The amazing survival story of the last 3 single-family row houses on Central Park West

If you find yourself facing the corner of Central Park West at 85th Street, you’ll see three stunning row houses, each with different Queen Anne-style touches. They’re charming, confection-like holdouts from the Gilded Age, dwarfed (but not outshined) by their Art Deco apartment tower neighbor.

247-249 Central Park West

But before 1930, these three beauties were part of a row of nine spanning the entire block. While their sister buildings met the wrecking ball, they managed to survive—and now are thought to be the last remaining single-family row houses on all of Central Park West.

Their story begins with the Dakota. When this Gothic-inspired apartment building several blocks south was completed in 1884, Gilded Age real estate developers began to imagine Central Park West as a parkside avenue of similarly grand, luxurious apartment buildings.

One builder who apparently didn’t share that vision was a speculative developer of other properties on today’s Upper West Side named William Noble. In 1887, Noble hired architect Edward L. Angell to construct nine single-family row houses between 84th and 85th Streets along what until 1883 had been known as Eighth Avenue.

The “Noble houses,” as numbers 241-249 Central Park West were later called, spanned the entire block, which Noble outfitted with six ornamental lampposts. The fairy tale-like Queen Anne style served as an antidote to the cookie-cutter brownstones lining so many Gilded Age Manhattan streets.

The original nine Noble houses are in the background, 1925

“Not only did [Angell] vary his designs for the houses, but he varied the materials too, from red brick to buff-colored brick, from brownstone to carved limestone,” wrote Margot Gayle in 1979 in the New York Daily News.

“The corner houses were the most elegant, each having two exposures, windows with panels of stained glass and a bay-windowed tower terminating in a peaked roof.” Though each row house had different architectural bells and whistles, the gables and chimneys of all the houses reflect the design of the Dakota, the article pointed out.

By 1928, streetcars were long gone from Central Park West

Central Park West as a luxury thoroughfare was in its infancy, and a horsecar line ran up and down the avenue. Still, the Noble houses were pricey. “The houses were at the upper end of the market—they cost $37,000 each in construction alone, exclusive of decoration—and the first occupants were all prosperous,” wrote Christopher Gray in the New York Times in 1990.

Among the first occupants was William Noble; he took number 247 for himself, per a 2014 New York Times article. His neighbor at number 248, a wealthy colonel named Richard Lathers, made news by arranging a reception in his home where relatives of Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant were invited to bring “North and South together in an informal and quiet way,” according to a biography.

Number 248’s beautiful detailing

As the decades went on, the Noble houses changed hands. Meanwhile, Central Park West’s fortunes boomed. Stylish, modern Art Deco apartment buildings that scaled new heights and commanded high prices lined the avenue.

The 1920s marked the beginning of the end for six of the Noble houses. “In 1925, Sam Minskoff, a builder, sued to break the private house restrictions so he could build what was ultimately erected in 1930 as the tall apartment house that replaced 241-246 Central Park West,” wrote Gray.

Number 247 stained glass loveliness

Why didn’t the entire row of Noble houses get demolished? Thank the strong-minded holdout owner of number 249. “Probably all would have been taken down had not the owner of the northernmost of the remaining houses stubbornly refuse to sell,” wrote Gayle. “A neighbor recalls him as a man who knew his own mind, liked to view the park from his windows, wore a bowler, and walked a poodle twice a day.”

This stubborn neighbor was identified in Gray’s article as W. Gedney Beatty, an “architect-scholar.” As a result, “247, 248 and 249 have since survived in the shadow of their taller neighbor,” he wrote.

The 3 remaining Noble houses in 1975

They were expensive when they were new, and the prices of the remaining Noble houses in today’s real estate market are mind-blowing.

In 2014, number 247—beautifully restored and with its own lap pool—sold for $22 million. Number 248, also renovated to its original beauty, just set an Upper West Side real estate record earlier this year by finding a buyer at $26 million, according to Ilovetheupperwestside.com.

Number 249 Central Park West

[Third image: New-York Historical Society; fourth image: NYPL; seventh image: MCNY 2013.3.1.34]

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11 Responses to “The amazing survival story of the last 3 single-family row houses on Central Park West”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    Nice to see these survivors still serving their single-family purpose, even at these crazy prices. Very elegant. Thank you for shedding this light on something one would probably drive right by in the traffic, although pedestrians would certainly appreciate them more.

  2. andrew.alpern@arkitrny.com Says:

    248 was for many years until she died the home of the one Wendel sister (Mrs. Swope) who got married (albeit too late in life to produce any heirs) The original Wendel married the half-sister of the original John Jacob Astor and bought his first building from Astor. His son built this house, which stood on Fifth Avenue at 39th Street until the final Wendel died in 1933. Wendels bought NYC property (lots of it) but never sold. The grandson of that original Wendel ruled over his sisters with an iron hand, and when the last reclusive sister died, she had inherited it all. The bronze plaque is still on the existing building between 39th and 40th streets. The photo of the entire row comes from Shepp’s New York, an excellent old book.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I came across that plaque many years ago and became fascinated by the Wendel family—the brother who ran their affairs and the reclusive sisters living in that anachronism on Fifth Avenue. Thank you for connecting the dots to 248 Central Park West.

  3. Visionist Says:

    I hope some kind of movement is afoot to landmark these buildings against future speculators.

    • maanirantel Says:

      I believe they are within the Central Park West Historic District, so they do not need to be individually landmarked; I believe they are protected. 🙂

  4. maanirantel Says:

    In 1977, my friend’s father, a wealthy man, offered to buy 247, which was on the market at the time. He was considering a gut renovation, and making the place a home for his son – and the two of us (his son’s friends). The asking price in 1977? ~$800,000.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Amazing. What an investment it would have been, but in 1977 I don’t think anyone had any idea how Manhattan real estate would take off.

      • maanirantel Says:

        True, that. Yes, I’m guessing that, had he purchased it, and were it still owned by him now (though I’m not sure if he is alive), it would be worth several million dollars.

  5. Enid Futterman Says:

    The Wendel sisters lived in 249, not 248. Perhaps the married sister bought 248, but 249 was in the Wendel family until John Herget bought the building when the last sister died. (Late 50s or 60s, I believe.) The house was divided into apartments until after Herget’s death; his partner sold it in 2000, and all of us who lived there were offered buyouts. I lhad ived in the top floor apartment facing the park since 1978. The “bay-windowed tower” described above was my bedroom.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks for the backstory, from a former resident, no less! It must have been lovely to live there.

      • Enid Futterman Says:

        Yes, it was lovely in my small but charming apartment with a gorgeous Victorian mantelpiece over the working fireplace and a view of the park just above the tree line from both rooms. On New Year’s Eve, 50 people would arrive not long before midnight and we’d climb the staircase to the roof carrying white helium balloons. When the fireworks started in the park, we would sing Auld Lang Syne and let the balloons go. (This was before we knew they were bad for birds.) In December 1990, there was a fire next door in 248 that spread to our house, which is why 248 was gutted. It was probably arson; 248 was also divided into apartments and there was drug dealing. The fire was thought to be started by a disgruntled buyer (or seller). I’m not sure about 247, but 248 and 249 were decidedly not single family houses until after the fire for 248 and well after the 2000 sale. Thanks to you as well for the story, but you left one one wonderful detail. When the row was intact, the house on the corner of 84th was a mirror image of 249, the house next door, a mirror image of 248, and so on, until the house in the middle, which was unlike any other. You can almost tell in the 1920s photo accompanying your piece, which is extremely evocative.
        .

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