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The Ups and Downs of The Ansonia, The Building that Made the Upper West Side - Nymag

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May 6, 2005

The Building of the Upper West Side

By Steven Gaines
Photo: Lake County Museum/Corbis

One winter day in late 1894, William Earl Dodge Stokes was striding along Fifth Avenue when he spied a framed picture of a beautiful young girl in a photographer’s shop window. The girl had small rosebud lips, a pert, upturned nose, and long, dark hair piled dramatically on top of her head and was smiling coquettishly at the camera over her right shoulder. He hurried inside to find out who she was.

She was Rita Hernandez de Alba de Acosta, the pampered daughter of a Spanish heiress and a Cuban poet, moody and vivacious, and she was only 15 years old, a fact that didn’t cool Stokes’s ardor one bit. As for Stokes, a 42-year-old real-estate developer, his eccentricities, average looks, and careless dress didn’t seem to hurt his appeal with women. He certainly was refreshing—exuberant, an enthusiastic salesman, full of energy and (said the New York Times) “wild charm,”—but his “not being a slave to conventionalities” might have been something of an understatement.

In fact, Stokes was “the all-time black sheep” of his prominent family. He was one of nine children of Caroline Phelps, the heiress to the Ansonia copper fortune, and James Stokes, a merchant turned banker. He was the sort of man who, when his father died in August 1881, contested the will, sued his brother Anson for conspiring to throw him out of the family business, and walked away with a $1 million inheritance.

But his outrageousness had at least one positive turn: It extended to a dynamic vision of New York. Stokes believed that the Grand Boulevard—then the name for Broadway, a long-ago Indian trail—would eventually become the most important street in Manhattan, eclipsing Fifth Avenue to become the Champs-Élysées of New York. (Stokes was instrumental in influencing the city to pave the Boulevard in 1889, five years before Fifth Avenue.) And he saw an opportunity to build its grandest, biggest building—one that would define this new neighborhood.

Still, the West Side above 57th Street was a hard sell when Stokes began building brownstones in 1885. It was only two square miles—half the size of the East Side—and it seemed cut off from the rest of the city. Harper’s Weekly described the Upper West Side of the day as a “desert of rocks and shanties, half-opened and unimproved streets.” The building of the Dakota in 1884 had been a start, but it was essentially a premodern structure, with heavy masonry walls and only nine stories. For his new hotel, Stokes planned a steel skeleton supporting thin exterior walls—at twenty floors topped with a slim nine-story tower, the tallest building in Manhattan. He’d quietly begun his project years earlier, piecing together 22 parcels of land on the site of the old New York Orphan Asylum, at 73rd Street and the Boulevard.

Within months of their meeting, De Acosta and Stokes married, on January 4, 1895. A thousand guests watched the teenage bride descend the petal-strewn staircase of her family’s townhouse. (Before the marriage, rumor had it that he liked his women young—very young—and that he had been known to take barely pubescent girls to his stud farm in Lexington, Kentucky, and tie them naked to a post in the barn, where they were forced to watch a stud horse mount a mare as a precursor to his own plans for the night.) Rita’s youngest sister, Mercedes de Acosta, who grew up to become a talented writer (as well as the reputed lover of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich), wrote in her memoir that “when Rita finally decided to marry Will Stokes it was, I believe, because she felt his wealth could open doors… . But she paid a high price for any material gain.” She also produced an heir, William Earl Dodge Stokes Jr., whom they called “Weddie.” According to her sister, Rita hated the child and could hardly bring herself to hold him.

As ground-breaking for the Ansonia approached in the summer of 1899, Rita fled to a beach house in Quogue with her mother and sued Stokes for divorce. It was rumored that Stokes paid Rita $2 million in cash and $36,000 a year in support, the largest settlement ever granted. In return, Stokes wanted Weddie. She gave up the child easily and didn’t see her son again for sixteen years. Stokes, for his part, shipped the boy off to the Fifth Avenue home of his matron sisters, Caroline and Olivia, where Weddie would get a proper childhood and education, and leave his father alone with the offspring he truly cared about: the Ansonia.

