WINDOW ON MANHATTAN. From any perspective, this ragged cityscape is breathtaking -- that's why apartment views are a precious commodity in New York City

It was the Swiss architect Le Corbusier who once spoke of the ``vehement silhouettes of Manhattan -- that vertical city with unimaginable diamonds.'' Some people like to enjoy the silhouettes of this 22-square-mile island from a safe distance of many floors. They like the far view of bustling urban activity, with the sounds well muffled by double-paned windows. High altitude lends enchantment to their view, far above the strains and congestion of the city.

Others enjoy their views at lower levels, saying they don't want to lose the human scale and their sense of closeness to the scene around them.

``I love looking into the treetops and having a sense of connectedness to the activity on the street and in the park,'' says a woman who has a third-floor apartment with windows on Central Park. ``Living alone, my view keeps me in touch with the life of the city.''

Still other admirers prefer to gaze at Manhattan's great perpendicular profile from across one of the five bodies of water that surround it -- from the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, for instance, or from one of New York City's four other boroughs. From that distant perspective, Manhattan seems to float on water, like an outsized Venice.

From any perspective, the views of the harbor, rivers, docks, parks, gardens, bridges, and buildings are dazzling in their scope and variety.

``Views have always been important in New York City,'' says Cornelius Gallagher, senior vice-president of the real estate firm of Douglas Elliman-Gibbons & Ives Inc. ``Part of the glamour of living in this city has been to live way up high and have a commanding view.''

That means, he says, that apartments with views sell at premium prices. Right now the firm has on its books several apartments with views, including a one-bedroom co-op apartment on Sutton Place overlooking the East River for $475,000, a three-bedroom apartment in a tower building near Central Park for $1.2 million, and several large apartments in fine older buildings going at $4 million and $5 million. Many ``view'' apartments sell in the ``multimillion'' range, he confirms.

Still, says Mr. Gallagher, the city is building and rebuilding so fast these days that many views are disappearing, blocked by other high-rises. When apartments lose their views, their value goes down.

``So,'' he says, ``if you have a protected river view in this city today, and know that nothing will be built between you and the river, you have a real asset.''

And if that river view happens to include the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, you're sitting on a scenic gold mine come July 4.

Ask Gerry Cole, sales director of the brand new Hudson View condominium apartments within the Battery Park City complex in lower Manhattan. He was showing visitors a $450,000 two-bedroom, two-bath condominium apartment with such views, saying he couldn't afford it himself, but plenty of other people could.

With the four-day Liberty Centennial Fourth of July weekend coming up, spaces with views of the festivities are in great demand, and a whole entrepreneurial activity in ``view'' rentals has sprung up. Apartments with strategic views are being rented for sums ranging from $25,000 to $200,000 -- some just for one day, the 4th -- through view-space brokers.

Blair Wynkoop of Corporate Event Consultants says his firm has handled the renting of ``view apartments'' for the entire July 4th weekend at prices ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.

One special-event company, Viewpoint International, says that after a single newspaper story some days ago, it was swamped with calls from people wanting to rent out their ``view'' dwellings at such high prices. The company turned down all these offers, interested only in 10 or 12 prime commercial locations such as the Windows on the World restaurant and the observation deck of the World Trade Center.

Meanwhile, many generous people with views to share have had their private invitations out to friends and relatives for weeks. The problem may be to work one's way through dense humanity (the mayor's office says there may be 13 million visitors in the city) to the invitational viewing.

Music teacher Timothy Vernon, whose Riverside Drive apartment faces out over the Hudson River, says that when the Tall Ships sail into town to celebrate the 4th, he'll simply look up from his home computer to watch the show.

But for those who open their curtains to spectacular views every morning, does the scene get mundane?

``You get used to your views after awhile, but you are always aware of them,'' says Allyn Rice Bloeme, a career woman who lives with her son, Peter, in a loft apartment in a renovated Brooklyn warehouse offering superb views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River, and lower Manhattan.

``And there are always those surprises that make the difference,'' she adds.

``This morning, for instance, I looked out and saw what appeared to be a tremendous castle floating down the river. It was just a container ship of some kind, but for a moment it fooled me.

``I love our views at night, and at sunset, and at sunrise, when the reflections on the Manhattan buildings are all blue and purple and rose. And I love looking into the great gray-granite blocks of the Brooklyn Bridge. They have a majesty about them.''

Alfred Scott, a bachelor who lives in the United Nations Plaza apartment building, admits he would be lost without his views of ``all the little ceremonies held outside the United Nations, the seaplanes and helicopters that take off and land nearby, and all the different kinds of boats that move up and down the East River.''

He keeps binoculars handy so he can identify the nationality of the ships that pass below, and he loves eating breakfast in his windowed kitchen eating nook, high above the city.

``If I want to concentrate on something,'' he says, ``I have to turn my back to my views.''

``My view of Manhattan is like a picture postcard,'' says a New Jersey resident who looks at the island from across the Hudson River.

``From my favorite living room chair I can look out over most of Manhattan. From my bed at night I can see the top of the Empire State building. I watch those incredible little tugs pushing barges up the river. I see the ocean liners as they leave on Saturday afternoons and hear their toot.

``Sometimes I catch the silver glint of a neighbor's yacht gliding over the water. I see the freighters and the Circle Line tour boats, and all the sailboats in summer. Seagulls and pigeons sit and rest on the walls of the promenades where people stroll beside the river. I look out on a scene crowded with activity, yet so restful to watch.''

The price of such luxury includes more than the cost of a condo. High-altitude dwellings are sometimes hard to cool and hard to heat, and some have gusty gales and too much glare. Furniture finishes and fabrics suffer the devastating effect of too much sun, and the fading and rotting of textiles can be a problem.

One New York penthouse dweller, with uncovered windows on all sides, solved the problem by covering all his furniture in sturdy menswear fabrics which he felt could stand up to anything.

Says New York interior designer Hal Adams: ``People pay thousands of dollars for a view and then think they don't want to cover it with a window treatment. And some don't. They go for the naked-window approach and try to soften the room otherwise with carpeting, furnishings, and art.

``An absolutely bare window, however, can appear hard,'' he says. Mr. Adams suggests thin-slatted vertical blinds that control light and give privacy, but open fully to the view, as well as Roman shades and festooned curtains that can let down over a window when desired, but otherwise decorate only the top of the window.

``When people are serious about their views and insist on openness,'' he adds, ``we even expand their views by facing each side of the window recess above the sill with mirror. That way, anyone sitting anywhere in the room can enjoy a view.''

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