Tag Archives: 1912

Audubon Ballroom

Audubon Ballroom, built as a theater, played many roles during its century-long career. The colorful Broadway facade is all that is left of the original Audubon Theatre and Ballroom, aka Beverly Hills Theater, aka San Juan Theater.

Originally, the building contained a 2,500-seat theater and, on the second floor, a 200-guest ballroom. It was commissioned by William Fox (20th Century Fox) – which explains the terra cotta fox heads.

Audubon Ballroom was used for vaudeville and for motion pictures; later, union and political groups held meetings there. A congregation of German Jews held its services in the basement – and eventually bought the building in 1950. Malcolm X used the venue for meetings of his Organization of Afro-American Unity starting in 1964. It was here, on February 21, 1965, that Malcolm X was assassinated. In the 1960s and ’70s, the then-named San Juan Theater showcased Latino films.

New York City had taken possession of the building in 1967, for non-payment of taxes. After the San Juan Theater closed in 1980 the building began to deteriorate. In 1989 Columbia University made a deal with the city to demolish the building and build a medical research facility. Community activists, preservationists and even Columbia University students fought the plan, eventually winning a compromise that preserved a portion of the Broadway facade and the second-floor ballroom. Meanwhile, the Mary Woodard Lasker Biomedical Research Building rose six stories on the site of the former theater.

The lobby and second floor now houses the The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. A bank, a restaurant, a cafe, and a book store occupy other street-level spaces.

Audubon Ballroom Vital Statistics
Audubon Ballroom Recommended Reading

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Forest Hills Inn

Forest Hills Inn is the first thing a visitor sees when entering Forest Hills Gardens at Station Square. The nine-story Tudor-styled building towers over the square and the Long Island Railroad station that it faces.

It’s an Inn in name only: The 1912 relic, surprisingly not landmarked, turned coop in 1967. The Inn is actually three connected buildings on Station Square (a fourth building, Forest Hills Inn Apartments, was added in 1917).

In its heyday, Forest Hills Inn had 150 rooms and hosted public events. Now, it has 50 apartments plus retail spaces including a cafe on Station Square.

Forest Hills Inn Vital Statistics
Forest Hills Inn Recommended Reading

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Herald Towers

Built as the Hotel McAlpin in 1912, Herald Towers began life as the world’s largest – and in some respects most innovative – hotel.

Today, the building’s most striking feature is the Beaux Arts crown – seven stories of lavish terra cotta. Two deep light courts face west (Broadway), but the 25-story building is now overshadowed by more recent towers.

The McAlpin’s owners converted the hotel to apartments in 1980, and attempted to go condo in 2005. The condo offering failed, and the building is now rental apartments.

Along the way, the hotel’s spectacular Marine Grill was dismantled. The restaurant was vaulted, like Grand Central Terminal’s Oyster Bar. Preservationists (led by Friends of Terra Cotta President Susan Tunick), rescued the restaurant’s terra cotta murals. Those panels are now on display at the Fulton Street (Broadway/Nassau) subway station. [nycsubway.org photos]

Herald Towers Vital Statistics
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Croisic Building

Croisic Building, aka 220 Fifth Avenue, is picturesque Gothic-styled architecture visible for blocks because of its two-story copper mansard roof. On closer inspection, the terra cotta gargoyles, eagles and other decoration are equally impressive.

The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership “Discover Flatiron” brochure claims that actress Ethel Barrymore resided at Croisic Building. That seems unlikely, because the building was always a commercial office building. However, some sources say the site was previously occupied by a Croisic apartment hotel, where she might have stayed (her Broadway debut was in 1895, before the current Croisic Building was erected). Other sources note that actor Richard Mansfield lived at the hotel.

Currently, Croisic Building seems to host a colony of architects – if you Google the address, the first pages are dominated by architect listings.

Trivia: According to New York Songlines, Croisic Building is across the street from the nonexistent 221 Fifth Avenue, home of Napoleon Solo, Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Croisic Building Vital Statistics
Croisic Building Recommended Reading

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Cherokee Apartments

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
Cherokee Apartments Recommended Reading

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780 West End Avenue

780 West End Avenue was ahead of its time, New York apartment house architecture that emphasized its height by omitting the horizontal banding common among “classical” buildings. Also, the perforated cornice seems to add a 14th floor.

The building is also notable for its mix of granite, white brick, and terra cotta, and for the curved balconies at the second, third, 12th, and 13th floors.

The architects, George & Edward Blum, were prolific designers. They have more than 120 apartment houses to their credit, plus many office and loft buildings; many of their structures are New York City landmarks.

780 West End Avenue Vital Statistics
780 West End Avenue Recommended Reading

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12 E 87th Street

12 East 87th Street, aka The Capitol, is a stunning example of George & Edward Blum’s textured designs. The eight-story luxury building is hidden mid-block between Fifth and Madison Avenues.

The Capitol is clad in glazed white terra cotta and Roman brick, with deep-set windows and remnants of a prominent terra cotta cornice (the upper part of the cornice was removed, but the supporting brackets remain). A dry moat in front includes stairs to the basement level. The black railing in front was originally all brass, matching the entrance, but pieces were stolen over the years, and replaced with galvanized steel.

The original whole-floor apartments boasted 14 rooms and four baths. Each apartment’s four main “public” rooms – the living room, dining room, reception room and salon – were interconnected to provide a 40-foot by 50-foot space for entertaining. In 1935 and 1943, the owners subdivided the eight apartments into 32 units. (See the Street Easy listing for current floor plans.)

The building became a cooperative in 1985.

12 East 87th Street Vital Statistics
12 East 87th Street Recommended Reading

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