|photograph by David Shankbone|
Eighth Avenue, across from Central
Park, was the eastern hem of what was still the rocky, mostly undeveloped Upper
West Side in 1877. But Singer Sewing
Machine executive Edward Clark saw the potential. He purchased several building lots on Seventh
Avenue that year, as well as 30 plots on Eighth Avenue between 72nd and 73rd.
in his elitist attitudes towards the impoverished; he intended to make the West
Side as affluent as the East. To do so
he would simply push the poor out by constructing high-end apartment buildings
and he urged other property owners to do the same.
encouraged landowners to work together, mutually investing in property, and
issuing restrictive covenants on construction.
He told a meeting of the West Side Association in 1879 that only their
cooperation could establish the West Side’s “exclusive character” and lure
to the authors of The Park and the
People, he asserted “There is the highest authority for believing that the
poor will always be with us; but it does not follow that the poor will
necessarily occupy any part of the West Side plateau. The poor would be sufficiently with us if
they lived in New Jersey or Long Island.”
began on Clark’s Dakota Apartments in 1880 and would last for four years. He died during its erection, in 1882. By the first years of the 20th
century, little of Clark’s substantial real estate holdings were still
undeveloped. In 1902 Ambrose Clark sold
the eight lots along Eighth Avenue (now known as Central Park West) between 73rd
and 74th Streets to developers Abraham Boehm and Lewis Coon.
hired the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell to design a first-class apartment
house on the large plot--one which would certainly have met Clark's approval. The architects
were busy at the time designing the massive Beaux Arts-style Astor Hotel that
would soon begin rising on Broadway between 44th and 45th
Street. Construction on the Langham
Apartments would not begin until 1904 and would last for three years.
|Apartment Houses of the Metropolis, 1907 (copyright expired)|
completion in 1907, certain similarities in the new apartment building and the
Astor Hotel were evident. A rusticated
limestone base, three stories tall, supported the brick-and-stone bulk of the
Beaux Arts structure. Elegant
French-style iron balcony railings, terra cotta garlands, and an elaborate
glass-and-iron canopy protecting the entrance announced the upscale tenor of
the $2 million building. The top floor, sitting above a
heavily-bracketed cornice and behind a stone balustrade, featured
richly-decorated dormers that nearly concealed the mansard behind.
building neared completion in August 1906 advertisements for The Langham
appeared in newspapers saying it was “ready for inspection.” Leases were available from “$4,500 and upwards.” The cheapest rent would equate to more than
$10,000 per month in 2015.
staggering rents were understandable when newspapers began describing the
amenities. On September 2, 1906 The New
York Times wrote “To what extent the idea of magnificence may be carried in
apartment-house building is well shown in the Langham.” The newspaper said that the size of the rooms
were “almost unheard of” outside of private homes.
|Two of the four apartments on the even-numbered floors depict the array of rooms -- The World's New York Apartment House Album (copyright expired)|
were just four apartments per floor, with parlors 16 by 23 feet, dining rooms
16 by 24, and bedrooms 17 by 10. Mail
was delivered to boxes in each apartment by an “automatic delivery system, so
that a tenant on the twelfth floor will get his letters direct form the letter
carrier without their having passed through the hands of hallboys, or even his
own servants.” There was a safe in each
apartment for the storage of wealthy residents’ jewelry and valuables; and
iceboxes were kept cold by a main plant in the basement. A coil in the icebox was sufficiently cold for making ice.
styled lobby was meant to impress, with caen stone columns and marble floors. Ornate plasterwork adorned the ceiling.
|The lobby featured inlaid marble floors, art glass chandeliers, and exquisite plaster ceilings. photo by Wurts Bros, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
first of the affluent residents to move in was William C. Brown, President of
the New York Central Railroad, and his family.
In 1907 the Brown’s 17-year old daughter, Margaret, met Yale student
George S. Patterson at a garden party in White Plains. A romance blossomed between the 21-year old
Patterson and Margaret.
Brown had lived a privileged life. She
was educated at the Dobbs Ferry School for Young Women, and at Miss Spence’s Academy
for Girls. The Times noted that she “is
well known and popular among the younger set in New York society.”
years after she met Patterson, their engagement was announced and a fashionable
wedding was planned for the autumn of 1910.
But months earlier, on June 12, 1910, The New York Times ran a headline
that surprised all of society: “Margaret
Brown’s Wedding Hastened.”
newspaper announced that the couple had already been married in White
Plains. “The marriage at this time was
unexpected by the friends of the young people.”
couple had cleverly avoided advance publicity by fooling journalists who
loitered around City Hall. “Everybody
knows who William C. Brown, President of the New York Central, is,” explained
The Times, “but Mr. Patterson and Miss Brown correctly figured it out that many
would not recognize ‘W. Carlos Brown of Clerinda, Page County, Iowa,’ as the
Central’s President. So Miss Brown gave
her father’s name as ‘Carlos Brown’ and her former home in Iowa as her
Brown laughed off reporters’ questions and the suggestion that the wedding was
rushed because of improprieties. He said
that Margaret and her mother were to sail for Europe and the young couple “seemed
to be very loath to be separated for this length of time.” Indeed, on Wednesday, July 13—three days
after the wedding—Margaret, her new husband, and her mother, left for an
extended stay in Europe. The trip, most likely, merely added fodder to drawing room gossip.
