Rooftop farming is all the rage these days, but evidently there is nothing new about it, in New York City anyway. City Farmer discovers that over a hundred years ago it was happening on the roof of the fanciest building on the upper east side, the Ansonia Hotel, operated by the owner, W. E. D. Stokes. According to New York Magazine,
Stokes had a Utopian vision for the Ansonia—that it could be self-sufficient, or at least contribute to its own support—which led to perhaps the strangest New York apartment amenity ever. “The farm on the roof,” Weddie Stokes wrote years later, “included about 500 chicken, many ducks, about six goats and a small bear.” Every day, a bellhop delivered free fresh eggs to all the tenants, and any surplus was sold cheaply to the public in the basement arcade. Not much about this feature charmed the city fathers, however, and in 1907, the Department of Health shut down the farm in the sky. The animals went to Central Park and lived happily ever after.
There was even a special elevator just for cattle. But even without the farm on the roof, the building was remarkable. Opened in 1904, the building was air conditioned (freezing brine was pumped in pipes through ducts), and had pneumatic tubes connecting all the apartments to deliver messages between staff and tenants. The owner hated insurance companies, so he built it entirely out of fireproof materials; the interior walls were all terra cotta.