Tag Archives: NYC

Posh Portals cover

Posh Portals

Posh Portals cover
“Posh Portals,” published by Abbeville Press. Pictured is the 2211 Broadway entrance to Apthorp Apartments. The book is now available from Abbeville Press or Amazon.com (as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases).

I’ve been calling Posh Portals “my book” for years, though actually the author is noted architectural historian Andrew Alpern – who already had 10 other volumes published. But the cover and more than 350 inside photos are mine, and the watercolor illustrations are also based on my photos, so I really can’t be too objective, can I?

One of the reasons that I find architecture so fascinating is that buildings, like people, are so similar and at the same time infinitely diverse.

Take doors, for example. Every apartment building has to have a way in, obviously. It has to be substantial enough to keep out the elements, and large enough to permit occupants and their belongings to enter. So much for the similarities. The size, shape, material, style and embellishment, the scale, framing and placement of the front door are variables that together articulate the building’s character. A building’s portrait is never complete without an image of the front door.

In years of roaming cities with my camera, I’ve often shot doors and ignored the rest of the building. Some ancient, dilapidated dwellings – even crumbling tenements – were endowed with inviting portals. To the extent permitted by a developer’s budget, architects pride themselves on combining beauty with utility. One of the saddest parts of public housing is the cold steel front door, a mean, forbidding portal obviously designed more to keep people out than to invite people in.

In Andrew’s words, “The entrance to an apartment house is that important first impression, the opening sentence of the architectural story that sets the mood of the apartment building. A successful apartment house entrance must perform several functions, all of which must be kept in a delicate balance, consistent with the program that the developer has laid out for the architect to fulfill. The entrance is the dividing line between public and private space. It must make clear to the passer-by that he may approach and enter only if he has legitimate business within. Yet that entrance cannot be as forbidding as a fort, nor as evidently guarded as a prison, as it provides entrée to the homes of its residents, who may be the hosts of the approaching visitors.”

Here, then, is a collection of New York City’s most luxurious and distinctive apartment buildings, each endowed by their architect with entrances that speak volumes.

While these Posh Portals are no accident, my role this collection is definitely a case of serendipity. Your humble photographer was walking south along New York City’s Central Park West, an avenue lined with magnificent architecture. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a distinguished-looking gentleman sitting on a bench across from the famed Dakota; there was something familiar about him . . . A few steps later it clicked: “Andrew?” I asked, approaching the bench. “Ken?” he replied. Until this morning, we had only seen photos of each other, though we had conversed almost five months about photos for his book, “The Dakota – A History of the World’s Best-Known Apartment Building.” He was waiting for a friend, and Andrew described a project he and Australian artist Simon Fieldhouse were discussing, an illustrated guide to the elaborate and ornate entrances to New York’s luxury apartment buildings. They’d need a good source of photos . . .

And so, from this chance meeting on a sunny January 13, 2014, my camera and I became part of Posh Portals. It’s been fun, educational, and sometimes challenging: Photographing buildings from street level in New York puts you at the mercy of the sun, traffic, parked trucks, and scaffolding that sometimes stays in place for years. The project took less than six minutes to describe, more than six years to complete, and was worth every second.

While obviously I’d LOVE for you to buy the book (shameless plug) from Amazon.com (as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases), photographs from Posh Portals are also available as framed or unframed prints on heavy paper, acrylic, or metal in a variety of sizes and styles. Just visit my Posh Portals photo gallery.

My gallery could not include the watercolor drawings by Simon Fieldhouse, but you can contact the artist at www.simonfieldhouse.com/new-york-apartment-entrances/.

Is your building here?

These are the notable apartment buildings we’ve selected as the Posh Portals of New York City. They’re listed by street address in dictionary order, so you’ll find 2 Sutton Place South after 1925 Seventh Avenue.

1 East End Avenue • 1 Fifth Avenue • 1 Sutton Place South • 1 West 30 Street – Wilbraham • 1 West 67 Street – Hotel des Artistes • 1 West 72 Street – Dakota • 10 Gracie Square • 1000 Park Avenue • 101 Central Park West • 1016 Fifth Avenue • 1067 Fifth Avenue • 1107 Fifth Avenue • 116 East 68 Street – Milan House • 1185 Park Avenue • 1198 Pacific Street – Imperial • 12 West 72 Street – Oliver Cromwell • 1215 Fifth Avenue • 1225 Park Avenue • 126 East 12 Street • 1261 Madison Avenue • 135 Central Park West – Langham • 135 East 79 Street • 135 West 70 Street – Pythian • 136 Waverly Place – Waverly • 140 Riverside Drive – Normandy • 141 East 3 Street – Ageloff Towers • 145 Central Park West – San Remo • 145 West 79 Street – Manchester House • 147 West 79 Street • 15 Central Park West • 15 West 67 Street – Central Park Studios • 151 Central Park West – Kenilworth • 171 West 71 Street – Dorilton • 180 West 58 Street – Alwyn Court • 19 East 72 Street • 1925 Seventh Avenue – Graham Court • 194 Riverside Drive