owner, manager, and booking agent Martin Beck and his wife were in the building
at the time. Beck was perhaps the first
of what would become a tradition of residents from the entertainment
husband busied himself with his theaters and clients, like the most famous Harry Houdini; his wife focused on charitable causes. She was actively involved in The Widowed
Mothers’ Fund Association. In November
1911 the group took up the cause of a 29-year old widow. An appeal for donations said she “lost her
husband by cancer, and was left with three little girls, the eldest of whom is
now 6 years old. Another baby girl was
born soon after the father’s death. The
mother keeps an exemplary home, and earns a little at sewing, while caring for
her children.” It added “Contributions
will be acknowledged by Mrs. Martin Beck, 135 Central Park West.”
family of Thomas A. Sperry spent their summers at the impressive estate,
Osceola Farm, near Cranford, New Jersey. He was the founder and President of the Sperry
& Hutchinson Company, the firm that originated the trading stamp system, and
a director in three banks. The S &
H Green Stamps were popular well into the second half of the 20th
7, 1912 the family—which included 4-year old Marjorie, 19-year old Katherine,
and two sons, Thomas, 15, and Stuart, 12--was at the New Jersey estate when
disaster struck. Just before 5:00 that
morning one of the maids was awakened by dense smoke. Her screams awakened the family and
Brock, Marjorie’s nurse, grabbed the girl in a blanket and dashed down the
staircase to safety. The rest of the
household paused to dress—a nearly fatal mistake. Three maids and the butler were trapped with
the family on the upper floors. Everyone
was herded into the master bedroom by Thomas Sperry who telephoned the fire
department and the servants who lived in the garage.
the fire department almost half an hour to arrive, and just minutes after the
last person had descended the ladder to safety, “flames burst from every window
in the house,” according to The Times the following day. The house was a total loss, including almost
the entire collection of valuable paintings.
and his wife were driven to Manhattan where they “quickly fitted up their city
apartments at 135 Central Park West.”
The children were brought to the Langham once the apartment was reopened—the
furniture dust coverings removed and put away, and the pantry filled.
their summer estate destroyed, the Sperrys spent the following summer in
Europe. On the return voyage, only a
few days out of New York, Thomas A. Sperry was struck with ptomaine poisoning. His condition was such that he was carried off
the vessel on a stretcher. On September
2, 1913, he died in his apartment in the Langham. The New York Times noted that the 49-year
old had “built a great fortune.”
wealthy businessmen in the Langham at the time were George Westinghouse and
Irving Bloomingdale. Westinghouse, whose
fortune was estimated at about $50 million in 1914, was famous for his
inventions of mechanical and electrical appliances, was either President or
Director in the 22 different Westinghouse corporations.
Ingersoll Bloomingdale was the son of Lyman Bloomingdale, who with his brother
Joseph, had founded Bloomingdale’s Department Store. Other
department store executives in the Langham at the time were Joseph B. Greenhut,
owner of the massive Siegel-Cooper emporium on Sixth Avenue; and Irving Saks,
of the famous Fifth Avenue store.
|The drawing room (above) of the Greenhut apartment was French in character; while the dining room was "colonial." photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
7, 1915, at about 4 a.m., Bloomingdale’s wife noticed the smell of smoke in
their 11th floor apartment. He
telephoned to the hallman, who turned in a fire alarm. The blaze was discovered in the apartment of
Alfred Costello, a retired banker. The
highly-touted fireproof quality of the Langham’s construction was soon tested.
his wife and daughter, left the building by the elevator and only a few other
residents were aware of the fire. Police
assured those tenants that there was no danger of the fire spreading. And, indeed, it was confined to the Costello apartment,
which suffered $7,500 in damages.
other residents from the entertainment field were in the Langham, including
popular actor David Warfield, and German-born operatic star Johanna Gadski.
|Actor David Warfield would live in the Langham with his wife for half a century -- photo from the collection of the New York Public Library|
tragedy occurred at the Langham in January 1922. Helen Blood Knickerbacker was the 84-year old
widow of Henry Knickerbacker, who had died in their Fifth Avenue mansion on
June 10, 1897. Like her husband, whose Dutch family had
settled in Albany in the 17th century, Helen was “widely known among the old
families of New York,” according to The New York Times. She listed among her close friends the family
of William Rockefeller.
Helen in her apartment was a staff of eight servants and a companion, Emma
Mines. Her 11th floor bedroom looked
out onto Central Park. On the frigid
evening of January 30 her staff patiently waited for Helen to announce that dinner
could begin. Finally, the butler asked
Miss Mines to knock on the bedroom door to inform Helen that dinner was getting
no answer, so Emma Mines opened the door to find the room empty, and the
curtains blowing in the cold breeze. “She
looked out and saw scores of persons at the entrance and guessed the tragedy,”
reported The Times.
thrown herself out the window, crashing onto the entrance canopy. The glass shattered and her body was impaled
on the metal supports. The three policemen
who pushed their way through the curious crowd were challenged with the
difficulty of removing the body.
risked broken bones by erecting a ladder of timber in efforts to get the body
down, but their attempts failed,” reported The Times. Trying another tactic, they received
permission from a second floor resident to use his window. “Risking a fall to the icy sidewalk sixteen
feet below Patrolman Michaels succeeded in crawling along the fragile canopy
while Patrolman McCree and Bertand aided him from more solid steel supports,”
advised the newspaper.
