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Across The Lake

That’s a view of Central Park West and 72nd Street from the east side of the Lake in Central Park, circa 1903. The big building on the left is the 1894 Hotel Majestic on the south side of 72nd Street, the 1884 Dakota is on the right, on the north side of 72nd. The Lake has a large western lobe and a smaller eastern lobe, separated by a narrow spot spanned by Bow Bridge, in the foreground. I’m at a loss regarding the boat: there were 12-person rowboats on the Lake at that time, with professional rowers, but I don’t see anyone in the boat who looks like they’re rowing. I’m pretty sure there have never been powerboats there.

Both the Majestic and the Dakota made it into The Structure of Skyscrapers – the Majestic was twelve stories tall and the tenth floor of the Dakota is hidden in that huge roof – but the ten years between them were quite important in terms of design. The Dakota was built in the era when the middle class in New York was still not sure about apartments, and needed to be coaxed by the appearance of (an Americanized) French Chateau; the Majestic’s flat roof and deep light courts are reminiscent of a tenement even though the building was much nicer. Multiple dwellings were known to be the future for almost everyone in the city by mid-1890s.

The Majestic, with a ductile iron frame supporting all loads, was a much more modern structure than the Dakota, with thick brick bearing walls as its supports. But the Dakota had better apartment layouts, which is one of the reasons it’s still there while the Majestic was demolished for the 1930 Majestic Apartments, a much bigger and better building than its namesake. Beyond that, both of these buildings can be seen as semi-experimental given how recently the Upper West Side had really started to develop. The elevated trains made it this far north in 1879. Before that, transportation to and from the west side had been very slow and had limited people’s interest in living there. The nickname “Dakota”, which became the building’s name, was meant derisively: the Upper West Side was so far away it might as well be in the Dakotas. But by the time the Dakota was built, the el had ended that isolation, and the neighborhood rapidly started filling with rowhouses. After the IRT subway opened under Broadway in 1904, apartment houses became common, as more and more people moved there. This picture captures the moment just before apartment construction began in earnest, which is visible in the fact that no other tall buildings can be seen behind (west of) the Majestic and the Dakota.