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The Covetables

Yes, we’d all like to live in the Dakota. Or 740 Park, the Beresford, or 15 CPW. In addition to those old standbys of lust-worthiness, the city is brimming with slightly less bold-faced but equally desirable buildings—that are just as impossible to penetrate. Here, a peek inside the Red Hook rental with a 40-person wait list, the Fifth Avenue co-op straight out of an Edith Wharton novel, and the $525-a-month Chelsea studio.

The Perfectly Quaint Mews:
Sniffen Court
Back in the 1800s, the city’s mews houses were used as shelter for carriages and the pungent animals that pulled them. In the early twentieth century, these carriage houses were either demolished or restored as quaint, picturesque cobblestoned alleys. Of these, Sniffen Court, a charming nook with only ten houses off East 36th Street that were intended as stables for affluent families in nearby mansions, is one of the most Currier & Ives–esque. Built by three developers (none of them, incidentally, John Sniffen, to whom it supposedly owes its Seussian name), the street is beloved because of its petiteness—the better to take in its charms in one fell swoop, says Andrew Dolkart, director of the historic-­preservation program at Columbia University—and, according to a Landmarks Preservation Commission report, it boasts “well-preserved original buildings whose exteriors are altered only in minor details.” Very few houses have changed hands over the years, though TV host Graham Norton reportedly bought one in 2003 for $3 million. Another sold in 2008 for $4.75 million.
Other quaint mews: Grace Court Alley, Washington Mews, Warren Place Mews, Patchin Place.

Illustration by Jason Lee  

The Affordable Chelsea Apartment:
Penn South on Eighth Avenue
A limited-equity co-op similar to Mitchell-Lama buildings, which were built to provide inexpensive housing for middle-income earners, Penn South (official name: Mutual Redevelopment Houses, Inc.) is that rare bird—affordable housing that doesn’t sacrifice location. Its apartments go for $23,300 a room, meaning a two-bedroom would cost a buyer roughly $105,000 (the kitchen and the living room are part of the room count). Unsurprisingly, the wait is interminable, with 5,400 would-be residents on a list (that’s incidentally closed), and a delay of about seventeen years. But unlike some Mitchell-Lama buildings, Penn South remains a beacon of affordability for the foreseeable future. Its tenants voted in 2011 to continue as an income-restricted co-op until 2030.
See also: Cadman Towers.

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