Why One Fifth Avenue Is Still One of NYC’s Most Star-Studded and Desirable Buildings
The nearly 100-year-old Art Deco structure has been home to entertainers like Jessica Lange, Patti Smith, and more
Earlier this year, an apartment in the historic Greenwich Village building One Fifth Avenue was scooped up less than twenty-four hours after being listed. That the $7 million unit was a full-floor apartment on the 25th floor with 360-degree views of New York City no doubt helped expedite the rapid sale. But it’s the location in one of the neighborhood’s most coveted addresses, some would say, that really moved things at wig-snatching speed.
For decades, creatives of all types, including celebs, have made a mad dash toward the historic structure. Candace Bushnell based her 2008 novel on the building’s mystique and even titled the book after its address. Anna Wintour and the cast of Saturday Night Live (respectively) regularly made their way down to the building’s first-floor restaurant back in the late ’80s. But just what makes this building so special?
Built in 1927, One Fifth Avenue sits just two blocks north of the stunning and ever active Washington Square Park, making it a short walking distance from several downtown hot spots like SoHo, Chelsea, East Village, and Union Square. “Location, as we always say, in real estate, is paramount. You couldn’t ask for a better location anywhere below 14th Street,” says Douglas Elliman’s William Martin, the agent who held that 24-hour listing.
One Fifth Avenue is also a rare bird when it comes to height and views in The Village, due to some very special conditions. “Because most of the neighborhood is in a landmark district,” Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation tells AD, “and because some of the neighborhood has what’s called contextual zoning, it doesn’t allow you to build large or tall buildings in most circumstances.” With no skyscrapers and very few high-rises in the area, apartments in the 27-story building, with its exposures in every possible direction, are perpetually lusted over.
Personalities like multiple-award-winning actor Jessica Lange and her director, actor, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright partner of almost thirty years, Sam Shepard (who passed away in 2017), called the building home. Punk rock legend and feminist icon Patti Smith (who happened to be a creative collaborator, lover, and “buddy” of Sheppard before his relationship with Lange) lived there with her rockstar boyfriend Allan Lanier up until the mid-1980s, according to Curbed. Patti Smith’s friend and photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, also shot the cover of Smith’s highly influential solo debut album, Horses, upstairs in art curator Sam Wagstaff’s “spartan, all-white, and nearly empty” penthouse apartment, as told by Smith in her book, Just Kids.
The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and his wife Patti Hansen also owned a unit in the acclaimed building. Blythe Danner, Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom, bought an apartment on the 17th floor in 2007 for $3.125 million; the year before, she had sold her eighth-floor unit, where Brad Pitt and Paltrow lived when they were an item back in the ’90s. (According to public records, Danner seems to still live in the building.) Other notable names who were residents at some point include James Burrows, cocreator of the hit television show Cheers; Scarface director Brian De Palma; and former couple Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter.
Boldface names are not all One Fifth Avenue has to offer—the building is also architecturally significant. Evan Neely, who is a professor of the history of New York City architecture at Pratt Institute, tells AD that lead designer Harvey Wiley Corbett is “really one of the progenitors of Art Deco” style and this building, with its combination of pointed arches, projecting tower to the top, and vertical colored trompe l’oeil brickwork that creates a false 3D shadow, is a reflection of the early stages of Art Deco taking shape.
Built originally as an apartment-hotel for the well-heeled, artists started moving into the building only after it was converted to a co-op in 1976. Some of those tenants of relatively modest means still live in the building or have passed their units down to subsequent generations. They mingle regularly with the überfamous, adding to the building’s allure. As one of the few full-service buildings in Greenwich Village, staff are attentive to all and protective of everyone’s privacy, Martin says: “The neighbors know each other. A lot of people meet in the lobby and talk to the doorman; it’s almost like its own mini community.”