The oldest apartment house might be in Yorkville

Apartment living didn’t become the norm for wealthy and middle income Manhattanites until after the turn of the 20th century. (Poor city residents, of course, were cramming into small units under one roof in tenements since before the Civil War.)

But builders had begun enticing the upper and middle classes to try this new housing mode since 1869.

That’s when developer Rutherford Stuyvesant completed Stuyvesant Flats, the city’s first apartment building. His elegant five-story, 16-apartment building on East 18th Street was designed by Richard Hunt to appeal to folks who desired amenities like running water and bathrooms but couldn’t afford their own dwelling.

Stuyvesant Flats was bulldozed in 1958. But what might be the second-oldest big apartment house in Gotham is still standing on a busy corner 68 blocks up the East Side: a boxy beauty named the Manhattan (above and below).

The Manhattan, on Second Avenue and 86th Street, was built in 1879-1880. It’s one of the many “French flats” residences that were developed by the heirs of the Rhinelander family, which owned land in the late 18th and 19th centuries in what became the Yorkville section of Manhattan. (The family also developed these 1889 side-by-side Yorkville apartment buildings with the illustrious names the Kaiser and the Rhine.)

“French Flats evolved in the 1870s as demand grew for affordable, socially respectable working- and middle-class housing, and many of the earliest examples were built on the Upper East Side,” wrote the Historic Districts Council.

Almost 200 French flats were constructed in New York between 1869 and 1876, stated Gwendolyn Wright in her book, Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America.

But when it comes to big apartment houses, the six-story, 33-unit Manhattan (third photo is from the side in 1940) might be the oldest survivor. The Dakota didn’t open until 1884, and this extant apartment building on East 17th Street is a small jewel from 1879.

What was the Manhattan like in 1880? Imposing, according to an homage to the building that hangs in the small lobby with a 1940s-era photo (fourth image, via the New York Times).

“It provided the most comfortable apartments east of Madison Avenue….Surrounding it, by contrast, were modest four- and five-story tenements that provided crowded housing for the largely immigrant and working-class population that was coming to Yorkville on the newly opened elevated trains on Second and Third Avenues.”

The building was designed around a courtyard. Each unit featured separate parlors, full kitchens, private bathrooms, servants’ rooms, and closets, notes the historical homage.

Architect Charles W. Clinton also designed the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue and 66th Street, and it’s no accident that both buildings have a similar feel, with red brick and “the look of a pared-down castle on the upper portions.”

The first residents of the Manhattan included people from “Germany, Austria, Sweden, Ireland, England, and Canada, as well as a few from Connecticut or Pennsylvania,” the historical homage states. “They were policemen, teachers, clerks, salesmen, bookkeepers, butchers, and one ‘brewmaster’ probably from one of the three large breweries on Second Avenue and the 90s.” Robert Wagner, US Senator from New York in the 1930s and 1940s and father of mayor Robert Wagner Jr., was also a resident.

The 20th century changed this stretch of the Upper East Side, but the Manhattan was stable. Fire escapes were installed, the stairs were likely replaced (above), and the facade redone a bit, “but the building remained undisturbed even through the first ‘luxury’ apartment boom of the 1960s,” wrote Christopher Gray in a New York Times piece from 1988, when the building was “destined for demolition.”

That didn’t happen, and today the building is a striking and eye-catching rental in a very different Yorkville. This two-bedroom unit is up for grabs right now for $4990 per month.

[Third photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; fourth photo: Office for Metropolitan History via the New York Times]

Tags: , , , , ,

5 Responses to “The oldest apartment house might be in Yorkville”

  1. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Love the staircase, reminds me of the high ones I saw in the Anne Frank house, but many in Amsterdam are like that.

  2. gothamtony Says:

    Years ago ( 1980-81) I got a peak at an apartment here and it was magnificent. Thankfully it wasn’t demolished and replaced by an anonymous box. Yorkville is my hood: born in Doctor’s Hospital and lived and worked there for decades. There are still vestiges of the Old Yorkville that I remember from the 60’s and later. Schaller & Weber and the Heidelburg right across the street but there is more.

  3. crush de mint 42 Says:

    Could you do a report on The Suburbans ? They are a full block of apartments on 64-65 Sts between First Ave and York Ave in Manhattan…. I lived there in the 70’s (bathtubs in kitchen etc) and it now has landmark status

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: