Scandalous and stylish, the Ansonia is a Parisian vision on the streets of New York
Location: 2109 Broadway, between West 73rd and West 74th Streets
Architect: Paul E. Duboy
Much like people, buildings have faces. The Ansonia is like a beautiful French lady whose Parisian looks and New York proportions make her singularly unique.
The Ansonia was dreamed up by real-estate tycoon William Earl Dodge Stokes. A public personality with a scandalous reputation for unlikely marriages and loud divorces, W.E.D. Stokes was steadfastly devoted to the development of the Upper West Side.
At the end of the last century, when apartment living was still not acceptable for respectable people but hotel living was quite in vogue, Stokes decided to erect an apartment hotel the likes of which had never been seen before. It was to be lavish, provide services that none others would dream of having, and bear the name Ansonia. Stokes participated in every detail of Ansonia’s creation, starting with the choice of style – the flamboyant Second Empire.
Wearing that sloping roof like an elegant hat, the Ansonia stands seventeen stories high. It was supposed to be taller, but Stokes liked the view from the 17th floor well enough. He controlled construction and manufacturing and even invented his own elevators designed specifically for Ansonia. Stokes claimed that Ansonia always kept cool, never exceeding 70 degrees even in the heat of the summer. Icy slush was pushed through 125 miles of pipes within its walls to maintain the climate-controlled environment. Not afflicted by false modesty, Stokes billed Ansonia as “the most perfectly equipped house in the world.”
No other hotel in town came even close to what the Ansonia had to offer. It was advertised that “for the convenience of those who make the Ansonia their home, the hotel affords markets for all food products, a laundry, a tailor and valets, wholesale wine and liquor and cigar shops, apothecary and florist shops, a bank, dentists and physicians and many more minor features.” This impressive array of conveniences failed to mention a theater, palm garden, Grand Ballroom, garage, barber shop, several cafes, roof garden, tea rooms, Turkish bath, live seals in the lobby fountain and the world’s largest indoor swimming pool.
At the time of its completion, in 1904, the Ansonia stood as the largest hotel in the world. It had 1400 rooms, 4.5 miles of hallways and, at full capacity, could accommodate 1300 dinner guests. There were oval and round rooms, rooms shaped like a half oval and half rectangle, rooms which held the shape of a heraldic shield, and rooms with semicircular sculpture niches.
But the most unique of all of Ansonia’s features was her inhabitants. The most notorious of them was Mr. Stokes himself. W.E.D Stokes stories always start with that of his first unhappy marriage to a 16-year-old beauty (he was 40-something). His next marriage to a 24-year-old lasted for 10 years, and ended in four-year long divorce, which became the most infamous scandal in the city. The New York Times famously published over 70 articles about it, since Stokes motivated by his determination not to pay his ex, accused her of cheating on him with 12 men, including his son. Other episodes of Stokes’ colorful life included being shot by a duo of chorus girls. Tabloids had a field day!
Stokes had a farm. Not in Connecticut, not in New Jersey, but on the roof of Ansonia. According to his son, Weddie, “The farm on the roof included 500 chickens, many ducks, about six goats and a small bear.” Tenants enjoyed farm-fresh eggs while the urban farm lasted. It had to close in 1907 when city’s health department claimed a Sanitary Code violation, and the animals happily retired to Central Park.