Tag Archives: renaissance revival

Red House

Red House is a rarity: A building designed by architects for themselves!

The building is a deluxe apartment house – larger, brighter and more elaborate than the “French Flats” designed for middle-class New Yorkers in the late 1800s. Elaborate ornamentation is one of the earmarks of luxury apartments; Harde & Short were particularly adept at the use of terra cotta in their designs (Alwyn Court on Seventh Avenue at 58th Street is a stunning example).

Harde and Short’s other New York buildings include the landmark Alwyn Court Apartments, Studio Building (44 W 77th Street), and 45 E 66th Street.

Red House Vital Statistics
Red House Recommended Reading

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Standard Oil Building

The Standard Oil Building began as a 10-story, 86-foot-wide structure in 1885 – just 21 years after the Civil War. But as Standard Oil grew, so did the building: In five stages, it extended north by 27 feet and south by almost 400 feet to Beaver Street and grew to 29 stories. The piece-by-piece construction was dictated by the pace of acquiring and demolishing adjoining properties. The building expanded again in 2011-2012 with the addition of a two-story gymnasium, which filled in a portion of the Beaver Street light court. The gymnasium was needed by one of the three NYC public schools that now occupy seven lower floors.

The shape of the Standard Oil Building is as complex as its construction history – the 16-story base is five-sided, with a curved transition to follow the curve of Broadway as it joins Whitehall Street. The 13-story tower seems misaligned with the building when viewed from the southwest (the best view), but it is actually aligned with the original building’s northern edge.

Material and stylistic details also reveal the piece-by-piece construction. For example, the original brick and granite shows on the New Street (eastern) facade; newer sections are clad in limestone. Some limestone blocks have rounded edges, others are sharply angled; different styles of columns and pilasters are used in the upper stories.

Standard Oil Building Vital Statistics
Standard Oil Building Recommended Reading

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Arsenal Building

The Arsenal Building, a 21-story Renaissance Revival loft building, was the first of 14 Garment District structures designed by Ely Jacques Kahn. The building is named for the New York State Arsenal that previously occupied the site.

(Not to be confused with The Arsenal at Fifth Avenue and 63rd Street, now used as a Parks Department administration building.)

At the time that this was built, loft buildings were notoriously cheap and utilitarian in construction – designed with little regard for aesthetics. Here, the developer and architect decided to invest in beauty (similar to the 1888 Schermerhorn Building in Greenwich Village, designed to demonstrate that a factory didn’t have to be ugly).

Incidentally, the Garment District’s development was quite controversial over the years. The city and the garment industry grappled with issues of worker safety, overcrowding, traffic, and disruption of business in the adjacent shopping district. The Skyscraper Museum exhibition “Urban Fabric” and Fashion Center pdf pamphlet “A Stitch In Time” have more background.

Arsenal Building Vital Statistics
Arsenal Building Recommended Reading

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Dakota Apartments

The Dakota Apartments were New York’s first luxury apartments, built by Singer Sewing Machine’s Edward S. Clark and designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh (of Plaza Hotel fame). It was named the Dakota, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, because Clark’s colleagues teased him that if he built it a few blocks further away he could build it in Dakota (Indian territory). *

The grand structure overlooking Central Park has a 20-foot-high covered entryway into its central courtyard – designed to accommodate carriages and horses, which were stabled nearby. The apartments were served by four entrances, at the corners of the courtyard. The adjoining lot – now a white brick apartment building – used to contain The Dakota’s tennis courts and a power station.

Though most recently known as the home of John Lennon and Yoko Ono – and the site where Lennon was murdered – the building has in fact been home to dozens of celebrities. Celebrity status isn’t enough to gain admittance, though: The Board of Directors (The Dakota is a cooperative) is notorious for rejecting would-be tenants. Among the rejected: Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Cher, Billy Joel, Madonna, Carly Simon, Alex Rodriguez, Judd Apatow and Tea Leoni.

When apartments become available, their prices are in the tens of millions of dollars. That doesn’t seem to bother some people: John Lennon had six apartments; Rudolf Nureyev’s apartment was just one of several homes.

