Posts Tagged ‘Ansonia Hotel’

The luxe apartment building with a rooftop farm

June 9, 2016

Ansonia1904When the Ansonia Hotel (later an apartment building) was going up in frontier territory on Broadway and 73rd Street in the early 1900s, no expense was spared.

The goal was to make it the “most perfectly equipped house in the world,” as colorful and combative developer W.E.D. Stokes proclaimed.

The 340 suites had hot and cold running water, message tubes so staff and guests could communicate, and primitive AC in the form of frozen brine pumped through flues hidden inside walls, states Steven GainesThe Sky’s the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan.


The lobby contained a fountain with live seals. The basement held the world’s largest swimming pool. A sweeping interior staircase led to an enormous glass skylight. A curator was on hand to help shape the hotel’s art collection.

But the Beaux-Arts beauty (nicknamed the Upper West Side’s “wedding cake” because of its mansard roof and decorative touches) had an amenity no other luxury apartment house in New York could boast of.


It was a rooftop farm—complete with ducks, geese, six goats, a bear, a pig named Nanki-Poo, and roughly 500 chickens, from which bellhops collected fresh eggs every day and delivered them to tenants.

 Ansonia1970mcnyThis “farm in the sky” capped off Stokes’ vision for the Ansonia as kind of a self-sufficient utopia, wrote Gaines.

And while a roof farm would definitely be a plus for today’s well-heeled locavore co-op dweller, the Board of Health back then wasn’t too pleased.

In 1907, officials threatened to raid the farm. It’s unclear what happened to most of the animals.

But Nanki-Poo and the geese, pets that belonged to Stokes’ young son, were safely rounded up before the inspector arrived.

These critters were eventually moved to the Central Park Menagerie. The Ansonia’s roof farm, like other parts of the Ansonia’s long and storied past (its stint as the site of a notorious sex club, for example) passed into history.

Now, what happened to the live seals in the lobby fountain?


[Top photo: Ansonia, 1904; second photo: looking north from the Ansonia roof, 1911, NYPL; third image: New-York Tribune, 1908; fourth photo: Ansonia in 1970, MCNY; fifth image: 1910, NYPL]

Spending Christmas 1971 at the Continental Baths

December 23, 2013

I wonder how many people actually spent December 25, 1970 taking in the scene inside the Upper West Side’s infamous Continental Baths?


According to this Village Voice ad from December 23, “the world’s most liberated club” was hosting a special Christmas show (ladies admitted at 11:15!), and then a New Years’ celebration as well.

AnsoniahotelOpened in 1968 in the basement of the then-faded Ansonia Hotel (right) on West 74th Street, the Continental Baths was a “sexual Xanadu”—a place where gay men in towels could dance, socialize, and be entertained by not-yet-famous Bette Midler (and her piano player, Barry Manilow), Nell Carter, and Melba Moore.

The Baths operated until the mid-1970s, when it was rebranded as swingers’ paradise Plato’s Retreat. Perhaps they too had a Christmas Day special?

This New York magazine article from 1973 offers a detailed look inside “New York’s most Weimarian nightspot.”

The most infamous sex club of the 1970s

April 27, 2011

Lots of legendary New York clubs were born in 1970s: CBGB on the Bowery, Studio 54 west of midtown, Paradise Garage on King Street.

But lets not forget Plato’s Retreat, the notorious swingers’ club that epitomized the free-sex atmosphere of pre-AIDS New York.

Opened in 1977, Plato’s Retreat held court in the basement of the then-crumbling Beaux Arts Ansonia Hotel on Broadway and West 74th Street.

Management laid out strict rules: No gay men, couples only (though women could have sex with each other), no drugs, no booze.

Celebrities indulged in orgies with regular joes and janes from the suburbs. A “mat room” was for exhibitionist sex. Clothes were optional. Guests could bump uglies in the disco, the Jacuzzi, and the huge swimming pool.

Of course, it wouldn’t last long. In 1980, Plato’s Retreat moved out of the Ansonia to a much bigger space at 509 West 34th Street. Owner Larry Levenson went to prison for tax evasion in 1981.

And then AIDS hit the city. Mayor Koch ordered the health department to shut down gay bathhouses as well as straight sex clubs like Plato’s Retreat. By 1985, it was over.

Stripping the grand Ansonia Hotel of its cornices

September 23, 2010

This website is a big fan of New York City building ornamentation: statues, grotesques, lanterns, and other eye-catching decorative elements. 

So it was quite a shock to come across this 1942 photo (published in Over Here: New York City During World War II, by Lorraine B. Diehl) showing workmen removing a cornice from the roof of the Upper West Side’s Ansonia Hotel.

But there was a reason: a World War II scrap metal drive. By the 1940s, the once-grand Beaux Arts gem on Broadway and 72nd Street had fallen into disrepair.

Apparently management did not think the building, which would eventually become luxe condos on the again-fashionable Upper West Side, would miss its cornices.