You don't have to live on Manhattan's West Side to appreciate this gossipy history of New York's oldest apartment building (setting for the movie, Rosemary's Baby), but it would help. Not that Stephen Birmingham (Our Crowd, Real Lace, The Grandees) confines himself to the Dakota: setting the stage, he shows us New York City in the 1880s--society parties, Central Park squatter shanties, and the Victorian belief that apartment houses were ""architectural inducements to immorality."" But when Edward Clark (Singer's sewing-machine partner) built the Dakota--named because of jokes about its location in the wilds of the upper West Side--his luxurious nine-story German Renaissance castle rented immediately; its clientele, says Birmingham, was always ""vaguely intellectual and artistic."" Although few places duplicate the Dakota's peculiarities (ghosts, hidden swimming pools and corridors, an indeterminate number of rooms), much of this story involves plain economics: keeping things going in the face of inflation and tenant in-fighting. Rumors of imminent sale and demolition in 1960 inspired an angry tenants' meeting (with Lauren Bacall ""shouting unprintable curses"") and the decision to co-op the building. But though an 11-room apartment sold for more than $300,000 last year, the Dakota operates in the red, and Birmingham rates the odds at ""probably more than fifty-fifty"" that it will not survive (ancient construction makes repairs exorbitant). Some people worry that the Dakota has too many show-business tenants (Bacall, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Rex Reed, Roberta Flack--the first black), but their presence in this offbeat setting makes for many a lively story--like the Lennons holding a sâ€šance to appease lingering shades from the apartment's past. Light reading for localites and others attuned to the Scene.