The Art Deco masterpiece at 55 Central Park West and West 66th Street is no stranger to catastrophe – of the fictional variety. The building was prominently featured in the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters, in which an all-powerful apocalyptic entity threatened to destroy the building and, ultimately, all of humankind. Fortunately, the mayor knew who to call.
In January of 2019, the nine-member co-op board addressed a more realistic, 21st-century threat – a possible power outage – by installing a powerful diesel back-up generator. “Foremost on our mind was the risk to the health, safety, and well-being of our community,” says board president Peter Greenwald. “In case of a power failure, not all people are able to climb the stairs of our 20-story building. We have kids, we have older people, and we have people with infirmities. Everybody should be able to get to their homes. For instance, if you cannot get to your home to get to your medication, you are at a significant risk.”
There is nothing far-fetched about this fear of a power outage, in the eyes of the board and its property manager, Fred Rudd, president of Rudd Realty Management. “There are many things that can knock out the power these days,” Rudd says. “For instance, North Korea, Russia, or somebody else might hack the grid and we could lose power. Also, there’s climate change. Another weather-related catastrophe is rather likely.”
So the board installed a diesel generator with a main tank and a backup that hold enough fuel to provide power for 30 days. “We did not want to use natural gas,” Rudd says. “Gas could theoretically also be cut off and knocked off-line in a large enough disaster. With this system, we have 30 days to somehow find more fuel.”
The generator, six feet tall and 10 feet long, sits on a concrete slab that’s tucked away in a utility area of the courtyard that’s not visible from the street or apartments. The system cost more than $300,000. In the event of a power outage, the generator will come online automatically and power the elevators, all pumps, the boilers, the lights in the public spaces, air-conditioning in the lobby, plus one outlet in every floor so people can recharge their personal electronic devices. “The generator itself is a small part of the cost,” says Rudd. “What was expensive was the actual installation, all the wiring of the electrical connections.”
When the board presented the plan for the back-up generator, not all shareholders were happy about the high cost of what they considered a contingency plan for an unlikely event. But in July of 2019, only a few months after the backup generator was installed, a power outage struck the West Side of Manhattan, from Hell’s Kitchen to Lincoln Center and from Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River. (Later it was reported that a transformer fire caused the outage.) Broadway shows and movies were canceled, and Times Square went dark. Much of Central Park West was also dark. Critics who had derided the board members for being overly cautious now praised their prescience.
“That was when the shareholders became extremely appreciative,” says Greenwald. “I believe we were one of only a very few buildings in the neighborhood where people could get into their homes.”
Many shareholders gathered in the air-conditioned lobby to get away from the stifling summer heat. “Everyone was so happy,” Rudd recalls. “That was when they all thought we were really brilliant to have that kind of foresight.”