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When the Windermere at the corner of W57th Street and 9th Avenue was built in 1881, it was only the second large apartment building to be built in Manhattan. It was a home for the upper-middle class who craved this sort of high-rise luxury building, cost $350,000 to build and had 39 apartments (typically with five or six bedrooms). The building also offered elevators and telephones (which had only arrived in the city two years before).
One-hundred-and-forty years on, it’s about to come back to life, after Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4) and the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission (NYCLPC) gave their approval to restore the historical storefront on 9th Avenue.
The building’s story mirrors the history of Hell’s Kitchen. The west side property boom in the late 1800s brought development and wealth to the area, but when initial interest from the wealthy moved to newer properties like the Chelsea Hotel and the Dakota, the building was marketed to the “New Woman” — and by the start of the 20th century single working women comprised nearly 80% of its residents. From 1871 through to 1940 the EL (the elevated railway) ran along 9th Avenue past the hotel.
In the 70s and 80s, as the area became rundown, so did the hotel. It’s famed for Steve McQueen having an apartment there (although he left without paying his rent). Very soon, the Windermere had been reformatted to create over 160 single-room-occupancy (SRO) units and it was being frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes.
In the 1980s, in one of the worst examples of tenant harassment ever seen in New York, the Windermere’s managers went to jail. Residents told stories of rooms being ransacked, apartment doors being cement blocked with their belongings inside, and managers issuing death threats. In a report at the time Joe Restuccia, Executive Director of the Clinton Housing Development Company, told the New York Times: “How often do building managers go to jail? They never go to jail. This was so extraordinary.” The Times described the building as “an unsung architectural heirloom shrouded in disarray.”
After that, the Windermere fell into disrepair, with the final tenants moving out in 2009 when the fire department deemed the building unsafe. The same year, developer Mark Tress acquired The Windermere for $13 million — and now his transformation is nearing completion
The storefront restoration that has been approved this week pays significant attention to historical photos of the building.
Architect Ilya Chistiakov said that they would retain and restore the historic cast iron columns to their original condition. The brickwork will be matched to that above and a new wood cornice will replicate the original. A new glass and wood storefront entrance will be installed within the existing openings. NYCLPC Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy, who until two months ago lived in Hell’s Kitchen, said: “This is a great building and a wonderful project to restore the base of this building.”
So The Windermere is set to again become an architectural gem in the area — although its final use (hotel or apartment) is still to be announced. Whatever happens, 20% of the building will be given over to affordable housing because of a little known New York rule — the “Clinton Cure For Harassment” — that came into being because of the infamous court case.