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Upper West Siders Declare War on Peace Sign

By Leslie Albrecht | July 28, 2011 6:40am | Updated on July 28, 2011 9:06am

UPPER WEST SIDE — Ansonia residents don't want to give peace a chance.

Some occupants of the landmarked building — just blocks from the Dakota building home of John Lennon, who wrote "Give Peace a Chance" — and some of their neighbors have declared war on a neon red anti-war sign that shines from a window.

They say the glowing symbol perched on the top floor of the graceful building, on Broadway and West 73rd Street, is marring the Ansonia's beauty and ruining the skyline.

"It’s terrible," complained a 10-year resident of the Ansonia who didn't want her name used.

"It’s so unattractive. That person seems to be imposing his decorating taste on the neighborhood. The residents take a lot of pride in the architecture of the building and it detracts from the architecture. It’s all you see at night."

The unhappy tenant isn't alone. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, has fielded several angry complaints about the gleaming international sign of goodwill. She's asked the Department of Buildings to investigate whether the peace sign could be illegal.

Neighbors say the scarlet peace sign has been illuminated 24 hours a day for several months. None of the Ansonia tenants interviewed by DNAinfo knew the mystery peacenik who put up the anti-war symbol.

The Ansonia's property managers declined to comment.

The peace symbol, which is barely visible during the day but glows brightly at night, appears to be inside a plum 17th-floor apartment with a domed turret. The sign is affixed to a round window on the turret on the southeast corner of the building.

Above it is a widow's walk, one of many romantic details that make the Beaux Arts-style building, completed in 1904, one of the historic gems of the Upper West Side.

Neighbor Kathleen Murphy, who can see the peace symbol clearly from the roof of her building on West 73rd Street, says the lighted sign spoils an elegant skyline that preservationists have fought hard to safeguard from new development.

"It's such a gorgeous building," said Murphy. "The Upper West Side is about preserving what's beautiful and historic. (The sign) is jarring. I don't want to sound like a crazy Upper West Sider, but as it gets darker at night, it's ugly."

But one Ansonia resident called the peace sign "beautiful." The tenant, who also didn't want her name used for fear of angering the building's board, said it would be a "shame" to take down the peace symbol.

"I love it," she said. "I think it's so great. I want to support the person who put it up. I'm glad they did it."

Neighbors recently succeeded in getting Duane Reade to remove brightly lit signs at its new store at West 72nd Street and Broadway, a block from the Ansonia. But they could face an uphill battle removing a sign from a private residence, said attorney Robert Braverman of Braverman and Associates, which specializes in condo and coop law.

"It’s somebody’s home," Braverman said. "They can generally, as long as they’re not violating any local, state or federal law, or the condo's governing documents, decorate it as they see fit."

Some condo buildings prohibit window decorations, Braverman said. If that's the case at the Ansonia, the building's board could demand removal of the sign, then fine the tenant if they didn't comply. If that didn't work, the condo board could take the matter to court and ask a judge to order the sign removed.

The anti-peace sign contingent could have city zoning laws at least partly on their side.

While a peace symbol could be allowed on an apartment building because it's considered "non-commercial speech" protected by the First Amendment, illuminated signs aren't generally allowed in residential areas, a DOB spokeswoman said.

However, DOB is still investigating the sign at the Ansonia and hasn't made a determination about whether it's legal, the spokeswoman added.

The Ansonia has a fabled history to match its fairy-tale look. Built at the turn of the century, the luxurious 300-suite building was one of the largest apartment-hotels in the world at the time, according to the Ansonia's 1972 landmark designation report.

The building had amenities unheard of in its day — a large swimming pool, a "palm garden" overlooking the Hudson River, and a basement level with a garage, manicure and pedicure parlor, hair salon, grocery, bakery and butcher, according to a master's thesis on the building by Landmark West! board member Lori Zabar.

The building attracted celebrity tenants over the years, including Babe Ruth, composer Igor Stravinsky, writer Theodore Dreiser, and several opera stars. About 10 or 15 years ago it was reportedly the home of Angelina Jolie

In the 1970's, the Ansonia became notorious as the site of the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse and cabaret where Bette Midler got her start. Later it housed the sex club Plato's Retreat.

In the early 1990s, the building became a condominium, and it's now a mix of rented and owned units.

Clifford Capone, a costume designer for the movies "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Serpico" who's lived in the building for 47 years, said he hadn't noticed the peace symbol.

But it didn't sound like too much of a nuisance to Capone, who said he remembered prostitutes lingering outside the Ansonia during its seedier days.

"I haven't seen it, but whatever it is, it’s better than when we had The Continental Baths here or Plato’s Retreat. I’d rather have a peace sign," Capone said.

"It seems to me if someone’s going to put a neon sign in their window, I’d rather have it be a peace sign than many other signs."