Larger than an ocean liner, grander than any luxury hotel, the Ansonia was the “monster” of all residential buildings when it officially opened on April 19, 1904, according to the New York World. No matter that it stood only seventeen stories tall, not the twenty-plus that Stokes had envisioned. Weddie later explained its height thus: “They just put one floor on top of another and they got up to the seventeenth floor, and they decided they wouldn’t build any more.” Though the architect of record was a Frenchman named Paul E.M. Duboy, who had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, Stokes was the real force at work. (Duboy had managed to render one set of original drawings before Stokes reduced him to little more than a draftsman, eventually paying him $5,000 and shipping him back to France, where he promptly had a nervous breakdown.)

The new Ansonia was a statistical blockbuster, with 550,000 square feet of space spread out over 1,400 rooms and 340 suites. A maze of pneumatic tubing snaked through the walls, delivering messages in capsules between the staff and tenants. In the summer, freezing brine was pumped through steel flues in the walls that, Stokes claimed, kept the building at a uniform 70 degrees. Each suite had double-width mahogany doors, and many rooms had playful shapes like ovals. The developer had gone so far as to start his own corporation to manufacture the building’s elevators, and another to make the durable terra-cotta that helped fireproof the building—a major concern, because Stokes loathed insurance companies and planned to do without them. The Ansonia even had its own curator, Joseph Gill-Martin, who collected 600 paintings for the hotel to display. In one of Stokes’s outrageous touches, each suite’s lush inventory of towels, napkins, table linen, soap, and stationery was refreshed three times a day.

Altogether, with the ballrooms and the dining rooms at full capacity, the hotel could accommodate 1,300 dinner guests. In the basement was the world’s largest indoor pool. Children who lived in the building with their families were mesmerized by the cascading white-marble staircase with its dark mahogany balustrade, seventeen stories of it, snaking round and round, getting smaller and smaller until it vanished into a clear skylight 500 feet above.

Gail Palmer and Robin Leach, photographed November 6, 1978, in Plato's Retreat.Photo: Ron Galella

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 chicken, 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 animals went to Central Park and lived happily ever after.

The Ansonia might have been luxurious, but it was never considered chic. In spirit as well as in location, it was part of the Upper West Side, the bohemian stepchild of the city, and it would always have a risqué reputation. The hotel first became indelibly linked with gambling and shady characters just two years after it opened, when, with Stokes’s encouragement, Al Adams, the notorious millionaire “Policy King” of the New York numbers racket, moved into the Ansonia straight from a stint in Sing Sing. He stayed two years, badgered by police and reporters, before Stokes found him dead of a self-inflicted bullet wound in Suite 1579. There was immediate conjecture that Stokes had shot him over a gambling debt, but the coroner ruled it a suicide.

The Ansonia’s racy reputation also drew pro athletes. Jack Dempsey trained for the heavyweight-championship bout of 1919 against Jess Willard while living there, and after World War I, the Ansonia became the preferred lodging of professional baseball players in New York. It was the home of many New York Yankees, including Wally Schang, Lefty O’Doul, and Bob Meusel, as well as Babe Ruth, who moved there with his wife when the Boston Red Sox sold his contract to the Yankees after the 1919 season. There wasn’t a fitness regimen to follow in those days, and the ballplayers spent a lot of their evenings wandering up to the Babe’s suite, where there was always some sort of party or card game. Ruth, who thought of the entire hotel as an extension of his apartment, would sometimes wear his scarlet silk bathrobe down in the elevator to the basement barbershop for his morning shave. He was inspired to take up the saxophone while living at the Ansonia, and his squeaky bleatings were familiar up and down the hallways on his floor.

Just before Babe Ruth arrived, the mixture of bad guys and baseball turned bitter. On September 21, 1919, a group of Chicago White Sox players assembled in the Ansonia hotel room of first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil and agreed to throw the World Series for about $10,000 a man. The money was put up by Arnold “The Big Bankroll” Rothstein, the king of New York’s gambling houses. The Sox lost five games to three, playing so clumsily that suspicion arose, and baseball’s biggest scandal ever was set in motion. Though the players were found innocent by a 1921 grand jury, they were later banned from baseball for life.

