With all the luxury condos going up in New York City today, many people still maintain a soft spot for the city’s prewar apartment buildings. You’ll see them all around town—on Central Park West and Fort Washington Avenue in Manhattan; on Pelham Parkway and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx; and on Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.
When people say “prewar,” they usually mean buildings constructed between the two World Wars—between 1918, when World War I ended, and 1941, when the U.S. entered World War II. True, there were many elegant, luxury apartment houses built before World War I, especially in such upper-class havens as Riverside Drive and Central Park West, but at that point in history, tenements were more common.
Never Out of Style
And what happened to all the prewar buildings? Well, those that were walk-ups, and those that happened to be in deteriorating neighborhoods such as the South Bronx, began to decline, and many were abandoned. But in other areas, such as Midwood and Park Slope, well-built and well-maintained prewar elevator buildings hung on. Many of them were rehabilitated and converted to co-ops during the co-op boom of the 1980s, when block after block went co-op. And prewar buildings in places like the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side never stopped being fashionable.
Although exact figures are hard to come by, Cara Marino, a public relations spokeswoman for the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) estimates that today in Manhattan, about two-thirds of the co-op buildings are prewar, with the remainder postwar. As far as condos are concerned, about three-quarters of the units are postwar, with the rest prewar (the organization only has figures for condo units, not buildings).
What are some of the differences between older and newer buildings in the city? According to Neil Sonnenberg of the accounting firm Rosen Seymour Shapps Martin & Co. in Manhattan, “Aside from their age, I would say the prewar buildings have a more established base of residents, with less turnover. You have more people that are really buying to live there, not to turn over the property. In new structures, many are there for investments—perhaps for flipping.”