Prewar Versus Postwar on the Upper West Side: Which Gets You More?

  Last modified on September 21st, 2018

People who have read the listings for apartment sales on the Upper West Side have probably noticed that “prewar” is a bragging point in Upper West Side apartments. While prewar apartments in NYC do have some consistent perks when compared to postwar buildings — high ceilings, large rooms, classic bathroom sinks and attractive exteriors — not everything about a prewar apartment falls into the “plus” column.

Age does have its effects. Case in point: at a coop shareholders’ meeting in a classic Upper West Side jewel, a gentleman stood up and reported, “When I had the opportunity to look at the pipes in this place, I was reminded of the Swiss cheese I had in my sandwich for lunch.”

So while the best parts of a prewar are the parts you can see, there may be nasty surprises with the parts you can’t. A postwar is less likely to have worn-out plumbing, or electrical wires covered with cloth. Many owners of prewar Upper West Side real estate have found out the hard way in sweltering summer heat that running an air conditioner can trip a fuse.

Some postwar buildings, especially the more recent ones, were built with modern desires in mind, such as gyms and common playrooms. Airier kitchens are another modern feature, although a buyer might just feel like ripping out the formica counters.

In this New York Times article, “Postwar, Prewar and Everything Before,” writer Jake Mooney tracked down the postwar places that offer the best deals for seekers of Upper West Side real estate. The sweet spot, according to Mooney’s sources, are the tall apartment buildings that were new in the 1970s through the 1990s, ones that today are just outmoded enough to not fetch top dollar. Just look for the telltale red-brick facades.

Below is partial list some of the advantages of each. Direct comparisons are mostly apples and oranges. You can contrast a prewar window with its messy, peeling layers of paint to a sleek, metal, double-paned modern one, but it’s usually a moot point as so many older windows have been replaced for energy conservation.

Advantages of Prewar Apartments:

    • Artistic facades
    • Large living rooms, possibly sunken
    • High Ceilings
    • Classic moldings and cornices
    • Solid bathroom sinks and sturdy fixtures

Advantages of Postwar Apartments:

      • Practical kitchens
      • More electrical outlets and capacity
      • Less crumbling plaster/peeling (lead) paint
      • Newer plumbing
      • (Possible) building amenities
      • (Possible) modern appliances like dishwashers
Given all the evidence, the perceived “superiority” of the prewar apartment may be mostly aesthetic. It may also be well-worn sour grapes because for a long time, prewar was just about the only thing available for those on the hunt for Upper West Side real estate. So if you do have a chance to consider a postwar and practicality is your number-one consideration, that might be the better bet.