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Carter's View

The new owner of the Essex House at 160 Central Park West plans to convert up to about 90 of its hotel rooms to condominium apartments, which would bring the total in the 40-story building to about 200.

In September, 2005, the Dubai Investment Group paid $440 million to acquire the hotel portion of the building, with 606 rooms and 9 of its 148 condominium apartments and last month it initiated a $50 million renovation program.

In a February 28, 2006 article in The New York Post, Steve Cuozzo said that Frank van der post, a senior vice president with Jumeirah, said that no more than 15 percent of guest rooms would be converted to condominiums. Assuming that many of the hotel rooms to be converted will be combined to make larger condominium units, the building's total of such units is likely to rise to about 200.

The hotel marquee now proclaims "Jumeriah Essex House" reflecting the fact that Jumeirah Hospitality and Leisure has been designated by Dubai Investment to manage the property. Jumeriah operates several properties in the United Arab Emirates including the sensational Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai.

The hotel, which was designed by Frank Grad and erected in 1930, was originally called the Park Tower and then the Seville Towers.

In their fine book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between the World Wars," (Rizzoli International Publications, 1987), Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins noted that "there was little architectural rhetoric in the design; so little in fact that the hotel erected a huge illuminated sign on the roof to identify itself." Of course, the Depression was not a great time for luxury hotels. While it is true that this building's massing and design is conservative, indeed, laid back, it is nonetheless imposing in scale and appropriate for its context. Moreover, the rich ornamentation of its base is impressive and a good hint that the interiors might be special.

From the narrow sidewalk, of course, the rooftop sign is not visible but the hotel's handsome marquee and large Art Deco-style, gilded decorative elements along its broad base are. They are merely flourishes but are quite dramatic.

The property has changed hands several times in recent decades and now operates as both a hotel and a condominium. The condominium conversion occurred in 1974. Both the hotel, until recently operated by the Westin chain, and the apartments, now in the "St. Regis Club" section of the building on the 19th through the 39th floors, share one of the most impressive lobbies in the city.

The lobby extends through to 58th Street in a narrow, but handsome corridor along which are located the elevators, which have handsome Art Deco-style cab doors. The broad lobby facing the park has tasteful and comfortable seating and exceedingly impressive black-marble columns of very distinctive form. The ground floor also has a very large and handsome and very expensive restaurant, Alain Ducasse.

Like all Central Park South buildings, this building has great vistas of Central Park and the skylines of Upper Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. The building has a doorman, several concierges, and a garage.

With the elegant stores of Fifth Avenue and the boutiques of Madison Avenue nearby to the east and the varied attractions of the Lincoln Center district a few blocks away to the west, this location is very prime.

In the 1990s, Japan Airlines spent more than $130 million in renovating the property and in 1999, Strategic Hotel Capital bought the Essex House for more than $300 million and hired Starwood Hotels & Resorts to manage it.
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Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.
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