The Ansonia

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Ansonia Hotel
The Ansonia Hotel on Broadway at the intersection with Amsterdam Avenue (image from 1905)
The Ansonia is located in New York City
The Ansonia
Location 2101—2119 Broadway, New York, New York
Coordinates 40°46′48″N 73°58′57″W / 40.78000°N 73.98250°W / 40.78000; -73.98250Coordinates: 40°46′48″N 73°58′57″W / 40.78000°N 73.98250°W / 40.78000; -73.98250
Area less than one acre
Built 1899
Architect Duboy, Paul E.M.
Architectural style Beaux Arts
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 80002665[1]
Added to NRHP January 10, 1980
"The Ansonia" New York

The Ansonia is a building on the Upper West Side of New York City, located at 2109 Broadway, between West 73rd and West 74th Streets. It was originally built as a hotel by William Earle Dodge Stokes, the Phelps-Dodge copper heir and share holder in the Ansonia Clock Company, and it was named for his grandfather, the industrialist Anson Greene Phelps. In 1899, Stokes commissioned architect Paul E. Duboy (1857–1907) to build the grandest hotel in Manhattan.

Stokes would list himself as "architect-in-chief" for the project and hired Duboy, a sculptor who designed and made the ornamental sculptures on the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, to draw up the plans. New Orleans architect Martin Shepard served as draftsman and assistant superintendent of construction on the project.[2] A contractor sued Stokes in 1907, but he would defend himself, explaining that Duboy was in an insane asylum in Paris and should not have been making commitments in Stokes's name concerning the hotel.[3][4]

In what might be the earliest harbinger of the current developments in urban farming,[5] Stokes established a small farm on the roof of the hotel.

Stokes had a Utopian vision for the Ansonia—that it could be self-sufficient, or at least contribute to its own support—which led to perhaps the strangest New York apartment amenity ever. "The farm on the roof," Weddie Stokes wrote years later, "included about 500 chickens, many ducks, about six goats and a small bear." Every day, a bellhop delivered free fresh eggs to all the tenants, and any surplus was sold cheaply to the public in the basement arcade. Not much about this feature charmed the city fathers, however, and in 1907, the Department of Health shut down the farm in the sky.[6]

History[edit]

The Ansonia was a residential hotel. The residents lived in luxurious apartments with multiple bedrooms, parlors, libraries, and formal dining rooms that were often round or oval. Apartments featured sweeping views north and south along Broadway, high ceilings, elegant moldings, and bay windows. The Ansonia also had a few small units, one bedroom, parlor and bath; these lacked kitchens. There was a central kitchen and serving kitchens on every floor, so that the residents could enjoy the services of professional chefs while dining in their own apartments. Besides the usual array of tearooms, restaurants, and a grand ballroom, the Ansonia had Turkish baths and a lobby fountain with live seals.

Erected between 1899 and 1904, it was the first air-conditioned hotel in New York. The building has an eighteen-story steel-frame structure. Upon its completion in 1904 The Ansonia was the largest residential hotel of its day. The exterior is decorated in the Beaux-Art style with a Parisian style mansard roof. Striking architectural features are the round corner-towers or turrets. Unusual for a Manhattan building, the Ansonia features an open stairwell that sweeps up to a huge domed skylight. The interior corridors may be the widest in the city. For several years Stokes kept farm animals on the building's roof next to his personal apartment. Another unusual feature of the building is its cattle elevator, which enabled dairy cows to be stabled on the roof.[7]

The building's original, elaborate copper cornices were removed during World War II and melted down for the war effort.[8]

The Ansonia has had many celebrated residents, including baseball player Babe Ruth, writer Theodore Dreiser, in 1912, the leader of the Bahá'í Faith `Abdu'l-Bahá, Nobel prize winner in literature Isaac Bashevitz Singer, conductor Arturo Toscanini, composer Igor Stravinsky, fashion designer Koos van den Akker, and Italian tenor Enrico Caruso.

By the mid-twentieth-century, the grand apartments had mostly been divided into studios and one-bedroom units, almost all of which retained their original architectural detail.

After a short debate in the 1960s, a proposal to demolish the building was fought off by its many musical and artistic residents.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.[1]

In 1992 the Ansonia was converted to a condominium apartment building with 430 apartments. By 2007, most of the rent-controlled tenants had moved out, and the small apartments were sold to buyers who purchased clusters of small apartments and threw them together to recreate the grand apartments of the building's glory days, with carefully restored Beaux-Arts details.

The TD Bank branch on the ground level plays a short video documentary near the main entrance to the bank, which covers the history of the Ansonia.

The Ansonia is home to the New York campus of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

Former facilities[edit]

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Ansonia housed a gay bathhouse, the Continental Baths, in its basement; Bette Midler started her singing career at the Continental Baths, with Barry Manilow as her accompanist.[citation needed] In 1977, the club became Plato's Retreat, a heterosexual swing club.

