by Noah Diamond
It seems you simply canâ€™t look at the majestic skyline of Central Park South without thinking of the wordsÂ Essex House. Thatâ€™s because of the gigantic red neon letters which sayÂ Essex House. They sit atop a stately 1931 art deco skyscraper, known, by no coincidence, as the Essex House.
This 43-story luxury hotel was designed by Frank Grad, and was originally known as the Park Tower. Later it became the Seville Towers. In 1974, 148 of its suites wereÂ converted to condominiums. In 2005 the Dubai Investment Group acquired the hotel portion of the building, along with a small number of its condominiums. The purchase cost $440 million, and the ensuing renovation project cost an additional $50 million. Much of the original dÃ©cor was restored, and the neon sign repaired. The hotel is managed by the Jumeirah Group. Its official name, in fact, is now Jumeirah Essex House, but that name is used even less often than Avenue of the Americas.
Since 2006, more of the hotel rooms have been converted to condominiums, bringing the total number of residential units to around 250. Condominium life at the Essex House has much in common with a luxury hotel stay, including room service, housekeeping, valet parking, dry cleaning and laundry services, a fitness center, and a business center.Â The apartmentsÂ range in size from 520 square-foot studios to epic five-bedroom suites, and they range in price from $6,550,000 down to a modest $1,050,000.
Although not as deeply embedded in popular culture as some other Manhattan luxury buildings, like the Dakota or the San Remo, the Essex House is known for itsÂ connection toSaturday Night LiveÂ (â€œGuests ofÂ Saturday Night LiveÂ stay at the Essex House,â€ announcer Don Pardo used to say, in the showâ€™s early years). It was also, famously, the home of Igor Stravinsky from 1969 until his death in 1971. Its current celebrity tenants include Angelina Jolie, Jude Law, and Samuel L. Jackson.
But what sets the building apart from others is its most identifiable feature â€“ those blinding letters up on top. Like the similarly-labeled New Yorker Hotel on 34thÂ Street, the Essex House is a building anyone can identify. Go to Central Park, and find one of the parkâ€™s many perches from which the Central Park South skyline is visible. If you wait long enough, youâ€™ll see someone point to the Essex House, turn to his or her companion, and announce, with the air of an erudite urbanist: â€œNow, thatâ€™s the Essex House.â€