“A residential skyscraper in classical garb, the San Remo epitomizes Roth’s ability to combine the traditional with the modern, an urbane amalgam of luxury and convenience, decorum and drama.”
—praise from the 1987 New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report for the San Remo’s architect, Emery Roth
This is the third in our series of articles covering the towered apartment buildings that make the unique skyline of Central Park West so distinctive. We move up the avenue from our most recent story about the Majestic Apartments, at the corner of Central Park West and West. 72nd Street, only two blocks. The San Remo spans the block front from West 74th to West 75th Streets. It has two address numbers, 145 and 146 Central Park West. The doors at each number lead to spacious separate lobbies, featuring terrazzo floors, marble-clad walls, bronze and frosted glass light fixtures, and separate elevator banks, serving the different towers.
Emery Roth (1871–1948), the building’s architect, took advantage of New York’s Multiple Dwelling Act of 1929 to give the San Remo its unusual profile. The Act allowed skyscraper-type residential buildings if the tower was split in two. This permitted light and air to reach the pavement, and gave multiple exposures to the towers’ residences. Mr. Roth, a Hungarian Jewish émigré, was a devoted classicist; he fully utilized High Italian Renaissance elements in the design of the San Remo. Although built in the same time frame as the severe geometric Century and the Majestic, the San Remo is completely different because of those classical flourishes.
One such flourish was how he capped the twin towers; he paid homage to the ancient Athenian monument, the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates. Mr. Roth was familiar with the monument from the reproduction that had been featured at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where he was an apprentice architect.
The San Remo began construction in 1929, only weeks before the stock market crash; and was completed in 1930. It was one of the last great New York buildings planned and constructed in the Roaring 20s. The Empire State Building in Midtown was another.
Described as “The Aristocrat of Central Park West,” the building’s steel frame is clad in light tan brick and terracotta, while the first three stories are faced with rectangular-shaped limestone blocks. The block-wide base ascends 17 stories, and terraced setbacks begin at the 14th floor; the two bold 10-story towers terminate in those unique circular temple-like finials. The average apartment was made up of eight rooms spread over 3,000 square feet. Ten and eleven feet were standard height for the ceilings.
The original design of the lower floors had them divided into seven apartments; two on each of the side street wings, and three apartments laid out along the front of the building facing Central Park West and Central Park. Originally the Park-facing side of the building departed from what most full-block buildings in this neighborhood offered, which was four units. Instead the San Remo was divided into a luxuriously spacious three units.
The largest units on the lower levels fell into the C-line, which were located in the southeast corner of each floor. A C-line apartment boasted a 620 square foot living room, a 300 square foot library and a 500 square foot dining room, all facing Central Park. With four bedrooms arranged along the street side of the building, this line contained approximately 4,500 square feet in total.
The 18th floor marks the beginning of the innovative twin-tower design; when it was developed, it was the first of its kind, inspiring imitators, such as the Majestic, the Century, the El Dorado, and in the 21st century, the Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle, where Central Park West begins. The northern tower offered one apartment per floor of approximately 2,500 square feet. All the public rooms of these typically two-bedroom units faced Central Park.
The spacious C-line apartments continued up through the south tower, but in an expanded form.The tower units were duplexes, with living rooms of 800 square foot, 290 square foot libraries and 400 square foot dining rooms on the first level. A breakfast room, a kitchen and several servants’ rooms were at this level, too. A semi-circular staircase, with park-facing windows, led to the second level. A master suite, with a bedroom of 360 square feet, and a large dressing room and bathroom, for a total of over 500 square feet was among the four bedrooms upstairs, plus additional servants rooms. A back staircase linked the rear of the apartments and the servants’ quarters. The duplex units covered approximately 6,000 square feet. This was huge by any standard! Such spaciousness was possible because the floors of the south tower were slightly larger, extending along West 74th Street, than those in the north tower.
The Great Depression brought many changes to the San Remo. Most of the larger units were subdivided, making them easier to rent. All but one of the south tower duplexes were divided into single floor units. Many of the south tower C-line and the north tower E-line units were also reduced in size. As a result, the total number of apartments increased from the original 118 total to 138.
Past and present residents of the building include director Steven Spielberg, fashion designer Donna Karan, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, actress Demi Moore and her one-time husband Bruce Willis, actress Glenn Close, actor Dustin Hoffman, U2 front man Bono, comedian Steve Martin, comedian Eddie Cantor, film producer Robert Stigwood, producer of “60 Minutes” Don Hewitt, and Texas natural gas heiress Adelaide de Menil. The actress Rita Hayworth also lived in the building before she died from Alzheimer’s disease in 1987; she left her apartment to her daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan.
In 1985 one celebrity who wanted to buy at the San Remo, which has been under cooperative ownership since 1972, but its board of directors, which has a reputation for leniency compared to the more strict, old-money buildings on the east side of the park turned her down, was Madonna. Co-ops are private corporations, and reasons for denying anyone’s application do not have to be made public; but it is thought she was rejected because of her paparazzi following.
Read the first and second articles in our series about Central Park West’s other tower apartment buildings, “The Century Apartment Building” and “The Majestic Apartments”. We are writing about these landmarked buildings as if we are walking up Central Park West from south to north. We have one more apartment house to cover, the northern most building, another design by Emery Roth, the Eldorado.
See the many details of Central Park, including all four of the tower apartment buildings, when you are part of our guided walking tour. Cover about 50% of the park the Tour includes sights many native New Yorkers do not know about. Take the Tour; Know More!
“As modern as a flying boat, as luxurious as the Ile de France and designed for people who are at home on both. Birds in the sky are your only neighbors.”
—from an ad for the San Remo in an April 1930 edition of the New York Times
“A dazzling two-tower building with captivating views of Central Park.”
—Glen Justice of the New York Times
ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT, EXCEPT NOTED QUOTES, © THE AUTHOR 2017