By Graham Chalmers
No one talks about them publically but they loom large in Harrogate’s legend.
Standing on the edge of The Stray not far from Christ Church, Park Place is the tallest residential building in Harrogate and one of the few visible to visitors from every approach outside town.
At a height of 124 feet tall, this vertical village of 50 spacious apartments dwarfs everywhere else in town - save for the Moat House Hotel at Harrogate International Centre and The Exchange office block on Station Parade, both of which scrape past it narrowly at 141 feet.
It’s not hard to see why the apartments are quietly sought-after places to live in – the views are breathtaking.
From the top of Park Place’s 13 floors, it’s possible to see what feels like the whole of Yorkshire stretching into the distant horizon.
But, despite its landmark status, Park Place is not a building which likes to draw attention to itself.
Nestled in a maze of dead ends between Harcourt Drive, North Park Road and Park Parade, unless you already know the way there it’s not easy to get to.
It’s almost as if Park Place is in hiding from its own reputation.
In purely architectural terms, some people still look down on this landmark building as a modern affront to the traditions which make the town so attractive - and that’s more than 50 years after it was constructed.
But there others, like me, who look up and wonder who lives there and what it’s like to spend your days high in the sky inside this iconic multi-apartment block set in beautifully-maintained gardens.
Thanks to the friendly nature of its residents and the generous help of one amateur historian who lives there, I can say that I now know.
I was taken on a tour inside Park Place Apartments by Tony Naylor, a resident who shares a perfect little apartment with his wife Ann on the 11th floor.
Tony recently published a lavishly-illustrated new book about the history and origins of Park Place which leading local historian Malcolm Neesam has already described as a “meticulously researched and finely printed volume.”
One of the most interesting points revealed by Tony’s book is that the roots of this modern building lie in the town’s most aristocratic era.
Its foundations were established on the rubble of Park Place Mansions which was built in the early 19th century at the time of the horse and carriage and demolished at the time of the jet plane in 1961 amid some controversy.
The story of Park Place’s predecessor story starts in spa boom of the 1830s and goes on to bring in industrial dynasties, important figures in public affairs in Victorian Harrogate and even the Grand Duchess George of Russia.
Nothing now remains of this mansion but, to this day, the names of many of the streets round Park Place relate to long-forgotten members of those important families from the 19th century - the Sheepshanks and the Whitworths and the Whiteheads .
When this modern apartment block with its 11 feet thick concrete walls was first opened in 1962 it was meant to be the first of three such towers on the eight-acre parkland estate in which the doomed Georgian-style mansion sat imperiously.
The headlines in a copy of the Harrogate Advertiser of that time blared out the news - “The three luxury flats will be tallest buildings in Harrogate.”
It wouldn’t be the last report on the issue in the newspaper, however.
In a saga which rumbled on for the best part of a decade, financial wrangling over this expensive project meant plans to construct two sister buildings were abandoned eventually.
The abandonment of the original development meant the Park Place tower block was left a lone child living off its reputation as “a new phase in luxurious living.”
Happily, it has gone onto thrive quietly in its lofty isolation in the last half-century.
If you are lucky enough to step into its swish foyer with its cream walls, red armchairs and Monet art prints, it doesn’t take long to realise Park Place is rather special.
In a world where many of us no longer know even our closest neighbours, Park Place is a place of community.
Anyone moving into an apartment becomes a shareholder in the limited company which owns the building.
Decisions are made for the common good and the building is run by a board accountable to its residents.
Park Place may not be a cheap place to live, though it’s by no means the most expensive property in Harrogate.
There are currently two Park Place properties on the market.
A one-bedroom bachelor-style apartment on the ground floor is for sale at £150,000, and a three-bedroom home on the seventh floor of the 12-storey building - complete with panoramic views - is going for £435,000. Recent sales in the block have averaged around £270,000.
Usually laid out to the same blueprint on each floor, the vast majority of the apartments are owned by people who’ve retired or who are rapidly approaching retirement.
As Tony kindly takes me round the building, I learn that among his neighbours are people who were involved with academia, the armed forced, the police.
Words crop up on their CVs like “Concorde” and “Harvard”.
Often they’ve moved into Park Place after coming back to Harrogate after being abroad for many years, usually in South Africa or Hong Kong or the United States.
These are all clever and interesting people in the main who’ve seen the world and can afford to sit back, relax for once and watch it from the 12th floor.
In signing the papers to buy an apartment, you also sign up to the standards of behaviour expected.
The deed of convenant contains house rules. No pets. No children. No noise.
There’s even a rota for ensuring there’s fresh flowers in the foyer.
Such guarantees scarcely seem necessary.
Such is the unusually neighbourly spirit, once a year the residents gather in the lobby with its sunken lighting for a Christmas party with drinks and nibbles and festive numbers provided by local group, Northern Songbirds.
The fact residents are happy to invite a complete stranger inside their apartments in the sky with a notepad and a pen says a lot in itself.
Perhaps a ghostly trace of the aristocratic days of the stately mansion demolished to bring it into life still remains in the bones of Park Place?
Park Place, High Harrogate: Mansion to Apartments by Tony Naylor is available to purchase at 112 Park Place, Park Parade, Harrogate HG12 5NS for £13.99 + £2.30 P&P, cheques payable to J A Naylor.
A donation from proceeds of the book will be made to Christ Church in Harrogate.