2 Sutton Place South • 20 East End Avenue • 200 Hicks Street -Casino Mansions Apartments • 201 West 79 Street – Lucerne • 210 East 68 Street • 2109 Broadway – Ansonia • 211 Central Park West – Beresford • 214 Riverside Drive – Chatillion • 215 West 98 Street – Gramont • 22 East 89 Street – Graham • 2207 Broadway – Apthorp • 222 Central Park South – Gainsborough • 225 Central Park West – Alden • 225 West 86 Street – Belnord • 235 East 22 Street – Gramercy House • 235 West End Avenue • 239 Central Park West • 240 East 79 Street • 241 Central Park West • 243 Riverside Drive – Cliff Dwelling • 243 West End Avenue • 246 East 4 Street • 25 Central Park West – Century • 25 East End Avenue • 251 West 71 Street • 25-35 Tennis Court – Chateau Frontenac • 258 Riverside Drive – Peter Stuyvesant • 27 West 67 Street – Sixty Seventh Street Studio • 285 Central Park West – St. Urban

3 East 84 Street • 30 East 76 Street • 300 Central Park West – Eldorado • 301 West 108 Street – Manhasset • 305 West 98 Street – Schuyler Arms • 310 Riverside Drive – Master Apartments • 32 St. Marks Place • 325 East 79 Street • 325 West End Avenue • 33 West 67 Street • 333 West End Avenue • 336 Central Park West • 34 Gramercy Park East – Gramercy • 344 West 72 Street – Chatsworth • 350 West 85 Street – Red House • 37 Washington Square West • 370 Central Park West • 380 Riverside Drive – Hendrik Hudson • 39 Fifth Avenue • 393 West End Avenue

40 East 62 Street • 400 Chambers Street – Tribeca Park • 401 Eighth Avenue Brooklyn – Roosevelt Arms • 410 Riverside Drive – Riverside Mansions • 418 Central Park West – Braender • 420 West End Avenue • 425 West 23 Street – London Terrace • 43 Fifth Avenue • 435 East 52 Street – River House • 439 East 551 Street – Beekman Mansion • 44 West 77 Street • 440 Riverside Drive – Paterno • 440 West End Avenue • 444 Central Park West • 446 Ocean Avenue Brooklyn • 45 East 66 Street • 450 East 52 Street – Campanile • 455 Ocean Avenue Brooklyn • 465 Ocean Avenue Brooklyn • 47 Plaza Street • 480 Park Avenue • 488 Nostrand Avenue – Renaissance • 49 East 96 Street • 490 West End Avenue • 495 West End Avenue • 498 West End Avenue

50 Central Park West – Prasada • 509 East 77 Street – Cherokee Apartments • 509 West 121 Street – Bancroft • 515 Park Avenue • 52 Riverside Drive • 520 Park Avenue • 521 Park Avenue • 522 West End Avenue • 527 Cathedral Parkway – Britannia • 540 Ocean Avenue Brooklyn – Cathedral Arms • 55 Central Park West • 57 West 75 Street – La Rochelle

625 Ocean Avenue Brooklyn – Arista • 666 Ocean Avenue Brooklyn – Cameo Court

7 Gracie Square • 70 Remsen Street • 70 Vestry Street • 711 Brightwater Court • 716 Ocean Avenue Brooklyn – Valence • 720 Park Avenue • 726 Ocean Avenue Brooklyn • 730 Park Avenue • 74 East 79 Street • 740 Park Avenue • 770 Park Avenue • 780 West End Avenue

800 Park Avenue • 820 Park Avenue • 834 Fifth Avenue • 838 West End Avenue • 850 Park Avenue • 898 Park Avenue

924 West End Avenue – Clebourne • 993 Fifth Avenue • 998 Fifth Avenue

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

Google Map

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.

Fish Building Vital Statistics
Fish Building Recommended Reading

Google Map

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
322 Central Park West Recommended Reading

Google Map

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
279 Central Park West Recommended Reading

Google Map


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
Kenilworth Recommended Reading

Google Map

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
San Remo Recommended Reading

Google Map


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
The Majestic Recommended Reading

Google Map

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

Google Map

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
215 E 68th Street Recommended Reading

Google Map