Magazine Preview: The 106th Street Castle
Written by Bwog Staff
The newest issue of The Blue and White will soon arrive. Until then, enjoy the magazine in its entirety as we preview it on Bwog.
Morningside old timers remember “the castle” at 106th and Central Park West as it once was. Not an inch of the restored structure betrays its past today, but for 40 years, the five crumbling turrets of 455 Central Park West dotted the skyline with decay. Only rats, squatters, and ghosts called its cluttered hallways home.
The castle first opened its doors in 1890 as the New York Cancer Hospital, a state-of-the-art experimental facility and the only one of its kind in the U.S. To visit the building in those days would have felt like stepping into the Loire Valley–its French Renaissance revivalarchitecture gleamed with red brick and black ironwork, and its circular turrets lent a romantic grandeur to its grim medical mission. (The round towers were, in fact, functionally designed to eliminate the corners where physicians once believed germs collected and grew.)
Breakthroughs in the use of radium for cancer treatment put the castle-cum-hospital at the forefront of the medical world, but by 1955 the hospital vacated the circular wards for a more modern facility. The center then became the Towers Nursing Home–a low-rent elder-care facility shuttered in 1974 for abusing and swindling its residents–before falling into total neglect. For the next 30 years, the castle lay abandoned, saved from demolition by a timely landmarks designation and the periodic, but fruitless, chatter of possible renovation projects.
A white knight finally rode to the castle’s rescue in 2003. After purchasing it in the late 1990s, developer Dan McLean finally succeeded in corralling funds to restore the building by convincing Columbia University to help cover the $150 million needed. In return, McLean would set aside for Columbia faculty 15 floors of a luxury apartment tower he planned to build and attach to the restored structure. In just two years, the castle was recreated as a complex of luxury condos so chic that they attracted the attention of celebrities like Phil Collins and Bill Clinton.
Now called “The Towers,” the once-decrepit castle stands today as a clean, beautiful model of Victorian institutional architecture and, as Sarah Bernard of New York Magazine put it on the eve of the restoration, a monument to “the winds of uptown gentrification.”
Illustration by Adela Yawitz