The New York Optimist
September 2008
The Dakota, constructed from October 25,
1880 to October 27, 1884, is an apartment building
located on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and
Central Park West in New York City .

The architectural firm of Henry Janeway
Hardenbergh was commissioned to do the design for
Edward Clark, head of the Singer Sewing Machine
Company. The firm also designed the Plaza Hotel.  
The building's high gables and deep roofs with a
profusion of dormers, terracotta spandrels and
panels, niches, balconies and balustrades give it a
North German Renaissance character, an echo of a
Hanseatic townhall. Nevertheless, its layout and floor
plan betray a strong influence of French architectural
trends in housing design that had become known in
New York in the 1870s.  

According to popular legend, the Dakota was so
named because at the time it was built, the Upper
West Side of Manhattan was sparsely inhabited and
considered as remote as the Dakota Territory.
However, the earliest recorded appearance of this
account is in a 1933 newspaper story. It is more
likely that the building was named "The Dakota"
because of Clark's fondness for the names of the new
western states and territories. High above the 72nd
Street entrance, the figure of a Dakota Indian keeps
watch. The Dakota was added to the National
Register of Historic Places in 1972, and was declared
a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
The Dakota is built in a square-shape around a central courtyard, accessible through the arched passage
of the main entrance, a porte cochère large enough that horse-drawn carriages could pass through,
letting their passengers disembark sheltered from the weather. In the Dakota multi-story stable building
at 77th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, elevators lifted carriages to upper floors. The "Dakota Stables"
building was still in operation as a garage until February 2007, but it is now slated to be developed by the
Related Companies into a multimillion dollar condominium project.  The general layout of the apartments
is also in the French style of the period, with all major rooms not only connected to each other en filade
in the traditional way, but also accessible from a hall or corridor, an arrangement that allowed a natural
migration for guests from one room to another, especially on festive occasions, yet gave service staff
discreet separate circulation patterns that offered service access to the main rooms. The principal
rooms, such as parlors or the master bedroom, face the street, while the dining room, kitchen, and other
auxiliary rooms are oriented towards the courtyard. Apartments are thus aired from two sides, which
was a relative novelty in New York at the time. (In the Stuyvesant building, which was built in 1869, a
mere ten years earlier, and which is considered New York's first apartment building in the French style,
many apartments have windows to one side only.) Some of the drawing rooms were 49 ft. (about 15 m)
long, and many of the ceilings are 14 ft (4.3 m) high; the floors are inlaid with mahogany, oak, and
cherry (although in the apartment of Clark, the building's founder, some floors were famously inlaid with
sterling silver).  Originally, the Dakota had 65 apartments with four to twenty rooms, no two alike.
These apartments are accessed by staircases and elevators placed in the four corners of the courtyard.
Separate service stairs and elevators serving the kitchens are located in mid-block. Built to cater for the
well-to-do, the Dakota featured many amenities and a modern infrastructure that was exceptional for the
time. The building has a large dining hall; meals could also be sent up to the apartments by dumbwaiters.
Electricity was generated by an in-house power plant, and the building has central heating. Besides
servants' quarters, there was a playroom and a gymnasium under the roof. (In later years, these spaces
on the tenth floor were—for economic reasons—converted into apartments, too.) The lot of the Dakota
also comprised a garden and private croquet lawns and a tennis court behind the building between 72nd
and 73rd Streets.

The Dakota was a huge social success from the very start (all apartments were rented before the
building opened), but a long-term drain on the fortune of Clark (who died before it was completed) and
his heirs. For the high society of New York, it became fashionable to live in such a building, or to rent at
least an apartment as a secondary city residence, and the Dakota's success prompted the construction of
many other luxury apartment buildings in New York City.
Some Well-known residents of the Dakota building have included:

actress Lauren Bacall
composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein
newscaster Connie Chung and husband and talk-show host Maury Povich
sportsman F Ambrose Clark who was also grandson of the original builder
actor José Ferrer
singer Roberta Flack
author Charles Henri Ford
actress Judy Garland
actor Steve Guttenberg
actress Judy Holliday
playwright William Inge
actor Boris Karloff
composer/singer John Lennon
singer Sean Lennon, son of John and Yoko
football player, coach, and announcer John Madden
interior decorator Syrie Maugham
author Carson McCullers
filmmaker Albert Maysles
musician Ian McDonald
dancer Rudolf Nureyev
artist Yoko Ono
Famous Entrance Where John Lennon Was Gunned Down
The Dakota circa 1880's
The New York Optimist
September 2008