Adding to the constant air of melodrama and excitement at the hotel around this time, the Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld moved into a ninth-floor suite with his first wife, the siren Anna Held, the greatest of all his Follies stars. When Held became pregnant, Ziegfeld demanded she undergo an abortion—in the apartment—so as not to affect her performance schedule. The showman kept a gold-painted, life-size statue of his voluptuous wife in the foyer. And in an apartment on the tenth floor, Ziegfeld kept an equally voluptuous mistress, another Follies showgirl named Lillian Lorraine.

If real life at the Ansonia had operatic overtones, it was appropriate to the music that seemed to fill its every room. It has been written that Stokes built the Ansonia for musicians, and that’s why the doors to each apartment were double-width, so grand pianos could easily be moved in and out. It’s also been claimed that the temperature-control system, a great benefit for sinuses, lured singers to the hotel. But there’s really no explanation as to why the Ansonia, of all the hotels in New York, turned into a “Palace for the Muses,” as West Side historian Peter Salwen named it.

But what is clear is that the Metropolitan Opera—looking to make a splash right around the time the Ansonia opened—was a factor. The financier Otto Kahn had joined the opera’s board, gradually taking control and buying up much of the Met’s stock, and he wanted to bring in stars. One of Kahn’s first decisions was to appoint the highly regarded Heinrich Conried director of the Met. Conried, looking to draw attention, presented Enrico Caruso at his 1903 American debut in Rigoletto—and the great tenor, it’s said, stayed at the brand-new Ansonia, though historians dispute whether he actually did.

More significant, when Conried retired in 1908, Kahn enticed the legendary manager of La Scala, Giulio Gatti-Casazza, to assume the role of general manager of the Met and moved him into the Ansonia. Gatti-Casazza was the Ziegfeld of opera, a showman who produced and booked all aspects of his productions. In turn, Gatti-Casazza insisted that Kahn also hire La Scala’s conductor, Arturo Toscanini, to work with him, and Kahn brought Toscanini and his family to live at the Ansonia. Dozens of opera stars followed them to New York, and almost all rented in the same building. Composers, too: Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gustav Mahler. Lauritz Melchoir, the foremost Wagnerian tenor in the world, lived in the building from 1926 to the early fifties and used his stuffed hunting trophies for archery practice in the hallways. At night the lobby would come alive as the stars returned from the opera house, hungry for dinner. Claques of fans congregated in the lobby, loudly debating the merits of their favorite stars.

The Ansonia even brought love to W.E.D. Stokes again: a 24-year-old Titian-haired beauty from Colorado named Helen Elwood, who was a hotel guest visiting her sister. Stokes and Elwood eloped in February 1911 to Jersey City. When the bride’s mother, back in Denver, found out that her daughter had married the notorious W.E.D. Stokes, she fainted, reported the Times.

A new wife didn’t stop Stokes from getting into another romantic tangle. In June, only four months after the marriage, the police found Stokes clinging to a banister on the fourth-floor landing of the Varuna Hotel on West 80th Street, bleeding profusely from three gunshot wounds in his legs. He was the victim of the wrath of two young women: Lillian Graham, a vaudeville showgirl booked as “The Great Emotional Psychic Actress,” and her girlfriend Ethel Conrad, a “dressmaker’s model.” The two had a fat packet of billets d’amour that Stokes had written, and when he went to retrieve them—or buy them back—the shooting broke out.

The subsequent trial became a huge tabloid news story, filling the Ansonia’s lobby with reporters and the curious for weeks. Stokes never once left his rooms at the hotel to testify in court, citing a variety of illnesses. On December 12, a specialist, Dr. Bolton Bangs, operated on him at the Ansonia for an “abscess of the left kidney.” Miraculously, the operation took only 45 minutes, not much less time than it took a jury to exonerate the two girls who shot him.

As for Helen Elwood, she stuck it out with Stokes for ten years after the shooting and even gave him two more children, a son, James, born in 1914, and a daughter, Helen Muriel, in 1915. She finally cracked when Stokes moved 47 chickens into their apartment. She hoped to end the marriage as quietly as possible and move back to Colorado.