When built, The Dakota Apartments offered many services of a hotel. A private dining room served residents – or delivered (and served) meals in their apartments. A substantial housekeeping staff included porters, janitors, maids, laundresses, elevator operators and more. The staff delivered coal and firewood for the apartments’ stoves and fireplaces – and hauled away the resulting ashes. The top two floors were originally for the building’s laundry, and servants quarters.

All in all, beautiful architecture and fascinating history. See some of the interiors at the Dakota Projects documentary website.

* This story, though widely quoted, actually has no documentary basis according to historian Andrew Alpern. The quote was pure speculation of a property manager, years after Clark died, says Mr. Alpern.

There is a new book by architectural historian Andrew Alpern – the most comprehensive history of The Dakota imaginable! Mr. Alpern documents the building, its builder (and family!), the architect, the neighborhood, the architectural and historical context, and even the Dakota’s residents. Fascinating reading that illuminates not only The Dakota, but also the world of apartment living in New York City. I’m honored that he chose photos from this gallery to help illustrate the volume.

Dakota Apartments Vital Statistics
Dakota Apartments Recommended Reading

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Amidon is an attractive seven-story Renaissance Revival apartment building with finely detailed yellow-orange roman brick – ambitious for its time and neighborhood – now enlivened by a sculptor in residence.

The building is part of the newly (June 2012) expanded Riverside-West End Historic District. Most of the Amidon’s facade is original – historic, in preservation-speak – except that the storefronts have been replaced and the cornice was removed. And oh, the whimsical grotesques that flank the main entry were sculpted by G. Augustine Lynas, an Amidon resident.

(Mr. Lynas has other work in the neighborhood – an elaborate sandbox, cast in sand-colored concrete, is the centerpiece of a children’s playground in Riverside Park, between W 82nd and W 83rd Streets. You can see more at www.SandSong.com.)

Amidon Vital Statistics
Amidon Recommended Reading

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W 71st Street Row Houses

West 71st Street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Boulevard, was designated a New York City Historic District in 1989, to preserve 36 buildings – principally row houses built 1893-1896 on a dead-end street.

This collection depicts eight of those houses – 329 to 343 W 71st Street – designed by Horgan & Slattery.

History does not look kindly on Horgan & Slattery; their most prominent commissions, it was charged, came from Tammany Hall connections rather than merit. This set of row houses, though private residences untainted by political connections, have been criticized as a copy of Stanford White’s Century Association Building on W 43rd Street (see The New York Times article).

Regardless of who should get credit for the design (the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission credits Horgan & Slattery without comment), they are exceptional buildings!

The yellow/tan brick, terra cotta decoration, alternating round-arched and plain doors, oval windows, balconies, columns and pilasters – give the buildings unique character.

If you visit the block you’ll see something else that’s unique: An artificial “dead end.” Before Riverside Boulevard was created over the former West Side rail yards, W 71st was a dead end. The street now joins Riverside Boulevard, but barriers (retractable to allow emergency vehicles) make it a through street only for pedestrians. A local resident said the barriers are to maintain the street’s quiet character.

W 71st Street Row Houses Vital Statistics
W 71st Street Row Houses Recommended Reading

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19th Precinct

The 19th Precinct Station House is the second of four late-1880s landmarks in a row on the north side of E 67th Street – and now actually joined to the third, a fire station house.*

The building was conceived in 1883 as the home of the 28th Precinct – which then covered the area from E 58th to E 79th Streets, from Central Park to the East River and Roosevelt Island (then known as Blackwell’s Island). By the time that construction was underway in 1886, the Precinct had been renumbered (25th) and its territory extended a block south to E 57th Street. The unit was renumbered again in 1908 (31st Precinct), 1924 (10A Precinct), and 1929 (19th Precinct).

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designated this (and three adjacent buildings) as landmarks in 1980, but the Board of Estimate overturned the designation for the Precinct and neighboring fire house. The city’s plan: Demolish and rebuild. (The separate jail, behind the station house, had been demolished in 1974.) An alternate plan was devised in 1990 that saved the fronts of the precinct and fire house, and built new rear portions that joined the two structures. The precinct now uses upper floors of the adjacent fire house (which originally had been used as NYFD headquarters).

