Since so many pre-war apartments on the Upper West Side were designed on a grand scale, with formal dining rooms and numerous bedrooms, it should be no surprise that many of them do not survive intact.
But I confess that I was surprised on a recent open house tour how frequently it is possible to encounter their offspring, as it were. In fact, four of the five units I visited one recent Sunday had been carved out of larger apartments.
Let me tell you that they were not only instantly recognizable as bastard progeny of bigger apartments, but they featured terrible layouts, wasted space and crude attempts to make the best of a bad thing.
Consider the photo above of a three-bedroom unit in which nearly each half of the apartment is at one end of the otherwise pointless hallway; a small living room, the dining room, one bedroom and a kitchen are in the front of the apartment and two of the bedrooms, in the rear. From the kitchen, you can see one of those rear bedrooms across a courtyard.
Looking down the hallway of this condo, offered for $1.25 million, the apartment from which this unit was cut is on the right-hand side of the wall. The courtyard, masked by windows of stained glass and a bookcase under them, is at the left.
In a Morningside Heights building in which banks have an issue with the large number of apartments that are not owner occupied, this 1,704-sf unit has other liabilities than the amount of space wasted on the hallway and the difficulty of its strange layout — e.g, outdated baths, black granite countertops and older dark cabinetry that make for a somber kitchen, jarringly newer paneling in the dining room and floors in need of refinishing.
Monthly common charges are $1,420 and real estate taxes, $500 for this apartment in a 1910 building that forbids dogs and has its sole amenities just a part-time doorman and a common storage room. I suppose the amount of square footage justifies the price, even though much of it might best be used for bowling.
Another of the apartments I happened to see also is typical of what I have been describing. The moment I walked in, I noticed that it was an elongated rectangle with one bedroom at one end and a second bedroom at the other end; that second bedroom was on the far side of the kitchen, which was at the far side of the living room, and visible practically from the front door as if sighted down the barrel of a rifle.
If the place sounds confused, you can imagine how it presents itself in person.
Walking into the second bedroom, I didn’t have to ask the listing broker whether the co-op had been part of a larger unit. I snapped a picture to show the damage to a portion of the sumptuous paneling that remains in what obviously had been a fraction of the original dining room. Notice how the molding has been hacked at the top corner, and you can imagine how tragically insensitive has been the repurposing of the dining room into what now functions as an attenuated space for a baby.
A third unit also made clear that it had been but a portion of another apartment.
Through the shelving in the photo above, you may be able to make out a wholly inadequate and depressingly dated galley kitchen near the entry to the apartment. Just to the left of the shelving is a small bedroom and the living room of sorts is opposite the kitchen, behind me.
Among other things, including the narrowness of the space, the inescapable clue that this grim unit facing nothing but a courtyard had been sliced out of a bigger place was a collection of disproportions — very high ceilings for too small an area and the apparent squeezing of rooms into the apartment such as the kitchen shoehorned near the entrance.
The final image is the floorplan of the one- or two-bedroom co-op shown at the right. You enter what is nothing less than an open kitchen, then traipse down one of those giveaway hallways past a bath to the first “bedroom,” which is a living room.
Swapping the two rooms would mean an even longer walk for guests of a platonic sort, but at least the bedroom would be closer to the bath than it is now.
Obviously, the unit had been severed from a bigger unit on the other side of the hallway’s right-hand wall. Pity.
Below are other properties that are listed by various brokers and that I have visited:
- An exceptionally inviting landscaped garden outside a much smaller one-bedroom co-ops in the mid 80s between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues. The bath is in fair condition and the open kitchen is okay, but the exterior totals 900 square feet, unshaded by surrounding buildings and lovely enough to imagine a hammock strung on lazy days. Withal, the original asking price of $650,000 with monthly maintenance of $1,262 clearly was too high a mountain for any buyer to climb. The just-reduced listing price of $599,000 is about right, especially since the pet-friendly 1930 building boasts only a doorman as its single amenity.
- In a Central Park block of the low 90s, a well-priced one-bedroom co-op in a modest pet-friendly 1910 building with an older kitchen that demands an upgrade from its laminate countertops and old appliances, a so-so bath, two shallow closets and plenty of southern sun that, unfortunately, floods only the bedroom. The reduced asking price of $450,000 with maintenance of $777 a month is on the money.
- A co-op on West End Avenue in the mid 90s that defines “potential,” especially the eat-in kitchen and den area, which were impractically reconfigured using a maid’s room in the ’70s. As for the remainder of this currently four-bedroom, merely two-bath apartment, which also has a formal dining room, a re-do is in order. From a relatively low floor, the exposures in three directions are reasonably pleasant, and it’s possible to install central air. In a 1908 doorman building, this unit is listed for $2.2 million with maintenance of $2,085 a month after a $100,000 price cut over the weekend. Given the minimum $250,000 renovation expense for which the place cries out, a sold price just under $2 million seems appropriate and within negotiating range.
- In a 1981 Lincoln Square high-rise loaded with amenities and almost at Central Park, a 1,300-sf co-op that originally had one-bedroom and now has a second one that used to be a dining area. The owner also fashioned a windowless room out of adjacent closets as a space for kids to sleep or a home office. With two baths, a balcony that has park views and a decent modern kitchen, though without a window, the apartment had been offered for $1.795 million with $1,664 in monthly maintenance since mid-January. There were no takers at that price for a reason, and the unit went off the market after only 10 weeks.
- A modestly improved one-bedroom condo that has standard-height ceilings, added crown moldings and pre-engineered floors. The southern exposures are relatively open, but a 70s kitchen remains. Although this apartment does not seem worth the reduced asking price of $799,000 with monthly common charges of $922 and real estate taxes of $707, it went under contract last week.
- Between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue in the low 100s, an alcove studio painted with a riot of primary colors. The co-op has a small kitchen with undersized appliances of a certain age, good closet space behind hollow-core doors, decently improved bath and generally unobstructed views south. In a 1964 building of debatable quality that is friendly to pets and has a part-time doorman, this unit does not merit the offering price of $350,000 with maintenance of $764 a month.
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022