Cherokee Apartments are beautiful – and beautifully maintained – apartments designed specifically for families with tuberculosis patients. Originally known as Shively Sanitary Tenements (aka East River Homes, aka Vanderbilt model tenements), the buildings have rare features you’ll probably never see elsewhere.
Dr. Henry Shively, a prominent physician who advocated home treatment of tuberculosis, persuaded Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt to endow $1.5 million to build and maintain a model healthful living environment. Henry Atterbury Smith designed the four interconnected buildings.
You might say the apartments are built of air – providing abundant fresh air dictated many design features. The roofs had open-air recreation facilities; most street-facing windows were triple-sash floor-to-ceiling affairs opening on to balconies – to encourage open-air sleeping. Gas stoves were all equipped with forced-air ventilating hoods; even the staircases were open-air. (The staircases were also notable for having two handrails – one for children, one for adults – and seats on each landing in case you needed to rest.) The “lobbies” are Guastavino tile-lined vaults open at each end.
The sanitary, airy housing was intended to alleviate living conditions of the poor. But no sooner than the buildings were completed, architect Henry A. Smith declared all such housing a failure. “The model tenements are too expensive. They are built for the very poor, but the very poor do not live in them. They can’t afford it,” declared Smith in a New York Times feature.
The New York Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor leased 48 of the 383 apartments as a “Home Hospital.” In 1923 the charitable trust that governed East River Homes was dissolved and the buildings sold to City and Suburban Homes Company. In the 1930s the rooftop recreational facilities were removed and apartments were extensively remodeled. In 1986 the buildings were converted to a co-op, and renamed Cherokee Apartments.
Cherokee Apartments Vital Statistics
- Location: Cherokee Place between E 77th and E 78th Streets
- Year completed: 1912
- Architect: Henry Atterbury Smith
- Floors: 6
- Style: Beaux Arts
- New York City Landmark: 1985
Cherokee Apartments Recommended Reading
- NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report
- The New York Times When the Prescription Is Fresh Air (January 30, 2014)
- The New York Times New York’s Famous Model Tenements Are Failures (October 27, 1912)
- Columbia University: Progressive Housing in New York City
- City Realty review
- Forgotten New York blog
- Ephemeral New York blog
- Cherokee Apartments website
- Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan: An Illustrated History (Dover Architecture) (Toney Tenement, pp. 170-174)