HISTORY: Considered the oldest large apartment house in New York City, the Windemere was built in 1881, before the Gramercy (1883) and the Dakota (1884). Architect Theophilus Smith designed the Windemere in Romanesque revival style. The brickwork is intricate with a great variety of patterning. The triangular high point of the cornice faces West 57th Street. The marble-columned entrances also front West 57th Street rather than Ninth Avenue.
You'll notice that a number of buildings in Hell's Kitchen have their main decorated entrance on the side street, rather than the avenue. This was a characteristic response of the architects or builders to the presence of the Ninth Avenue Elevated Railway, which dominated the avenue until it was torn down in 1941.
FRENCH FLATS: In the latter part of the nineteenth century, most comfortably off New Yorkers lived in one-family dwellings, such as the brownstone. Multiple dwellings were associated with the poor and working class who inhabited the city's tenements. The new large apartment buildings were termed "French flats" to make the idea of apartment house living attractive to middle and upper class New Yorkers.
The Windemere was fitted up in luxurious style. Here is howThe New York Times described the Windemere when it opened in 1881:
THE NEW WOMAN: In the late 1880s, the Windemere was transformed into a dwelling for the recently emancipated "new woman" by Henry Stirling Goodale. Apartments were redesigned for independent single business women, whose numbers were growing and who needed small apartments in respectable residences.
THE WINDEMERE TODAY: It's apparent to the most casual observer that Windemere has a derelict look. Currently, only several units are occupied in the mix of 150 apartments and SROs (singe room occupancy rooms). Up until the 1970s, the Windemere was fully tenanted. Many tenants were forced out of their homes during the 1970s and early 80s as a result of the landlord's efforts to vacate the building for demolition and redevelopment. An application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for landmarking of the Windemere was submitted in 1988.