Tag Archives: 1890

The Wilbraham

The Wilbraham is a rare species: a “bachelor apartment hotel,” or “bachelor flats.” In the late 1800s, New York City had an unusually large concentration of single men. Yet bachelors were outcasts, of sorts, in the housing market: They couldn’t afford to live in rowhouses or hotels and were considered awkward in family-oriented apartment buildings (“French flats”) or apartment hotels. Bachelor flats were apartment hotels (each apartment included a suite of rooms with bathroom but no kitchen – a separate dining room served all residents) exclusively for single men.

The Wilbraham was considered among the most fashionable of bachelor flats, with its Fifth Avenue location, elegant architecture and amenities – including an elevator.

By 1929 the building had become a normal apartment hotel – women outnumbered men 15-10 according to the census. In 1934, new owners added kitchens to some of the apartments. Subsequent renovations converted the dining room and penthouse servants quarters to full apartments, as well.

The bottom two floors have always been a store.

The Wilbraham Vital Statistics
The Wilbraham Recommended Reading

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New York Cancer Hospital

The New York Cancer Hospital (aka Towers Nursing Home, aka 455 Central Park West) is one of the most striking buildings on Central Park West – if not in the entire city. What’s even more remarkable is that the Loire Valley chateau-style towers were medically prescribed – not simply decorative! Medical theory of the day was that round or octagonal wards promoted health by preventing air stagnation and the accumulation of dirt.

The hospital was privately financed, by donations from John Jacob Astor and others. The first, Astor-financed pavilion, was dedicated to treating women; later additions included a wing for men, a chapel, and an X-ray building. Public awareness of cancer was spurred by the death of President Ulysses S. Grant, from throat cancer. Until the 1880s, cancer was thought to be contagious, and limited to those living in poverty and filth.

In 1899 the hospital was renamed General Memorial Hospital for the Treatment of Cancer and Allied Diseases. In 1939 the hospital moved to the Upper East Side as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. From 1955 to 1974 the hospital served as the Towers Nursing Home, operated by Bernard Bergman until it closed in scandal.

The abandoned buildings then became a crumbling haven for drug addicts until developer MCL Companies bought the property and successfully redeveloped the hospital/nursing home into luxury condominiums, with the addition of a 27-story tower. Apartments in the original (but gutted and rebuilt) buildings sold for up to $8 million!

A big thank you to Tsehaye Tesfai, who noticed my interest in this building and invited me up into his apartment so that I could shoot the hospital from above!

New York Cancer Hospital Vital Statistics
New York Cancer Hospital Recommended Reading

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Park East Synagogue

Park East Synagogue is an “especially imaginative” example of the Moorish Revival architecture popular for 19th century synagogues, in the words of New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“A detailed description of this complicated facade,” said the Commission, “cannot recreate the liveliness and imagination with which the elements are composed. A multitude of readings is possible and each element is used in an original and sometimes surprising context. Elements that have structural roles are used ornamentally and in conjunction with other elements in a unique manner, such as the frequent use of balusters in place of columns or piers in arcades. This inventiveness adds a playful, almost whimsical, note to the profusely ornamented facade which is reminiscent of the character, if not the detail, of Northern Renaissance architecture.”

The report notes that the towers were originally topped by bulbous domes (similar to Central Synagogue).

The building’s inventiveness fit the congregation, which founding Rabbi Bernard Drachman described as a “harmonious combination of Orthodox Judaism and Americanism.”

At the same time, the synagogue was a huge jump for the architects, Ernst Schneider and Henry Herter, whose main work had been tenements in the Lower East Side and Clinton.

Park East Synagogue Vital Statistics
Park East Synagogue Recommended Reading

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