Instead, Stokes sued his wife for infidelity, naming twelve men—including his own son—with whom he claimed she’d had sex. It was a calculated move driven by the New York State law of the time, which said that if Stokes could prove his wife had committed adultery, he could end their marriage at little cost. He presented in court a letter from Weddie—to whom, by this time, Stokes had transferred ownership of the Ansonia—backing up the assertion. Helen Elwood Stokes promptly sued Weddie for $1 million. There were two full-scale trials, plus an ancillary trial for perjury in Illinois, where Stokes had paid witnesses to say that his wife had worked in an infamous whorehouse. Both divorce petitions were denied, and eventually, Stokes settled with his wife, establishing an $800,000 trust fund for her and the two children; in return, she withdrew her libel suit against Weddie. In March 1925 in Illinois, after being found innocent of conspiring to fix a jury, Stokes told the court, “I haven’t very long to live, you know, but I’m going to try to do some good in the time that is left me.”

He was correct. Soon after, he said good-bye to his beloved Ansonia and moved across the street into a dreary four-story brownstone building, and there he died from lobar pneumonia on May 19, 1926, just four days before his 74th birthday.

Weddie, who as a young man had shown signs of inheriting his father’s brio and eccentricity, aged into a stern, difficult man who was afraid of germs and refused to enter the home of anyone with a cold. He never cared much about the Ansonia and left its operation to a series of management companies, one of which installed a miniature-golf course in the ballroom, and all of which let the building fall into disrepair. The restaurants and kitchens closed with the Depression. Although the Ansonia kept its “hotel” designation, it turned into a residence with no services. In 1930, the elegant central entrance on Broadway was bricked up and storefronts were installed.

In 1942, the most grievous affront to the building occurred. In a patriotic gesture, nearly all its glorious metal ornamentation was stripped to supply material for bullets and tanks for World War II. The copper cartouches on the corner domes, each seven feet tall and weighing half a ton, came down. The old cooling systems and pneumatic tubes were pried out of the walls. The skylight at the top of the staircase was tarred over to comply with blackout regulations, and it remains dark today.

Finally, in 1945, Weddie Stokes sold the Ansonia to a crooked landlord named Samuel Broxmeyer. He milked the building, offering discounts to get tenants to pay several years’ rent in advance, using the money to buy more buildings, and then absconding. Broxmeyer eventually got five years in jail, and the Ansonia was sold at bankruptcy auction for a pitiful $40,000 to one of its mortgage holders.

He was Jake Starr, the “great lamplighter of Broadway,” a pugnacious little man who wore a long black coat and a homburg that came down to his ears. Every day he strode up Broadway to the Ansonia from 42nd Street, where he ran Artkraft Strauss, the famous sign company that made (and makes) most of the marquees and billboards that earned Broadway the sobriquet “Great White Way.” He was so hard on his employees and family that years later, when Inc. magazine ran an article on Starr and his company, the editors titled it “Daddy Dearest.”

If Starr knew that he was buying an icon, he showed no recognition of it. Though the Times ran a story headlined THE HOTEL ANSONIA TO BE MODERNIZED when he bought the place, no modernization was forthcoming. Starr discovered to his great dismay that the Ansonia didn’t have a certificate of occupancy from the city, because it had been built before there was such a thing. It was, in effect, operating illegally as a hotel, which it really wasn’t anymore anyway. But to get a certificate of occupancy, the building needed to be brought up to code, and that would cost millions: The pipes were rusting, the roof leaked in dozens of places, and the balconies were held on with wire. So Starr did nothing, letting the Ansonia grow shabbier and shabbier while hundreds of complaints piled up at the Department of Buildings.

In 1968, Starr rented the abandoned basement swimming pool and Turkish baths to a former opera singer named Steve Ostrow, who fit perfectly in the great tradition of oddball entrepreneurs at the Ansonia. Ostrow believed that in the new era of gay liberation, the time was ripe for a luxurious gay bathhouse reminiscent of “the glory of ancient Rome,” as the ads said. In retrospect, the Continental Baths, as he named the place, was more Disneyland than hard-core sex palace (except for the orgy room, that is). It had palm fronds, flattering lighting, a waterfall that emptied into the pool, a discothèque, and, in one cubicle, drug dealers. A candy machine dispensed K-Y jelly, and a warning system of colored lights tipped off patrons when the vice squad dropped in.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Continental Baths was its cabaret. By the early seventies, going to the Continental Baths to watch an emerging act while sitting alongside the towel-clad young men at the pool was an au courant activity. The line to get in on a Saturday night went down the block, a mix of women in mink coats with their husbands in suits and gay men in leather jackets with their boyfriends. In some ways, it prefigured that other exotic mix of entertainment and public sex, Studio 54.

