Tag Archives: NYC

Park Plaza Apartments

Park Plaza Apartments is one of the first Art Deco apartment houses to be built in the Bronx. It was designed by the prolific team of Horace Ginsberg and Marvin Fine, who built dozens of buildings on and around the Grand Concourse, including the Fish Building and Noonan Plaza Apartments. Bold, colorful glazed terra cotta enlivens the 365-foot-wide facade.

Ginsberg (who later changed his name to Ginsbern) specialized in the design and layout of apartments, while Fine specialized in the elevations – the facades. Fine began his career working for Cass Gilbert, the architect of the Woolworth Building, among other landmarks. But while working for Ginsberg – in the midst of the Park Plaza project – Fine broke with his classical training and experience to embrace “modernistic” design. Fine credited the work of William Van Alen (Chrysler Building) and Raymond Hood (American Radiator Building) as his inspiration.

The Park Plaza Apartments is on an L-shaped site with its long side on Jerome Avenue; the base pokes through the block to Anderson Avenue. The eight-story building, viewed from the front, has five blocks or wings separated by courtyards. Initially, the building was to have 10 floors. During construction, fire destroyed the building, and the Department of Buildings imposed a lower height for the rebuilt apartments.

When built, Park Plaza Apartments promoted its quiet views of Jerome Park. Part of the park remains (Mullaly Park), but the New Yankee Stadium occupies what was Macombs Dam Park, across the street. So much for quiet.

(At this writing, facade repairs spoil the picture; I hope to re-photograph the building when the scaffolding is removed.)

Park Plaza Apartments Vital Statistics
Park Plaza Apartments Recommended Reading

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Fish Building

Fish Building is “one of the most astonishing apartment houses in the Bronx, indeed in New York City,” wrote Christopher Gray in his July 15, 2007 New York Times Streetscapes column. The six-story building, aka 1150 Grand Concourse, is an Art Deco delight designed by Horace Ginsbern and Marvin Fine. This Grand Concourse landmark gets its name from the aquarium motif mosaic at the main entry.

But Mr. Gray decries the structure’s decline. “HOW do old buildings disappear? Sometimes all at once, under the wrecking ball. But more often they fade away on little cat’s feet, first the cornice, then a doorway, then the windows, then a balcony … leaving behind nothing but an architectural zombie.” And indeed, historical photos that accompany the Streetscapes column show an even more fantastic Fish Building existed some 50-odd years ago. The original cornice, roof railing, windows and door have been replaced with unimaginative substitutes.

Clever Design

At least one aspect of the building’s design is permanent: Its adaptation to the irregular street grid.

The Grand Concourse was designed as a scenic boulevard, and as such it meanders to follow the terrain, often at an odd angle to the street grid. Such is the case at Mc Clellan Street. The Fish Building accommodates the boulevard’s zig with a stepped western facade that artfully hides the skewed grid, and keeps apartment walls rectangular. See the floor plans from Columbia University’s New York Real Estate Brochure Collection.

If the outside of 1150 Grand Concourse is exceptional, the inside is absolutely stunning. The terrazzo floor, murals, light fixtures and boldly decorated elevators are a joy to behold.

If the Fish Building leaves you wanting more, you can visit nearby Park Plaza Apartments. It’s located at 1005 Jerome Avenue, across the street from Yankee Stadium. This grander-scaled apartment building was also designed in Art Deco style by Ginsbern and Fine. It features bold, colorful terra cotta details definitely worth the trip.

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322 Central Park West

322 Central Park West is the only work of prolific New York architects George and Edward Blum to be located on Central Park West. The Blum brothers designed many Upper West Side apartment houses – why only one on CPW? Possibly because the avenue was slower to develop than other streets. The biggest park-side landmarks were erected at or after the end of the Blums’ practice.

The 15-story building rests on a three-story limestone-block base; its ornately carved, arched entrance is on W 92nd Street. As in many Blum apartment buildings, windows on the top three stories have elaborate terra cotta surrounds.

322 Central Park West has 49 apartments, and became a cooperative in 1962.

322 Central Park West Vital Statistics
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279 Central Park West

279 Central Park West, completed in 1988, is among the youngest buildings on the avenue, yet it is part of New York’s Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District. I suspect that it’s included because it was easier for the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to leave the building in the district than to specifically exclude it.

The architect, Constantine Kondylis, is often associated with Donald Trump projects (including Trump International Hotel and Tower at the foot of Central Park West). But 279 Central Park West is a far cry from the black or gold glass boxes that The Donald is fond of.

As a modern building, it lacks the ornate facades typical of the district, but 279 is still pleasing for its three-story limestone base, inset bay windows, curved corner windows, and eight terraced setbacks. Thanks to luxury amenities and location (or in spite of location, if one doesn’t want to be so far uptown), apartments in this condo have million-dollar price tags. Or you can rent. At this writing, there’s a three-bedroom, 2,855 sq. ft. duplex available for just $22,000 a month.

279 Central Park West Vital Statistics
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Kenilworth

The Kenilworth has an impressive entry flanked by banded columns reminiscent of the Prasada and the Lucerne. Last of the Second Empire-style buildings to be built on Central Park West, remarkably the structure looks unchanged from 1908, except that the wood-frame windows were replaced.

Even the interiors have been preserved. Architectural historian Andrew Alpern wrote, “The Kenilworth has three apartments on each floor, two of which are of a modified long-hall variety. While not exceptional in their planning or appointments, these suites have been kept surprisingly intact.” (New York’s Fabulous Luxury Apartments: With Original Floor Plans from the Dakota, River House, Olympic Tower and Other Great Buildings)

Overshadowed by neighboring San Remo apartments, the 12-story Kenilworth was built without the benefit of a steel frame, or the 1929 building code that liberalized residential height restrictions. The structure’s limestone and red brick walls actually hold the building up, they’re not just for appearance.

