirty, weathered red. A strange urban wrap of scaffolding and a 15-foot wooden fence barricade most of the base from the street.

    Inside, most of the several dozen sprawling seven- to nine-room apartments have been chopped into dreary single-room-occupancy units. The only remaining tenants are half a dozen middle-aged men, only one of whom regularly pays rent directly to the landlord.

    Early last summer, the Toa Construction Company of Tokyo, the Windermere's owner, quietly put the building up for sale; although Toa's New York lawyer declined to comment on any matter related to the building, the reported asking price was $35 million. But while the building sits on a prime piece of Manhattan real estate, and Clinton, the surrounding neighborhood, has experienced rapid gentrification and skyrocketing property values, the Windermere sits like a forgotten castle on a hill, its future uncertain.

    There are formidable obstacles to redevelopment. The building's legacy includes a series of lawsuits; harassment of tenants dating to the early 1980's; and a rent strike that has been going on for nearly two decades and continues to this day. Complicated issues of zoning and financing further cloud its prospects. Most tenants were driven away in the 1980's by disrepair and harassment intended to empty the building, but the few who remain are reluctant to leave.

    A new owner willing to invest the $45 million to $55 million needed to buy and renovate the Windermere may emerge. But at the moment the building remains unsold, an unsung architectural heirloom shrouded in disarray while fashionable shops and restaurants and high-priced co-ops housing young professionals sprout up around it.

    "The neighborhood is more than up and coming," said Arpad Baksa, a Manhattan architect who specializes in renovating old buildings and who has seen the Windermere's interior. "It came. The fact that this building is in the state it's in is absurd. But it is a problem building."

    Bonanza on the West Side

    The Windermere was the inspiration of three young men with little experience in real estate who were almost certainly trying to strike it rich as land speculators.

    In 1879, a 24-year-old clerk, William E. Stewart, who still lived with his parents, went into business with his 37-year-old boss, a lawyer named Nathaniel McBride, and a 25-year-old builder, William F. Burroughs. They bought the 100-foot-by-125-foot site for $39,000. Unlike the developers of the Dakota or the Osborne, the work of famous architects whose reputations endure today, they hired an obscure architect named Theophilus G. Smith. The result of the collaboration was the apex of their professional lives.

    West Side real estate in the late 19th century was a little like the Internet in the late 20th: a nearly empty frontier that speculators saw as an untapped pot of gold.

    Two years, a catchy name (perhaps inspired by Lake Windermere in England) and $350,000 later, a modern structure that towered over nearly every other building in the neighborhood opened its doors.

    Each of the 39 apartments offered five or six bedrooms. They were outfitted with engraved marble fireplaces, mirrored parlor walls, carved hazelwood moldings and glossy parquet floors. Dumbwaiters brought food from a basement kitchen up to tenants who didn't care to cook. Other amenities included liveried servants, hydraulic elevators and telephone service, a technological marvel given that the city's first telephone exchange had started operating only two years before. Tenants paid $600 to $1,100 a year, when the annual middle-class income in the city was about $2,500.

    The New York Times and The Real Estate Record, the city's leading architectural trade publication, hailed the building as "important" and "notable," and a subsequent front-page article in The Times waxed eloquent on a tiki hut with sweeping views of Manhattan that a building manager had erected atop the roof.

    The Windermere housed a few famous tenants, among them Henry Sterling Goodale, a blue-blooded dilettante with two daughters who wrote a popular book of poetry that earned them a reputation as the American Brontës.

    But the building was quickly eclipsed by taller and grander newcomers like the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street (1883), the Dakota on West 72nd Street (1884), the Central Park Apartments (1885) and the Osborne on West 57th Street (1885), which siphoned off the Windermere's clientele.

    The building struggled to survive by becoming a home to bohemian (a k a unmarried working) women, but it soon sank into decline. By the late 1960's, when the neighborhood around it had become known as Hell's Kitchen, its mix of large apartments and single-room-occupancy units had a population including hippies, drug users and prostitutes.

    The Young McQueen and Kotto

    Around this time, a young actor named Steve McQueen abandoned his room at the Windermere instead of paying the rent he owed. He was succeeded by another struggling actor named Yaphet Kotto. Mr. Kotto ultimately left too, but not long afterward found himself on the doorstep of his old digs.

    "In about 1970, I'm filming `Across 110th Street' all over New York City with Anthony Quinn," said Mr. Kotto, who went on to star in the television series "Homicide." "And I park my Winnebago on the sidewalk, and I think, `God, this place looks familiar,' and I'm parked in front of the building."

    He continued: "I'm in my trailer one night on my dinner break, and I hear this knock, bam-bam-bam, on the door, and it's my old landlord saying, `McQueen owes me money.' So I paid him two or three hundred bucks for me and McQueen."

    One of the happiest days of his life, Mr. Kotto said, was when he left the Windermere because he could afford a new apartment.

