The Century is a 1931 Art Deco apartment building located along Central Park West in Manhattan, New York City. It was constructed at a cost of $6.5 million and designed by the firm of Irwin S. Chanin.
Architecturally, it is cast in the Art Deco style, which causes it stand out from many of its neighbors, which are designed in the Beaux-Arts style. The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places, as a contributing property to the Central Park West Historic District, in 1982. The building, also part of a local historic district, is one of the three tallest structures within the boundaries of the district. A tenant-landlord dispute at The Century was ongoing for most of the 1980s. As of 2010, properties within the building sold for as much as US$19,000,000.History
The Century apartment building is located on the former site of the Century Theatre, which was demolished in 1930-31 to make way for the apartments. The building name, The Century, is derived from the common name of the theater which had occupied the site.
Architect Irwin S. Chanin's office executed a US$1.25 million bond to guarantee the construction of "a twenty-nine story apartment building" at 25 Central Park West on October 25, 1930. The construction was handled by another Chanin company, Chanin Construction Company. Construction would require over 3,000,000 ft (914,400 m) of electrical wiring, three times what was required for the 56-story Chanin Building. The address, between 62nd and 63rd Streets was once the site of the Century Theatre, which Chanin acquired in order to build on the site. The Century Theatre was initially well-backed by many wealthy New Yorkers but it quickly lost money. The theater was still being demolished in late October 1930 when Chanin's firm secured a $6.5 million loan from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company for the construction of The Century. As the moves to begin The Century project were occurring, Chanin's The Majestic was already under construction nearby, in the 100 block of Central Park West.
Theater demolition pushed forward through early November. In the November 9, 1930 edition of the New York Times Irwin Chanin remarked regarding construction of The Majestic and The Century. He noted that, together, the two projects would employ a daily average of 3,000 men with rates of pay identical "those in vogue during the boom days of 1927 when we were erecting the Chanin Building." In January 1931, with demolition at the theater site winding down, a time capsule was pulled from the cornerstone of the Century Theatre. Among its contents was a congratulatory letter from U.S. President at the time of the theater's construction, Theodore Roosevelt.
October 1930 predictions had scheduled the building for completion by October 31, 1931. By April 1931 construction began and by the end of May 1931 the steel structure for The Century was complete up to its 15 floor. Within thirty days the entire steel structure was complete, rapid progress made possible by, according Irwin Chanin "coordination and overlapping of various trades employed." On June 21, 1931 it was reported that the average number of workers since the beginning of construction was 1,050, with up to 1,400 employed at one time. Original predictions, by Chanin, estimated 1,500 men would be employed, on average per day, for a period of one year during construction. By September 1931 work on The Century was nearing completion and apartments were already being offered for rent.
The 1980s saw controversy surround The Century. The building was purchased in 1982 by an investment group and a proposal that thirteen months would have created a cooperative corporation of The Century. The proposal offered to sell the building, purchased for $36 million, to the tenants for $110 million. That proposal was quickly nixed by the New York State Attorney General's Office but it engendered a long running "kill or be killed relationship" between the building's tenants and its owners. In 1983 tenants accused owners of neglecting to maintain the property and sought court action against the owners. Lawyers representing about 200 tenants described the building as a slum "with crumbling walls both inside and out, vermin infestation, extensive leaks, and virtually everything else that can go wrong with a structure." The move was one in a tenant-owner dispute that would last until 1989 when an agreement was finally reached. The New York Times called the dispute, "one of the longest, bitterest conversion fights in Manhattan apartment house history." It ended with a compromise that allowed tenants in 229 of the 410 apartments to purchase their apartments at prices which were estimated to be one half or one third the market rate. By February 1989 several of the apartments new owners had sold their individual properties at profits exceeding $1,000,000. The investment group that purchased the building in 1982, Century Apartment Associates, saw their investment rise in value from $36 million to around $140 million.
In the 21st century, as it has been historically, The Century is largely an upscale apartment house. As of May 2010 six bedroom apartments in The Century sold for around $19,000,000 with one bedrooms selling for between $875,000 and $1,675,000.Architecture
The Century, along with its one year older sister building, The Majestic, was among the first residential buildings to use what had been predominantly an office building style of architecture. Both The Century and The Majestic stand 30-stories and their Art Deco motifs stand in contrast to the Beaux-Arts buildings that surround them. The building was designed by the Office of Irwin S. Chanin, with Architectural Director Jacques Delamarre at the head of the design team. It was then constructed in 1930 and/or 1931, sources vary slightly.
The Century features art deco "machine-inspired" towers and cantilevered floor slabs. The floor slabs prevent the necessity of corner columns thus allowing the building to be fitted with large corner windows. The three ornate entrances face Central Park West, 62nd, and 63rd Streets. During the 1980s the building held 410 apartments, ranging in size from one to eight bedrooms; 52 of the apartments had large terraces. The main lobby, on the ground floor, houses professional offices.Significance
The building is a contributing property to the Central Park West Historic District, which was recognized by the U.S. National Register of Historic Places when its nomination was accepted on November 9, 1982. It is one of four "twin-towered" structures in the historic district, including The Eldorado, and The San Remo. Collectively these buildings contribute to the unique skyline of the Upper West Side along Central Park West. The Century was designated a local landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on July 10, 1985. The designation subjects improvements and changes to the property to various local regulations and rules administered by the Landmarks Commission. Upon its designation as a local landmark the Commission staff remarked that The Century was a "sophisticated essay in Art Deco design exhibiting a complex balance of horizontal and vertical elements." At 30 floors it and two other structures hold the title of the tallest building in the federally designated Central Park West Historic District. The height of the buildings were shaped primarily by the Multiple Dwelling Act of 1929 which allowed apartment buildings no higher than 19 stories. The law provided an exclusion for taller buildings, such as The Century, if a building site was sufficiently large and the building itself occupied no more than 20% of the site.The apartment building shares a name with its site's predecessor, the Century Theatre, which was commonly known as simply, The Century.