Speaking of appearance, the heavy contrasting ornamentation and copper-trimmed slate mansard roof give the building presence beyond its mere dozen stories. The two-story columns and dry moat are just icing on the cake.

The Kenilworth was converted to a cooperative in 1957.

Kenilworth Vital Statistics
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San Remo

San Remo is one of the high points – literally and figuratively – of the Central Park West skyline, and of the career of architect Emery Roth. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) gushed that the building “…epitomizes Roth’s ability to combine the traditional with the modern, an urbane amalgam of luxury and convenience, decorum and drama.”

Following closely after his triple-towered Beresford (1928), San Remo became the first twin-towered apartment building on the avenue. But where the 22-story Beresford’s stubby “towers” were mainly to hide water tanks, 27-story San Remo’s towers had 14 floors of deluxe apartments. This was possible because a new (1929) building code raised the height limit for residential buildings.

Roth also designed the Oliver Cromwell (1928) on W 72nd Street, was a consultant on the twin-towered El Dorado (1931), and designed the Normandy Apartments (1938) on Riverside Drive.

The San Remo was praised by architectural critics for its height, for the classical Greek-styled “temples” atop the towers, and for the “foyer plan” that minimized hallways.

“Despite its popular success,” said the LPC, the property “…fell prey to the pervasive economic mayhem of the 1930s. A full year after it had officially opened, nearly a third of its apartments remained vacant, and the Bank of the United States which held its $5 million mortgage had collapsed, its officers charged with recklessly ‘gambling’ on the San Remo.”

The building bounced from one owner to another via bankruptcy until 1940, when San Remo and Beresford were sold in a package for $25,000 over the mortgage. Now, individual apartments cost tens of millions of dollars.

San Remo Vital Statistics
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Majestic

The Majestic Apartments, like sister building The Century, is a scaled-down version of Irwin Chanin’s original concept. Nonetheless, it is a New York architectural landmark for its Art Deco style – simultaneously bold and austere.

According to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), Chanin envisioned a 45-story full-service apartment hotel for the site. The single-tower design was to replace the Hotel Majestic of 1894. The stock market crash changed all that; The Majestic became a twin-towered 32-story apartment house. Chanin’s “experimental” use of Art Deco in a residential context was stripped to its essentials, relying almost entirely on economic brickwork for ornamentation.

The design contrasts with even his own Art Deco commercial design, the 1929 Chanin Building. The office tower employed marble, bronze and terra cotta ornamentation of the base and tower. (Although the Chanin Building was designed by the Sloan & Robertson firm, Chanin supervised the exterior detailing, the LPC said.)

The Majestic’s cantilevered steel frame was an important innovation, which made wraparound “solaria” windows possible.

The building became a cooperative in 1958.

The Majestic Vital Statistics
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256 Fifth Avenue

256 Fifth Avenue is among the few examples of Moorish Revival architecture in New York City. As the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission noted, it’s “remarkably intact” for a building that went up in 1893.

The windows steal the show: Their size, shape, number and decoration changes from floor to ornate floor.

Alas, the building is not without alterations. The ground floor storefront is now standard commercial granite; the sixth-floor terra cotta balcony was removed – probably because it was in danger of falling after a century of use. The gaps in the terra cotta were never filled in.

256 Fifth Avenue Vital Statistics
256 Fifth Avenue Recommended Reading

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215 E 68th Street

215 E 68th Street found the Fountain of Youth. The 33-story apartment tower was built in 1962 with a then-popular white brick facade. But time was not kind. Not only did white brick become passé; after 50 years, the brickwork needed extensive repair or replacement. Owners opted to tear down the brick and replace it with white terra cotta panels accented by bands of black and gray.

Terra cotta reigned as the decorative material of choice from 1880 through the 1950s. Sometimes whole buildings – notably the Woolworth Building and Alwyn Court Apartments – were clad in the material. Then International Style and Postmodernism replaced masonry with glass and steel, and terra cotta all but disappeared.

In 215 E 68th Street, the material finds a second life – as a replacement for brick. Facade designer BCRA explained, “New terracotta cladding is approximately 1/3 the weight of new brick and has no mortar joints or seals that will require future maintenance. The new system design reduced the amount of fasteners by 50%, which helped to keep construction noise during installation to a minimum for residents. The cavity within the new overcladding uses an air gap and 3″ insulation that greatly improved the thermal performance of the new wall by over three times the original.”

The result is a distinctive apartment building with the appearance of new construction. Now if only we aging apartment dwellers could change our skin….

215 E 68th Street Vital Statistics
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203 E 45th Street

203 E 45th Street, home of “The Perfect Pint,” is a bit of a mystery to me. My usual sources have no real information on the building – but then, why would they? The three-story-plus-roof-garden building is a modest structure with no special architectural features.

But it appears to belong in “Holdouts!: The Buildings That Got In The Way” (or the earlier paperback version “New York’s Architectural Holdouts” ), a fascinating book by Andrew Alpern and Seymour Durst. The neighboring 32-story Wyndham Hotel is cantilevered over The Perfect Pint, similar to 160 E 22nd Street.

The Wyndham was originally the Alex Hotel, completed in 2006 on the site of the famed Pen and Pencil restaurant. While there are numerous online articles about the Alex’s early financial troubles, I found none that mention dealings with the owners of the property’s diminutive neighbor.

203 E 45th Street Vital Statistics
203 E 45th Street Recommended Reading

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