Part of the success of the Continental was that Ostrow managed to book an impressive group of budding stars, including, most famously, Bette Midler, then known as “Bathhouse Betty.” Her accompanist, Barry Manilow, played the piano occasionally dressed only in a towel. Melba Moore, Peter Allen, John Davidson, and the jazz vocal group Manhattan Transfer also appeared at the baths early in their careers. One night in 1973, the former Metropolitan Opera soprano Eleanor Steber, who lived upstairs, even recorded an album titled Live at the Bath House at the Continental. The crowd wore black towels in lieu of formalwear.

None of this amused Jake Starr. As the years passed, the building’s problems began to drive the irascible landlord “insane,” according to Harry Garland, one of the many voice teachers who lived and worked there. In 1968, when New York’s housing codes and laws were changed and residential “hotels” fell under the protection of the Rent Stabilization Board, Garland helped to form the building’s first tenants’ group, the Ansonia Residents Association, who pooled their money and hired a lawyer who successfully petitioned the court to freeze rents until repairs were made. Starr was so angry that “people were concerned for my safety,” Garland said.

The frozen rents brought Jake Starr—then nearly 80 years old—to a spiteful decision: The Ansonia would be better off demolished. In its stead would be built a 40-story tower that would “better serve the neighborhood,” as one of his lawyers put it when beginning the long process to evict the tenants and bring in the wrecking crew. Garland and the ARA parried, appealing to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to save the Ansonia.

“You’ll never get it landmarked,” Starr sputtered to Garland when he ran into him in the lobby. “I have the most powerful men in Washington representing me.” At a preliminary Landmarks hearing on April 18, 1970, Starr’s attorney told the commission, “The hotel’s architectural appearance is not worthy of designation of a landmark. I am not, nor is the owner, aware of any particular historic significance to the building.”

That did it. A weeklong protest and demonstration eventually followed; a petition drew 25,000 signatures, calling for Mayor John V. Lindsay to save the building. The finale of the week was a five-hour live performance held in the middle of 73rd Street, which was closed to traffic, starring many of the building’s tenants. A few months later, on March 15, 1972, after the intervention of Congresswoman Bella Abzug, it was done: The Ansonia Hotel became a landmark. But only the exterior of the building was protected, leaving Jake Starr to do what he wished with the inside—which was nothing. The Ansonia became a decaying shell.

In 1977, The Continental Baths closed. Gay men, it turned out, wanted to get down to business without straights ogling them, and they had decamped for the hard-core bathhouses that were opening all over the city. Once the men in towels were gone, so was the Continental charm. Steve Ostrow moved to Australia, where he founded a group named MAG (Mature Age Gays).

Another tenant soon moved into the basement, and things got decidedly worse. He was Larry Levenson, a fat, fortyish man who’d become known as a promoter of “swinging,” the practice of couples trading partners for sexual encounters. The club he opened, Plato’s Retreat, had a 50-seat Jacuzzi, mattresses lining the orgy room, and an eclectic clientele of celebrities, porn stars, and a lot of middle-class kinky types from the suburbs—dry-cleaners and their wives, fat men in toupees with their heavily made-up girlfriends. There was a “membership” fee at the door of $30 per couple—no single men allowed—and free booze and a buffet. Adding to the seedy atmosphere, a sex shop moved into a street-level storefront. Unattached men who were denied admission began to hang around the entrance to the building and solicit women. One of the building’s maintenance workers made a hole in the wall of the basement so the employees could check up on the activities, charging delivery guys $2 for a few minutes’ peek.

Jacob Starr died at age 86, shortly before Plato’s opened. He left his money in a trust that was forbidden to contribute to the upkeep of the building, which was left to his grandchildren. His heirs were eager to sell the building, but with frozen rent, legal problems, and a sex club in the basement with a long-term lease, it seemed hopeless.

About that time, the ramshackle Ansonia began to attract as tenants, for indefinable reasons, all sorts of mediums, psychics, spiritualists, and fortune-tellers. A Dr. Clifford Bias began holding quasi-religious services in a chapel off the lobby on Sunday afternoons. One week, Dr. Bias was blindfolded and summoning up the dead when the great singer Geraldine Farrar appeared to deliver the message, “The Ansonia isn’t what it used to be when I was there.”