    The Windermere's darkest days began in 1980, the year Alan B. Weissman, then the owner, began trying to empty the apartment house of its tenants. This was not unusual at that time. Like many other buildings on the West Side, the Windermere was home almost exclusively to low-income renters. Emptying such buildings to be able to replace them with modern, more lucrative structures was not uncommon.

    But by many accounts, few buildings surpassed the Windermere in terms of tenant harassment. All the major New York newspapers covered the trials that sent the Windermere's managers to jail. According to former tenants and court papers, rooms were ransacked, doors were ripped out, prostitutes were moved in and tenants received death threats in the campaign to empty the building.

    "How often do building managers go to jail?" asked Joe Restuccia, executive director of the Clinton Housing Development Company, a neighborhood group. "They never go to jail. This was so extraordinary."

    The overall case ended up changing the state's housing law, making tenant harassment a criminal offense. Although Mr. Weissman was never linked to the harassment, he and his wife, Vivien, made top billing in the 1985 edition of The Village Voice's annual list, "The Dirty Dozen: New York's Worst Landlords."

    Cappy Haskin, 55, who moved into the building in 1970, vividly remembers that time. A small woman with gold-rimmed glasses and hair tucked into a bun, she habitually scowls. But as she sat on a wooden bench in a community garden in Clinton, tears streamed down her cheeks when she described how she had been forced by a court order to leave her apartment in 1983. A decade later, she settled with Toa for an undisclosed amount of money. In late 1999, after fighting landlords for nearly two decades, she finally retrieved belongings she had stored in Harlem for 17 years.

    "My stuff sat in storage for all these years because in some ways I never moved out of the Windermere," said Ms. Haskin, who lives nearby and does odd jobs in the neighborhood. "I'd like to see it not torn down for personal reasons but also for the neighborhood. Because it would mean in my mind that whatever I did, and all that has gone on there, wasn't in vain."

    Mr. Weissman, who sold the building to Toa in 1986, still laments that the property has never been developed.

    "Look at the taxes the city has missed," he said in a recent telephone interview from his office in Port Chester, N.Y., where he is a real estate developer. "There should have been a building up. That's hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that the city is missing. It's absolutely ludicrous."

    Holdouts in a Desolate Place

    Today, two of the Windermere's three wings are sealed off, and inches of pigeon excrement blanket the floors of many of the abandoned rooms. An eerie greenish light illuminates the hallways. Although the original fireplaces remain, their hearths have been painted over and their marble ornamentation is gone, giving them the look of faces with their features lopped off.

    Nearly all the parquet floors are warped and covered by linoleum. Water has damaged most of the walls. Gaping holes in the ceilings of the occupied apartments reveal the overhead beams. Rattling around in the immense shell, which contains 165 single- room-occupancy units and roughly eight apartments, are the half-dozen final holdouts — a seventh died at the end of December — who stubbornly remain.

    One survivor, Paul Charlton, 57, has lived in the Windermere since 1976. A gray-haired man who works as a doorman at a nearby building, he has an S.R.O. in a top-floor apartment, in quarters overflowing with packed cardboard boxes, piles of old magazines, a fishing rod still in its plastic case, and shelves filled with everything from a small African mask to a toaster oven.

    Another tenant rents an S.R.O. in the same apartment, but the two don't get along. The neighbor put up a flimsy cardboard barrier in the middle of the central corridor with two signs, one that reads "No Trasspassing" and another that says "Beware of Dog," although the neighbor's dog died some time ago.

    In the 1980's, Mr. Charlton remembers smelling marijuana in the elevator and seeing prostitutes and their clients entering and leaving the building. "I never would have moved in here in the first place," he said, "if I knew what was going to happen."

    He remains, he says, because he is close to his job and because of the low rent; he is supposed to pay $120 a month to a private escrow account. But whether the goal of the owner is higher rents is debatable.

    "The owners are not really after the tenants' rents," said Fred Cohrt, an organizer at the Housing Conservation Coordinators, a tenants' rights group in Clinton. "The landlord has always wanted for the tenants to just disappear."

    While other, grander buildings in New York have been torn down, the Windermere survives because part of it is in the Special Clinton District, a zoning district that protects buildings in the area. The Windermere could be demolished only if the Buildings Department determines it was about to collapse. If it came down, the zoning mandates that any new structure could be only a small fraction of the present building's size.

    "If you tear it down and build a new structure, you can only build about half of what's there," Mr. Baksa said. "Economically, I don't see how that would make sense."

    Since 1988, tenants and neighborhood groups have tried to get the Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect the building by designating it as a landmark.

    "If it were cleaned up, it would look pretty interesting," said Richard A. Plunz, a professor of architecture at Columbia University and author of "A History of Housing in New York City" (Columbia University Press, 1990). "The upper middle class basically reinvented itself around this type of high-rise luxury building."

    But the owner has vigorously opposed the designation, which would severely restrict opportunities for altering the structure, and the application is in limbo.

    Even if a new owner could be found, he or she would face additional hurdles. Settling with the current tenants could cost several million dollars. Gutting and rebuilding the interior could add $10 million to $20 million. The asking price, $35 million, is considered high in today's market.

