The Ansonia is a building on the Upper West Side of New York City, located at 2109 Broadway, between West 73rd and West 74th Streets. It was originally built as a hotel by William Earle Dodge Stokes, the Phelps-Dodge copper heir and share holder in the Ansonia Clock Company, and it was named for his grandfather, the industrialist Anson Greene Phelps. In 1899, Stokes commissioned architect Paul E. Duboy (1857–1907) to build the grandest hotel in Manhattan.
Stokes would list himself as “architect-in-chief” for the project and hired Duboy, a sculptor who designed and made the ornamental sculptures on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, to draw up the plans. New Orleans architect Martin Shepard served as draftsman and assistant superintendent of construction on the project. A contractor sued Stokes in 1907, but he would defend himself, explaining that Duboy was in an insane asylum in Paris and should not have been making commitments in Stokes’s name concerning the hotel.
In what might be the earliest harbinger of the current developments in urban farming, Stokes established a small farm on the roof of the hotel.
Stokes had a Utopian vision for the Ansonia—that it could be self-sufficient, or at least contribute to its own support—which led to perhaps the strangest New York apartment amenity ever. “The farm on the roof,” Weddie Stokes wrote years later, “included about 500 chickens, many ducks, about six goats and a small bear.” Every day, a bellhop delivered free fresh eggs to all the tenants, and any surplus was sold cheaply to the public in the basement arcade. Not much about this feature charmed the city fathers, however, and in 1907, the Department of Health shut down the farm in the sky.
The Ansonia was a residential hotel. The residents lived in luxurious apartments with multiple bedrooms, parlors, libraries, and formal dining rooms that were often round or oval. Apartments featured sweeping views north and south along Broadway, high ceilings, elegant moldings, and bay windows. The Ansonia also had a few small units, one bedroom, parlor and bath; these lacked kitchens. There was a central kitchen and serving kitchens on every floor, so that the residents could enjoy the services of professional chefs while dining in their own apartments. Besides the usual array of tearooms, restaurants, and a grand ballroom, the Ansonia had Turkish baths and a lobby fountain with live seals.
Erected between 1899 and 1904, it was the first air-conditioned hotel in New York. The building has an eighteen-story steel-frame structure. Upon its completion in 1904 The Ansonia was the largest residential hotel of its day. The exterior is decorated in the Beaux-Art style with a Parisian style mansard roof. Striking architectural features are the round corner-towers or turrets. Unusual for a Manhattan building, the Ansonia features an open stairwell that sweeps up to a huge domed skylight. The interior corridors may be the widest in the city. For several years Stokes kept farm animals on the building’s roof next to his personal apartment. Another unusual feature of the building is its cattle elevator, which enabled dairy cows to be stabled on the roof.
The building’s original, elaborate copper cornices were removed during World War II and melted down for the war effort.
The Ansonia has had many celebrated residents, including baseball player Babe Ruth, writer Theodore Dreiser, in 1912, the leader of the Bahá’í Faith `Abdu’l-Bahá, Nobel prize winner in literature Isaac Bashevitz Singer, conductor Arturo Toscanini, composer Igor Stravinsky, fashion designer Koos van den Akker, and Italian tenor Enrico Caruso.
By the mid-twentieth-century, the grand apartments had mostly been divided into studios and one-bedroom units, almost all of which retained their original architectural detail.
After a short debate in the 1960s, a proposal to demolish the building was fought off by its many musical and artistic residents.
From 1977 until 1980, The Ansonia Hotel’s basement was home to Plato’s Retreat, an open door swinger sex club. In 1980, the then Mayor Ed Koch shut the club down due to health concerns for public safety. Prior to Plato’s Retreat, the building housed the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse where Bette Midler provided musical entertainment early in her career, with Barry Manilow as her accompanist.. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
In 1992 the Ansonia was converted to a condominium apartment building with 430 apartments. By 2007, most of the rent-controlled tenants had moved out, and the small apartments were sold to buyers who purchased clusters of small apartments and threw them together to recreate the grand apartments of the building’s glory days, with carefully restored Beaux-Arts details.
The TD Bank branch on the ground level plays a short video documentary near the main entrance to the bank, which covers the history of the Ansonia.
The Ansonia is home to part of the New York campus of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
In 1916, the Ansonia was the scene of a blackmail plot. Edward R. West, Vice President of the C. D. Gregg Tea and Coffee Company of Chicago, had checked into the hotel with a woman known to him as Alice Williams.
Alice Williams was an alias of Helen Godman, also known as “Buda” Godman, who acted as the “lure” for a blackmail gang based in Chicago. West and Godman were together in their room at The Ansonia when two male members of the gang, impersonating Federal law enforcement agents, entered the room and “arrested” West for violation of the Mann Act.
After transporting West and Godman back to Chicago, West was coerced into paying the two “agents” $15,000 in order to avoid prosecution, and avoid embarrassment or soiling the reputation of “Alice.” West reported the incident after becoming suspicious that not everything was as it seemed. Several of the male blackmailers earned prison terms, but “Buda” Godman was released on bail. She disappeared for many years, but she was eventually caught and charged for trying to fence the Glemby Jewels taken in a 1932 robbery.
· A key player in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, the Chicago White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil had an apartment at the Ansonia. According to Eliot Asinof, in his book Eight Men Out, Gandil held a meeting in the Ansonia apartment with his White Sox teammates to recruit them for the scheme to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series.
· Willie Sutton, the bank robber, was arrested for the sixth time (of eight) two days before Thanksgiving, 1930, while having breakfast at Childs Restaurant in the Ansonia.
In popular culture
· It was featured in the film Single White Female (1992) starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
· In the film Perfect Stranger (2007), Halle Berry plays a news reporter who lives in a “professionally decorated $4-million condo in the lavish Ansonia building on the Upper West Side.”
· The Ansonia was the basis for the fictional Balmoral building in Jed Rubenfeld’s literary novel The Interpretation of Murder (2006).
· In the film Three Days of the Condor (1975), the alley behind the hotel is used as a rendezvous for Robert Redford‘s character, which becomes an ambush for a failed assassination.
· In the film The Sunshine Boys (1975), Walter Matthau‘s character has an apartment in the building.
Famous former residents include:
· Artist Clemens Weiss
· Ballerina Suzanne Farrell
· Cartoonist and Disney Animator Walt Kelly
· Fashion designer Koos van den Akker (1980-1992)
· Opera stars Feodor Chaliapin, Italian baritone Giuseppe Danise , Geraldine Farrar, Lauritz Melchior (famed Metropolitan Opera tenor who “practiced archery in the 110-foot (34 m) corridors”), Ezio Pinza, Lily Pons, Eleanor Steber, and Teresa Stratas
· Actress and Emmy-winning writer Clarice Blackburn
Famous present resident include:
· NSF award-winning scientist Elizabeth Dogue Hicks
· Duchess of York Allison Harrington
Children living in the Ansonia are eligible to attend schools run by the New York City Department of Education.
The building is zoned to P.S. 87, the William Sherman School, but it is unzoned for middle school. Residents of the Ansonia may contact Region 10 to determine the middle-school assignments.
· The Cardinals, The Ansonia: A Pictorial History of Manhattan’s Beaux-Arts Masterpiece (New York City: Campfire Network, 2015), ISBN 0692420576.
· The Cardinals, The Ansonia: Images & Memories of one of the Largest, Handsomest and Most Complete Apartment Hotels in the World! (New York City: Campfire Network, 2015), ISBN 978-0692421727.