New York City apartment towers on record-setting pace

For more than 50 years, New York City's tallest residential building was a mere 632 feet. But supertall spires will set a new standard five times this decade.

Bill de Blasio

Photo: Courtesy of The Skyscraper Museum
Illustration of the consecutive towers that claimed the record for New York’s tallest residential building.


By Erik Engquist and Crains

Four years after the Sherry-Netherland impressed New Yorkers in 1927 with a spire reaching 560 feet above the ground, the Waldorf Astoria topped it. For more than a half-century, the 632-foot luxury hotel-apartment combination on Park Avenue endured as the city’s tallest residential structure.

These days, the once-towering Waldorf could be considered quaint, not to mention squat. At least five buildings this decade will set a new standard for height among New York City residential structures, according to researchreleased this week by the Skyscraper Museum.

The tallest of them all will be the Central Park Tower, which is to reach its 1,775-foot peak in 2019, ending the projected one-year reign of 111 W. 57th St. Both buildings will have retail space on the lower floors and hotel rooms above, but most of their height will be devoted to apartments.

The current record holder, One57, last year became the city’s first residential tower to break the 1,000-foot barrier. The supertall 432 Park Ave., however, will smash that mark when it opens this year with a 1,396-foot peak. From 2011 through 2014, 8 Spruce St. claimed the top spot, but the Frank Gehry-designed rental building will increasingly find itself looking up at condominiums across Manhattan.

The Waldorf’s 51-year record stood until 1982, when Harry Macklowe’s Metropolitan Tower crossed the 700-foot plateau. CitySpire blew by the 800-foot mark in 1987. Both had offices on their lower levels, but most of their floors were apartments. Donald Trump erased any doubts about what qualified as the city’s tallest residential building in 2001 with his monolithic Trump World Tower.

The spate of supertall spires is being powered by improvements in building techniques and by the stratospheric prices being paid for large dwellings with commanding views. Many of the buyers are foreigners who perceive Manhattan real estate to be a safe long-term investment.

The rapidly changing skyline has raised the hackles of neighbors of Central Park because of the lengthy (if thin) shadows the towers will cast over the city’s premier green space at certain times of the year. Community Board 5, the Municipal Art Society and a cadre of Manhattan elected officials have been particularly vocal. But the Department of City Planning said this month it has no plans to change the zoning to prevent more tall, slender buildings from going up—and up, and up.