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A History of The Dakota

by | Dec 16, 2014

Opened in 1884, The Dakota was once named by CNBC as New York’s most exclusive building. Architect Henry J. Hardenbergh who later designed the Plaza Hotel, was responsible for the intricate beauty of the structure. He was commissioned by Edward Clark of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.

The building, located at 1 West 72nd Street and Central Park West, originally consisted of 65 apartments but has since been renovated to include 94 units.   The building is breathtakingly beautiful with its terracotta carved panels, ornate balconies, and slate and copper roof pitches. It was built as a square around an elaborate courtyard for the building’s prestigious residents to enjoy. The Dakota’s namesake is still questioned by many.

There is a Dakota Indian statue at the top of the building but it is said that the structure may have been named for the Dakota Territory because it was so far north and west of most buildings in Manhattan at that time.   The units in the building are all extravagant and unique. No two units are alike. The most ornate is said to be the apartment built for Edward Clark of Singer. Hard carved oak made up the ceilings and the marble inlaid flooring even had sterling silver elements. Clark never actually lived in the unit as he died before the glorious building was finished.  

The building has been very popular since its inception. All 65 original apartments were rented before the building was completed. Surprisingly, despite all its luxury, rent was never outrageously expensive. It is even said that rents were negotiable well into the 20th century. It was more about exclusivity then price. The Dakota didn’t have a single vacancy between 1884 and 1929.  

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The building has always been a sort of housing for artists and has had a slew of famous occupants. Some of them include:

  • Connie Chung
  • Rosemary Clooney
  • Judy Garland
  • Boris Karloff
  • Gilda Radner
  • Maury Povich
  • John Madden
  • Joe Namath
  • Leonard Bernstein
  • John Lennon & Yoko Ono

It has been implied by many that you have to be invited to live at the Dakota. The Co-Op board is so infamously tough, that discrimination lawsuits have been filed against them.   Leonard Bernstein’s apartment on the second floor was the most expensive unit ever sold in the building. The asking price was $25.5 million and the sale was completed with the offer of $21 million.   John Lennon and Yoko Ono were perhaps the most well-known occupants. The couple moved into the building in 1973 and eventually owned 5 units. John was tragically shot and killed in the entryway of the building on December 8, 1980. Yoko Ono and their son Sean continued to live in the building, specifically in the unit that they lived in with John, for years. As of 2010, Yoko Ono still lived in the Dakota. It is unclear if she still owns units there.  

The Dakota was deemed a New York City Landmark in 1969 and a National Landmark in 1976. Tenants are forbidden to get rid of original doors, ornate trimmings, and floor boards. It is rumored that long before John and Yoko lived there, one of the first tenants buried $30,000 beneath the floor boards of the bedroom. To this day it has not been confirmed because it would cost more than $30,000 in construction to remove the ornate flooring.  Although renovations pre-approved by the Co-Op board are permitted, all original materials must be kept in storage units in the building. If the board decided to restore any units or common areas they will have the original components to do so.   To buy a unit at the Dakota now, if you could get in, would cost between 4 and 15 million dollars. There are currently three units available, but good luck because the likes of Madonna, A-Rod, and Billy Joel have all been rejected over the years.  

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