The Ansonia’s final act—so far—began with Jesse Krasnow, a bespectacled man with calm blue eyes and a round, open face. Krasnow might have had only a summary appreciation of the provenance of the Ansonia when he bought it in 1978—heading up a group of 21 investors—but over the past 25 years, he’s become enraptured with the building. It has become his great love as well as the bane of his professional career.

When he took over, Krasnow’s plan was to fix the violations that Starr had run up and then ask the city to unfreeze the rents. (He also immediately moved to get Plato’s Retreat out of the basement, paying Levenson $1 million to go away.) Some elderly residents faced 300 percent increases. Outraged tenants accused Krasnow of doing only patchwork repairs. The leaky roof became a joke. “Every year the sap flows,” complained one tenant, “and every year Krasnow tars the roof of the Ansonia and it still leaks.” Even after Krasnow put $3.5 million into the roof, it still sometimes leaked.

He also caught hell for his taste. When he started renovating the hallways and stairwells, he began with one floor, the twelfth, and the tenants hated the (admittedly rather middle-class) results so much they started a new petition to have the interior of the Ansonia landmarked. The Times’ Paul Goldberger wrote a column headlined RESCUING THE ANSONIA FROM ITS RESCUERS. “Its corridors look like bowling alleys from the wrong side of the tracks … with grotesque, modern chandeliers of the sort that would cheapen even a Ramada Inn,” he wrote. “There are two kinds of rust-colored carpeting and two kinds of wallpaper, which manage neither to be attractive in themselves nor to go at all well together.”

Asked about this fight, Krasnow responds with a folder of photos. “This is what the place looked like,” he says. The photographs evoke the hallways of a medieval mental ward. “The halls were yellow. Dreary. Discolored linoleum, fluorescent lights, bare bulbs, and old tiles.” He shows a close-up of the ripped, patchy floor. “When you came out of the elevator, this is what you saw.”

Even as he poured money into the Ansonia—the partnership eventually took out $21 million in mortgages, all toward repairs, improvement, and a reserve fund, Krasnow says—he continued to enrage the residents. In 1980, the Ansonia Residents Association declared a rent strike. ARA members began to pay their rents into an escrow account, and they used the interest from the account to hire a lawyer to sue Krasnow. When that group seemed close to negotiating a compromise, another, more radical splinter group formed, with its own escrow account and its own lawsuit. The Ansonia Hotel became the single most litigated residence in the history of New York City. A housing-court judge was assigned full-time to the case, and over the next ten years, Krasnow found himself cast in the role of one of the city’s most villainous landlords.

In the long run, Krasnow realized the best way to make the building functional again was to buy out the tenants who were unhappiest, and in 1990, the tenants accepted a condo plan allowing them either to continue renting or to buy their apartments at a 60 percent discount. A one-bedroom would cost $125,000—way beyond the means of most Ansonia tenants. (These days, it costs about $800,000.) Today, 29 percent of the building is rent-protected, subsidized by Krasnow, who claims that he’s put almost $100 million into the building.

And now it’s his office as well: In 2003, he moved his operations from midtown into the Ansonia itself. He enjoys mingling with the residents, most of whom don’t recognize him. “The newer tenants don’t care about me,” he says, “and the older ones still have a good deal.” Krasnow keeps a curio cabinet in his office filled with Babe Ruth memorabilia. He’s spent the past 25 years trying to track down which apartment was Ruth’s, but nobody knows for sure.

For all the big numbers the apartments are fetching, the Ansonia Hotel remains a bit funky. Though the dusty dried floral display that sat in the lobby for years has been removed, somehow the building never looks as chic as most other high-priced condominiums. But a little dowdy is probably the way the Ansonia should look. And though the building’s senior concierge and historian, Vincent Joyce, recently retired after 35 years behind the desk, he still lives upstairs. “Lots of new people here,” he laments in his beautiful brogue. “People with children and nannies. There’s a lot of that now.” And although he pretends not to, he realizes that he’s just as irreplaceable a piece of the Ansonia as anyone in the past 100 years.

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