At the beginning of the 20th century, the city’s elite built mansions along Fifth Avenue modeled on French chateaux. But those who didn’t have the cash — or land — to build entire castles could at least incorporate one feature often reserved for royalty (or fairy tales): the turret.
The addition of the rounded tower instantly communicates the fortress-like qualities of a home — and the city’s robber barons (with surnames like Frick, Carnegie and Vanderbilt) certainly believed they were the masters of the universe.
A century later, city turrets that have survived render their facades impressive and also create unique — often circular and windowed — interior spaces.
Many turreted homes are on the Upper West Side. By 1900, with nearly every lot on Fifth Avenue spoken for, developers turned toward the Hudson, envisioning Riverside Drive as the new Fifth Avenue.
Take 327 W. 76th St., just a few houses east of Riverside. The grand seven-bedroom, six-bathroom townhouse was built around 1891 by architect Charles T. Mott — with a prominent front turret — and custom-designed for William Brewster, America’s top horse-drawn carriage manufacturer. The home, currently on the market for $12.9 million and repped by Wolf Jakubowski at Brown Harris Stevens, has a facade of brick so red that late architecture critic Christopher Gray once described it as going “off like five-alarm chili.” Later, it became the home of Cyrus Clark, dubbed “the father of the West Side” for his tireless championing of the neighborhood.
In 2010, Leonard and Moira Zelin paid $8.8 million for the 8,000-square-foot townhouse, drawn to the “highly unique and unusual architecture of the exterior.” Leonard, a 59-year-old investment manager, also likes the home’s high ceilings (“some are 15 feet tall, which amazed us”) and “abundance of light.”
Though marketed as a turret — as are many curved architectural features — the spaces at the Zelins’ home function as intimate rooms surrounded by oversize bay windows. “The round spaces in the home are cozy,” Zelin says. “The lower floor is used for reading and intimate conversation. … The living room is the perfect spot for our baby grand piano.”
Interior Marketing Group’s Christina Slater, who staged the home, tucked “a stately desk into the turret” on another floor, thus “making the room a multi-functional office, den or guest suite.”
But with the Zelins’ three boys out of the house, the empy nesters are ready to sell 327 W. 76th St., which originally hit the market in 2016 asking $19 million.
Less than half a block away is 40 Riverside Drive — another impressive mansion with a turret on the market. The entire block of Riverside Drive between 76th and 77th streets, including No. 40, was designed by architect and developer Clarence True in the early 1890s to be more elegant than the common brownstones.
The current owner, hedge funder Roy G. Niederhoffer, 53, describes the corner turret as one of the 10,720-square-foot, seven-bedroom, nine-bathroom home’s most desirable features.
Its deck “overlooks the river,” Niederhoffer says. “You can see all the way around from Central Park.” And because the manse is on a crest of hilly Riverside Drive, turning west offers “a panoramic view from Newark to the George Washington Bridge.”
To have an open turret is extremely rare, as many are topped by conical roofs known as “pepper-pots.” But 40 Riverside’s turret has boasted a terrace since at least the 1920s, when the home was owned by Max D. Brill — a clothier who also owned Broadway’s Brill Building, famously occupied by popular songwriters.
Asking $12.99 million with Dexter Guerrieri of Douglas Elliman, 40 Riverside has its own share of musical history, from its first owner, 19th-century theater impresario Henry Miner, to Niederhoffer himself, a pianist and former chair of the board of the New York City Opera.
Niederhoffer, who paid about $12 million for the property in 2013, found the turret’s fourth floor was “the perfect spot to put a piano. Acoustically, it was a lot of fun,” he says, recalling “party after party where we’d have musicians gathered around the piano.”
The Upper West Side isn’t the only turret-filled neighborhood in the city. The mock Tudor-lined streets of Forest Hills Gardens, for example, are dotted with them — but none on the market right now. In Harlem, a townhouse at 730 St. Nicholas Ave. with a magnificent corner turret is on the market for $5.1 million.
The Bronx’s upscale Riverdale enclave is also full of fantastical castle-like properties — including the 5,158-square-foot stone specimen owned by Alec Diacou and his wife, Suzi Arensberg.
For Diacou, 64, who founded Rosalyn Yalow Charter School near Yankee Stadium, living in a castle came naturally: His father grew up in one in Greece.
Driving by 4720 Grosvenor Ave. in 2004, Diacou says, he “eyed the castle turret, asked if the house was for sale and bought it [for $1.8 million]. Love at first sight!”
The five-bedroom, three-bathroom home, which has been on and off the market since 2012 asking as much as $3.75 million and is currently listed for $2.89 million with Compass’ Peter Browne, is filled with Gothic touches, including arched doorways and a brick turret on one side. But making the tower a practical part of the home was “extremely challenging,” Diacou adds.
“The interior of the turret was a square bathroom with a clawfoot bathtub off of the maid’s room,” he says. “When I upgraded the castle with modern amenities — electricity and lights, to name a few — I decided to expand the kitchen … which meant ripping out the bath, finishing the interior of the brick turret, and turning the area into breakfast nook.”
At The Shephard — an 1896 warehouse at 275 W. 10th St. converted into condos four years ago — a four-bedroom penthouse is on the market for $20.95 million from Alexa Lambert at Compass. Though the building was originally designed as a commercial space, it has a curved corner, conforming to the “turret-y” aesthetic of the time — which means modern-day denizens reap the benefits of a redesign but still enjoy cozy rounded spaces and a regal exterior.
Turrets may have been an outward display of wealth a century ago, but the way they capture natural light by spanning more than 180 degrees (the way a window would) is what makes them an asset to indoor life, too. On every floor, Niederhoffer says, 40 Riverside is filled with “gorgeous light from sunrise to sunset.”
Even though turrets are associated with castles — and, indeed, such houses seem to appeal to buyers with a keen sense of privacy — Niederfhoffer says the imposing facade is balanced out by how open and airy they feel.
And if you can’t buy? Rent. The landmarked portion of the Beekman Hotel and Residences in the Financial District has two suites in its twin 10th-floor turrets that go for $6,500 a night and up.
Each duplex, debuted in 2017, features a steeply pitched roof hung with Beaux-Arts-inspired chandeliers, a full dining room, an antique fireplace and a soaking tub. Be the king of the castle, indeed.