In the late 1800’s Northern Manhattan was still very much a wilderness of farmland dotted with occasional country inns and taverns, but that rural tranquility would end with the industrial age. The clean air and remoteness of the area soon attracted newly minted millionaires who created splendid monuments to their own wealth. For a brief shining moment Inwood and parts of Washington Heights became a turn of the century equivalent to the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard.
Enter real estate tycoon Dr. Charles V. Paterno who, in 1905, began construction on a four-story castle designed by John C. Watson for the then outrageous sum of $500,000. The castle, which sat on over seven acres of property, was located on the site of today’s Castle Village Apartments.
The son of immigrants, Paterno’s family sailed from Castelmezzano, Italy in the 1880’s after a devastating earthquake left the family real estate business in shambles. In short time, the Paterno’s had established themselves as players on the New York real estate scene, developing luxury apartment buildings up and down the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
A physician by trade, Paterno left medicine upon his father’s death and assumed the helm of the family business.
Why he built the home is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it reminded him of a structure from his Italian homeland.
The beautiful white stone, turrets, greenhouse and pergola set Paterno’s castle apart from his neighbors, with the exception of nearby Libby Castle, in terms of design.
Paterno spared no expense in designing his dream home. Among the mansion’s many features were, a swimming pool surrounded by birdcages, a mushroom cellar and, measuring twenty by eighty feet, perhaps the largest master bedroom the neighborhood has ever seen.
As old age set in, Paterno found himself spending less time in the castle of his youth. Settling in Greenwich, Connecticut, Paterno ordered his castle demolished in 1938 to make room for Castle Village.
…But while Paterno’s Castle is gone, its memories live on.
In the 1930′s, Inwood resident Florence Schwartz, the daughter of Russian immigrants, had unique access to Paterno’s estate. The father of one of her childhood friends was the heating engineer for the sprawling complex. In her own words, Florence takes us onto the grounds when Charles Parteno was still king of his castle and she was just a young girl.
“I used to go to the estate in the 1930’s to visit a friend who went to PS 187. That was the elementary school.
They had a garage and there were probably four or five Rolls Royce’s. That’s the only car they drove. At that age I thought that must have been pretty nifty.
My friend’s father worked on the estate. I never paid any attention. We were just going to pick up Eleanor. We didn’t go though any front gates. We went down where; I presume everyone lived—because all the chauffeurs lived on top of the garage that I remember. I don’t remember where the gardeners lived. I was a kid—who pays attention to that?
As I was walking onto the grounds there were paved walkways and my friend lived in a very nice little house, it wasn’t a bungalow, it was a little house. I don’t know if that was where he took care of the heating or not. When you’re ten or eleven you don’t think about that.
I never met Dr. Paterno. The only thing I ever heard come from the castle was when one of his children was married and they did it there. Rosa Ponselle, the opera star, sang for them and everyone knew about that.
Did you ever go into the swimming pool? No, no one ever went into the swimming pool. They just showed it to me. Eleanor’s father showed it to us.
Nobody in the neighborhood seemed to notice the castle because they had just built some new apartment buildings with elevators. That was something new—elevators.
I think people got more excited when the George Washington Bridge was being built. That was pretty exciting.
You didn’t have telephones, but they had a switchboard downstairs in the building where I lived. That seemed pretty good.”
Author’s note: Intimate portraits of the neighborhood like this wouldn’t exist without the active participation of the community. If you, or someone close to you, has old photos or memories you would like to share, I encourage you to contact me. Again, a special thanks to Florence for sharing her uptown memories.