Leopold Schepp was struck with a somewhat surprising idea. He would give away his $10 million fortune
while he was alive and “able to observe the benefits” which the money would bring.
Schepp, founder of the coconut importing business L. Schepp & Co., had started his
career in 1851 with 18 cents his mother gave him. He bought a dozen palm-leaf fans for 1.5
cents each, and then sold them on the Third Avenue horse cars at 5 cents. He later said “They sold so fast that the
third day I hired three other boys on commission and soon I was making $15 a
week.” Within 20 years he had established
his coconut concern; and in 1886 erected his own business building on Duane
began distributing his fortune on Monday, March 16, 1925. The first check, for $500, went to an office
boy. The head stenographer who had been
with the firm 14 years, received $3,000, another got $1,000, and a clerk who
had worked for Schepp for 21 years received $5,000 (in the neighborhood of
$67,500 in 2015).
later he announced his intention to spend $2.5 million to establish a
foundation for New York boys between 13 and 16 years old that would provide
them “with means to prepare themselves for useful careers.” The boys would be required to “pledge
themselves to abstain from bad habits, to obey the laws of the State and
nation, and to be considerate in their treatment of others.” If, after two years, they kept the pledge,
they would receive $200 to be used to either start a business or finish their
educations. By October he had funded
$4.5 million to his Schepp Foundation for Boys.
months later the 84-year old suffered a mild stroke. Although his mind was not affected, he grew
weaker and on March 11, 1926 he died in his Langham apartment with his wife at his
Depression did not deeply affect the moneyed residents of the Langham. When Belle Moses, mother of famous Parks
Commissioner Robert Moses, died in her apartment in 1930 she left an estate of
more than $1 million.
star Giovanni Martinelli rented a 10-room apartment in 1936. Only weeks later it was the scene of an
impressive reception for Franco Ghione, conductor of La Scala Opera in Milan,
and his wife. The apartment was filled
on May 21 with celebrities from the New York stage and opera.
actor Howard Lindsay and his actress wife, Dorothy Stickney, took an apartment
in the Langham. The pair was best known
for their performances together in the long-running play Life with Father. The tradition of theatrical types continued
with theater head Edward F. Albee, Lee and Paula Strasberg, Basil
Rathbone, and concert pianist and composer Caesar G. Finn.
occupied a penthouse apartment and in 1949 was engaged to Hope Springarn. The couple took the elevator to the 12th
floor of the Langham on September 25 that year, and then started up the narrow,
winding staircase to the penthouse. The
New York Times reported the following day “In walking up the stairs, Mr. Finn
lost his balance, fell over a railing and dropped to the fourth floor.” The 48-year old later died in Roosevelt
year on November 28 New York newspapers reported on the birthday celebrations
of David Warfield, who was still in the building with his wife, Mary Gabrielle
Bradt Warfield. Each of the commemorations
was a bit more low-keyed than the one before, Warfield telling reporters at one
point that he did not like being reminded of birthdays. On June 27, 1951 the 84-year old actor died
in the Langham apartment.
Monroe was sometimes seen in the Langham during the 1950s. She visited her psychiatrist, Marianne Kris,
in her apartment here. And screen star
Maureen O’Sullivan lived here, her apartment becoming the home of daughter Mia
Farrow later. Following his wife’s death
in 1976, actor Robert Ryan moved from the Dakota next door, to the
Langham. He died in the apartment a year
later. Other celebrity residents
included Merv Griffin and Cyril Ritchard.
building received its first cinematic exposure when it was used as the
apartment of Susan Saint-James’ character Cindy Sondheim in the 1979 film Love
at First Bite.
Farrow was still in the building in 1986 when she starred in Hannah and Her
Sisters. When her film character,
Hannah, hosted her Thanksgiving dinner the scene was shot in Farrow’s Langham
apartment. The actress enjoyed rent
control for her 11-room apartment paying $1,800 a month in 1987.
Carly Simon was in the building at the same time, paying $2,200 a month and
State Senator Manfred Ohrenstein paid $1,700.
Like Farrow, their apartments contained 11 rooms. But that would all change in 1993 when a law
was passed that demanded tenants earning over $250,000 annually pay market
rents. On March 7, 1996 the Daily News
reported that Simon and Ohrenstein had agreed to the new $8,000 a month rents;
but Mia Farrow was leaving.
with a restored mansard and “modernized” apartments, the Langham still boasts
sprawling apartments—some with eight bedrooms. While most other lavish turn-of-the-century
apartment buildings in Manhattan suffered decline in the second half of the 20th
century; those along Central Park West remained immune. The Langham survives as a refuge for the
well-to-do; its handsome Beaux Arts design unchanged.