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Manhattan’s Architectural Rarity: Chelsea’s O’Neill Penthouse with Gold Cupola

The tower now serves as a circular media room while the airy duplex is further graced with walls of windows, statement interior features and multiple expansive outdoor spaces

The scope of the O’Neill Building’s penthouse is unique in all of New York City. Spanning 4,819 square feet of light-drenched interior space and an additional 2,549 square feet of outdoor terraces on two levels, the residence is located in this historic building, brilliantly restored to the highest levels of luxury. The stand-out feature of the building is two neo-Grec style gold-painted cupolas, one of which comprises a most unique room in the penthouse. The gilded circular tower with 20-foot ceilings is currently used as the penthouse’s media room but could also be converted to a bedroom.

The glass-walled great room spans 53 feet and is anchored by a signature staircase leading to the private master suite.

“This unique architectural feature was reprised from the original 1887 building design a century later when the building was restored to its former magnificence,” says Kate Meier, one of three brokers representing the property. “The gold cupolas were set atop what was then a thriving women’s department store and said to have enthralled passengers riding the elevated train and were also credited with increasing the store’s foot traffic.”

The distinctive Neo-Grec gold cupola was reprised during the building's recent renovation and is currently used as a cozy media room.

The building is named for Hugh O’Neill, an Irish immigrant, who commissioned his building, the first to span a full city block, to house Mr. O’Neill’s wildly successful department store. At its height, the store employed 2,500 people and offered everything from imported French flowers to silk, laces, perfume, feathers, fashion, and a millinery department with gilded columns and walls finished in Japanese paper.

The windows are so large because the original business was not supplied with electricity, only natural light, while also allowing passengers on the passing elevated trains to see the wares on display inside.

Chelsea, the vibrant neighborhood to the south of Midtown, is ideal for strolling, shopping, dining, and gallery-hopping.

Neo-Grec architecture epitomized restraint, a pendulum swing from the more florid Italianate style, popular in New York City until the late 1800s. Architect Mortimer C. Merritt designed the O’Neill building in the Neo-Grec style—notable for its clean lines, Corinthian columns, and elegantly simple carved exterior details. The gold cupolas where incorporated to make the building stand out in the newly booming retail enclave, later designated the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, created by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1989.

The intervening years were not kind to the building. Following Mr. O’Neill’s death in 1902, the business faltered, the building was occupied by a myriad of businesses and the gilded cupolas were removed soon after World War II. When plans were submitted to the preservation committee to convert the building to condominiums in 2005, a deciding factor for approval was the developer’s intent to restore the gold cupolas. “This home presents the unique opportunity to live in a storied chapter of New York City’s history,” Brian Meier, who is also representing the penthouse.

The expansive terrace off the main living areas is a rarity due to its size and ideal for alfresco entertaining.

The four-bedroom, three-and-one-bath duplex is introduced by a dramatic glass-walled great room spanning 53 feet, connecting to the circular cupola room and opening to enormous limestone terraces flanking its eastern and southern exposures. The home’s walls of windows and glass doors, totally some 220 feet, invite in a superlative amount of light from its fifth and sixth floor penthouse vantage. The wood floored great room flows from the gallery, dining room and living room, with ample space to accommodate a grand piano.

A statement staircase of mahogany and wrought-iron ascends to the sunny master suite, which occupies the entire second level. This pampering space includes an upper gallery, oversized bedroom, a large dressing area, and a deluxe bathroom with a tub positioned to enjoy the city skyscape. A smaller terrace, appointed with large pots of plantings, is accessible from the bedroom and bath.

All four of the penthouse's light-drenched bedrooms, three of which are en suite, open to terraces.

Two other en suite bedrooms are located on the first floor and open to the southern terrace. Also on the first level is the chef’s kitchen with a service entrance discretely entered through the butler’s pantry. Tucked next to the kitchen is a private study with a door leading to the east terrace. “Outdoor space is a premium in New York and these terraces are exceptional.,” adds broker Geoffrey Gottlieb. “They can comfortably accommodate distinctive areas for alfresco entertaining, pre-dinner cocktails, and more intimate nooks for sunning or reading. The multiple large planters provide rare opportunities to introduce nature to its urban setting.”

The full-service luxury condominium is pet friendly, located in the thriving Chelsea neighborhood, and is served by a full-time doorman and concierge.