    Even so, people familiar with the Windermere say it is a tempting, if tarnished, jewel.

    Pamela Liebman, chief executive officer of the Corcoran Group and a leading expert on residential real estate in the city, said a refurbished Windermere could offer one- bedroom apartments renting for $2,400 or selling for $400,000, or two-bedroom units renting for $3,400 or selling for $495,000. The roughly 1,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space along Ninth Avenue could generate additional revenue.

    Redevelopment projects elsewhere in the city have shown that renovating an old building can be profitable. The Manhattan, the city's oldest large apartment house, was in such bad shape that in 1988 The New York Times reported that it seemed destined for demolition. The present owners bought it for $8 million in 1998 and invested $5 million more. Today apartments rent for as much as $8,500 a month.

    The Location Is a Plus

    The Windermere's location is also a plus. Ninth Avenue and 57th Street is again a hot spot. The ultra-chic Hudson Hotel is just across the street. One-bedroom apartments in the ordinary-looking building just to the west of the Windermere rent for $2,500 a month and sell for more than $300,000.

    So, 121 years later, the well-heeled world the Windermere first catered to has returned to Hell's Kitchen. Though the building looks much the same from the outside — if a lot more weathered — the Windermere's legacy of neglect continues to haunt it. And despite its venerable past, the building's future is still in doubt.

    "The Windermere is not in bad shape, considering how bad it looks when you walk inside," Mr. Baksa said. "This building is a pariah and it got this way because of pure greed. What it needs is for someone to say, `I have a vision.' "

  2. #2

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    I hope this building gets restored? Any pictures?

  3. #3

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    Here the pictures of the Windermere

  4. #4

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street


  5. #5

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    Do you have any contact information for the owners of the Windermere?

  6. #6

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    wow, 9th Avenue and 57th Street. Id like to see it razed and replaced with a tall building.

  7. #7

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    yea, me too. Its not all that great. A tall skyscraper looks like it would fit well there.

  8. #8

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    Only in NYC can you have totally unfathomable real estate situations such as this one. *Let's extremely valuable piece of real estate sits in total disrepair. *Aside from the pigeons and some down-and-out guys, who thinks this makes any sense? *

    No one's going to come along and spend the big $$ to rehab this handsome structure. *Time to bring in the wrecking ball. *

  9. #9

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    This building screams "New York" all over it! I love the way it looks and am very surprised that zoning wouldn't allow a bigger structure on the site if this was ever torn down.

    I was just in this area a few weeks ago. It's changing a lot - the studio on 9th and 55th was torn down the Alvin Ailey dance school that's currently being built, AOL Time Warner Center is rapidly overshadowing the east view, and *gasp* 9th Ave has McDonald's and Starbucks now! Hells Kitchen, no more....

  10. #10

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    Bulldoze this eyesore.

    Take a cue from the new Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation at the corner of 9th and 53(?)

    Or see:

    Now if they can just get someone to develop the location of the old associated food mart that closed down up there then there would be no more corners left in the neighborhood for the pimps and drug dealers to hang out.

  11. #11

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    The Associated space will be developed. It was purchased by a developer in early 2002. A timeline for construction was not given. He plans a residential/retail building at the site, which could require additional zoning. He was looking for a retailer to temporarily fill the space on a short term lease. I read it in GlobeSt.

  12. #12

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    I'm curious about the developer. If you know anything more let me know. I'll look into the Globe story and see if I can track it down.

  13. #13

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    Ooh, I like that design! I hope it gets built!

  14. #14

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    lol, tell them to build another neat looking appartment building on the west side, they are popping up everywhere over there now, i love them, i hope 9th avenue turns into another "highrise canyon" like 3rd avenue.

  15. #15

    Default Windermere at Ninth Avenue and 57th Street

    First they will take 8th Ave. & 11th Ave, then work in from the outsides.

Page 1 of 14 1234511 ... LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. CyberCenter - Durst - West 57th
    By Edward in forum New York Real Estate
    Replies: 30
    Last Post: November 6th, 2010, 03:18 PM
  2. East 57th Street Tops Retail List Highest Rents In the World
    By noharmony in forum New York Real Estate
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: January 30th, 2008, 12:33 PM
  3. The Zebra at 420 West 42nd Street
    By Edward in forum New York Real Estate
    Replies: 23
    Last Post: August 30th, 2007, 01:28 PM
  4. Hotel Gansevoort
    By Edward in forum New York City Guide For Visitors
    Replies: 14
    Last Post: January 20th, 2006, 10:21 PM
  5. Carnegie Mews - 211 West 56th Street
    By noharmony in forum New York Real Estate
    Replies: 5
    Last Post: December 19th, 2001, 10:14 PM

Tags for this Thread


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts

Google+ - Facebook - Twitter - Meetup

Edward's photos on Flickr - Wired New York on Flickr - In Queens - In Red Hook - Bryant Park - SQL Backup Software