The west side of Central Park, with its influx of wealthy bankers and investment managers over the years and its sky-high housing prices, is an unlikely refuge for artists. But along West 67th Street, just off the park, an enclave of buildings constructed by and for artists continues their traditions more than a century later.
The block is lined with “studio buildings” erected, beginning in 1903, in what has become known as the West 67th Street Artists’ Colony Historic District—typically ornate live-work spaces with 14-foot-high windows facing north in double-height rooms.
Most were built by cooperatives of artists, musicians and other creative sorts, who occupied some of the apartments and rented out others to cover the expenses of operating the building.
The largest and most imposing of these is the Gothic-inspired Hotel des Artistes, an 18-story building at 1 West 67th St. that opened in 1917. Its brick, limestone and terra-cotta facade is adorned with gargoyles of sculptors, painters and writers.
Isadora Duncan, the dancer and choreographer, moved in soon after it opened. Norman Rockwell lived there, as did Noel Coward, the playwright; actor Rudolph Valentino ; the expressionist artist LeRoy Neiman, and former New York City Mayor John Lindsay. Howard Chandler Christy, the artist and illustrator, was a resident and painted a series murals of nymphs in a street-level restaurant in the building, long known as the Cafe des Artistes. It is now the Leopard at des Artistes.
To celebrate its centennial, the co-op board at Hotel des Artistes brought in dancers from the Word Dance Theater on a recent Sunday to perform Ms. Duncan’s dances, in spaces throughout the building. Wearing flowing Grecian gowns they performed for small groups in the lobby and around a basement swimming pool fringed with rose petals and candles. The audience rotated through the building.
Amid the celebration it appears that some of the connection to the building’s creative past is fading, as older artists die off and apartments fetch high prices, including a three-apartment combination that sold for $7 million in 2007. Last year, a two-bedroom apartment owned by the late David Garth, the political consultant, sold for $3.9 million, and a unit on the market for $4.5 million is now listed in contract.
Still, Pamela Johnson, a longtime resident who chaired the Centennial Committee, said many apartment owners still have a strong link to the arts or creative fields.
Her late mother Cecile Johnson, a painter, lived and worked in an 8th floor north-facing apartment decorated with ornate carvings, including gamboling nudes and cherubs, where three other artists previously lived.
Of the 72 apartments, she said, a recent building census found that the owners of 35 have a connection to the arts, not including collectors. There are 10 painters, a sculptor, five architects, and five writers, along with four dancers, three producers, and four art-and-antique dealers, she noted. Artists are still encouraged to display their work in the hallways.
The tally counts Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, among its two musicians.
“Our building is a lovely eclectic bunch,” said Emanuel Stern, the board president, who is a son of the developer Leonard Stern and a former president and chief operating officer of Hartz Mountain Industries. The younger Mr. Stern is now the managing principal of Tall Pines Capital LLC, a real-estate investment firm.
Mr. Stern owns two units at Hotel des Artistes, including one with a double-height space that his wife, Elizabeth Stern, uses as a studio for painting and sculpture. “Our building enjoys it when prospective buyers are part of the arts,” he said.
West 67th Street was a street of stables and small industrial sites when the artists moved in at the beginning of the last century. The 150-foot wide lot for 1 West 67th St. was purchased by a group of artists in 1914 for $250,000. The construction costs were reported at the time to be about $800,000.
Cheryl Daly, a broker at Halstead Property who lives in the building and worked with Ms. Johnson to organize the centennial, said the founders were by no means struggling artists. The building has a medieval-inspired lobby with a beamed ceiling and gothic ornaments. There is a 35-foot swimming pool, a squash court, a roof deck and several exercise rooms.
Though it was never a hotel, the original apartments had no kitchens, and meals were served in a second floor dining room or sent up via dumbwaiters.
Ms. Daly said that in recent years the building had a strong appeal for architects. “They appreciate the architecture, she said. “They like the light and the high ceilings.”
Wednesday, June 14, 2017