Scandals[edit]

  • Helen Godman (1919) calling herself "Alice"
    In 1916, the Ansonia was the scene of a blackmail plot. Edward R. West, Vice President of the C. D. Gregg Tea and Coffee Company of Chicago, had checked into the hotel with a woman known to him as Alice Williams. Alice Williams was an alias of Helen Godman, also known as "Buda" Godman, who acted as the "lure" for a blackmail gang based in Chicago. West and Godman were together in their room at The Ansonia when two male members of the gang, impersonating Federal law enforcement agents, entered the room and "arrested" West for violation of the Mann Act.[9]
    After transporting West and Godman back to Chicago, West was coerced into paying the two "agents" $15,000 in order to avoid prosecution, and avoid embarrassment or soiling the reputation of "Alice." West reported the incident after becoming suspicious that not everything was as it seemed. Several of the male blackmailers earned prison terms, but "Buda" Godman was released on bail.[10] She disappeared for many years, but she was eventually caught and charged for trying to fence the Glemby Jewels taken in a 1932 robbery.[11]
  • Willie Sutton, the bank robber, was arrested for the sixth time (of eight) two days before Thanksgiving, 1930, while having breakfast at Childs Restaurant in the Ansonia.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the Neil Simon film The Sunshine Boys (1975), the character Willie Clark (played by Walter Matthau) lives in the Ansonia.
  • In the 1975 film Three Days Of The Condor Robert Redford's character is shot at in the alley behind the Ansonia that leads to its parking garage.
  • The Ansonia was also used as the apartment building where Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh lived in the film Single White Female (1992).
  • The building was featured in the movie, Uptown Girls (2003), as the location of Mollie's apartment. (The outside, staircase, and lobby were in the movie).
  • It was featured in My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) starring Uma Thurman and Luke Wilson.
  • In the film Perfect Stranger (2007), Halle Berry plays a news reporter who lives in a "professionally decorated $4-million condo in the lavish Ansonia building on the Upper West Side."[13]
  • In his 1956 novella Seize The Day, Saul Bellow incorrectly attributes the Ansonia Hotel to Stanford White.
  • The Ansonia was the basis for the fictional Balmoral building in Jed Rubenfeld's literary novel The Interpretation of Murder (2006).
  • The building gets used in the 2012 TV show 666 Park Avenue.[14]

Notable residents[edit]

Famous former residents include:

Famous current residents include:

  • Researcher Allison Hicks

Education[edit]

Children living in the Ansonia are eligible to attend schools run by the New York City Department of Education. The building is zoned to P.S. 87, the William Sherman School, but it is unzoned for middle school. Residents of the Ansonia may contact Region 10 to determine the middle-school assignments.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  2. ^ Martin Shepard. Undated resume. Martin Shepard Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.
  3. ^ A West Side Developer's Other Side = New York Times – August 28, 2005
  4. ^ "Summary: Contesting a final Certificate on the Ground of Insanity". The American architect and building news (New York: James R. Osgood & Co., published 1907) 91 (1628): 198. May 18, 1907. Retrieved Mar 8, 2010. 
  5. ^ "5 Urban Design Proposals for 3D City Farms". Weburbanist.com. March 24, 2008. Retrieved December 21, 2009. 
  6. ^ The Building of the Upper West Side = New York Magazine – May 21, 2005
  7. ^ David J. Framberger and Joan R. Olshansky (July 1979). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Ansonia Hotel". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved March 25, 2011.  See also: "Accompanying nine photos". 
  8. ^ The City, From Wartime Grit to Modern Soullessness, New YOrk Times, Jan 29, 2010, [1]
  9. ^ "TWO ADMIT BLACKMAIL.; Buda Godman and Man Held in $10,000 Ball". The New York Times. November 9, 1916. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  10. ^ McLaren, A. (2002). Sexual blackmail: A modern history. Cambridge, Mass.:Harvard University Press. p.90
  11. ^ James, M. (1943). Biography of a business, 1792–1942: Insurance Company of North America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. p.299
  12. ^ name="Willie Sutton's Arrests">Sutton, Willie. "Willie Sutton's Arrests". www.williesutton.com. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  13. ^ Hunter, Stephen (April 13, 2007). "'Perfect Stranger': Not Thrilled To Meet You". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  14. ^ Ekizian, John (August 19, 2012). "Iconic Ansonia stars in '666 Park Ave'". New York Post. Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  15. ^ Documentary film Elusive Muse, by Anne Belle
  16. ^ Peter Salwen, Upper West Side Story: A History and Guide (New York City: Abbeville Press, 1989), p. 142. ISBN 1558594299.

External links[edit]

Trivia[edit]

  • From 1977 until 1980, The Ansonia Hotel's basement was home to Plato's Retreat, notorious open door swinger sex club. Decadence ruled where pleasure and sin lived between blurred lines, until 1980 when then Mayor Ed Koch shut the club down due to health concerns for public safety.Prior to Plato's Retreat, the building housed the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse where Bette Midler provided musical entertainment early in her career.