*The four E 67th Street landmarks are: Mount Sinai Dispensary (now Kennedy Child Study Center) at 149; 19th (originally 25th) Police Precinct at 153; Engine Company 39/Ladder Company 16 Station House at 157; and Park East Synagogue, 163.

19th Precinct Vital Statistics
19th Precinct Recommended Reading

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Fraternity Clubs Building

Fraternity Clubs Building, aka Jolly Madison Towers Hotel, was built in 1923 by the Allerton Hotel Group, which specialized in club-like residence hotels. Allerton had six hotels in New York City. Now under its fifth name, the hotel still honors its past.

The Fraternity Clubs Building became Midston House in the 1930s, then Hotel Lancaster in the 1960s, then Madison Towers, and currently Jolly Madison Towers. The building is scantly covered in traditional architectural sources – but detailed on page 4 of the Delta Chi Quarterly 1994-95 Winter.

At street level the Renaissance Revival-style building is distinctive but not remarkable – the Madison Avenue facade looks a bit run down. A series of nine fraternal crests adorn the second story along both the Madison Avenue and E 38th Street facades; an unidentified bas relief ship (the Mayflower?) decorates the corner. The best views are the building’s east side, seen from Park Avenue. The tower’s tapestry brickwork, arches, arcades, octagonal cupolas, and red-tiled roofs are glorious.

Fraternity Clubs Building Vital Statistics
Fraternity Clubs Building Recommended Reading

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Keuffel & Esser Company Building

Keuffel & Esser Company Building, a New York landmark designed by De Lemos & Cordes, is well-preserved Renaissance Revival architecture on Fulton Street.

Like many commercial buildings in lower Manhattan, this has been converted (2010) to residential use – Compass Points Condominiums. “Compass Points” refers to two of Keuffel & Esser’s lines of business: Drafting/drawing instruments and surveying instruments.

Unlike many commercial buildings in lower Manhattan, this facade has been well preserved and restored. The Fulton Street side is the building’s most impressive facade, although the back of the building (42 Ann Street) is actually one story taller.

Architects Theodore W. E. De Lemos and August W. Cordes were successful designers of commercial buildings. Among their accomplishments are the Macy’s department store (original Broadway building), the Siegel-Cooper Department Store (now occupied by Bed Bath & Beyond) on Sixth Avenue, and the original Empire State Building (named for the Empire State Bank), 640 Broadway at Bleecker Street.

Keuffel & Esser Company Building Vital Statistics
Keuffel & Esser Company Building Recommended Reading

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Potter Building

Orlando Potter set out to make a fireproof building. It became “one of New York’s most significant surviving tall office buildings of the period prior to the full development of the skyscraper,” according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “Its brickwork is among the handsomest in New York City.”

The 1886 Potter Building replaced the ill-fated headquarters of the New York World, which had the distinction of burning up in the shortest time on record. Potter, the building’s owner, set out to make the replacement fireproof.

Iron framing and terra cotta fireproofing were key elements in the plan designed by architect Norris G. Starkweather. The structure represents an early phase of metal framing: Iron columns and joists supported the floors and interior of the building; the exterior walls supported themselves. (To bear the weight, those brick walls are 40 inches thick at the base and 20 inches thick at the top.) Terra cotta tiles surround the iron columns and joists, to protect them from the heat of a fire.

Abundant brownstone-colored terra cotta also decorated the red brick exterior. Starkweather combined four different architectural styles in the 11-story building (which was more than double the height of the previous structure). He emphasized vertical lines – counter to then-current practice. One critic condemned the resulting architecture as “coarse, pretentious, overloaded and intensely vulgar” and in its verticality, “spindling.” Starkweather died before the building was finished.

Potter liked the terra cotta so much, he founded New York Architectural Terra Cotta Co. and became one of the country’s largest producers.

Fast forward to 1973: After eight sales and 87 years, the Potter Building wound up in the hands of Pace College. The school planned to demolish this (and neighboring buildings) to build a large office tower. That project fizzled, and Pace sold the Potter Building in 1979 to 38 Park Row Associates – which converted the building to co-op loft apartments.

Remarkably, the new owners preserved and restored the exterior at great expense – 17 years before the building was designated a NYC landmark.

Potter Building Vital Statistics
Potter Building Recommended Reading

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