A brownstone encased in concrete on 64th Street

East 64th Street between Park and Lexington is a sweet brownstone block.

But one home sticks out: number 130, which has been strangely hiding behind a concrete grill for much of the past 50 years.

It’s an interesting story. The brownstone went up in 1878 and was bought by architect Edward Durell Stone in 1956.

Stone was an early proponent of modernism; he designed the Museum of Modern Art, the GM Building, and the Gallery of Modern Art at 2 Columbus Circle (redone in 2006, but looking a lot like the 64th Street brownstone in the 1960s).

Stone remodeled his new home, adding the concrete screen and putting in plate glass windows behind it.

It was supposed to offer privacy and create a romantic, latticework effect.

Instead, it garnered a lot of criticism. Over the years, the grill collected dirt and deteriorated.

Stone’s widow removed the facade in the late 1980s, then was fined by the Landmarks Preservation Commission because the home was now part of the Upper East Side Historic District.

The grill went back up in the 1990s, a framework of bisected circles rising four stories—exciting or enraging passersby who either love it or hate it.

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11 Responses to “A brownstone encased in concrete on 64th Street”

  1. The Devoted Classicist Says:

    Although not one of my favorites, I have friends who are wild about it. It was truly horrible without the grille, though.

  2. Upstate Ellen Says:

    I thought Stone’s name sounded familiar: he designed the uptown campus of the University at Albany (a/k/a State University of New York at Albany). Another “love it or hate it” design.

    • lisaakalisa Says:

      Stone also designed Huntington Hartford’s museum at 2 Columbus Circle– aka “The Lollipop Building” (memorialized in Tom Wolfe’s essay “The Luther of Columbus Circle”).

      Stone’s original facade at 2 Columbus was replaced a few years ago– which goes to show that landmark preservation is 50% whim, 50% politics. A four story decorative grill on East 64 Street townhouse is “The fabric of history”; while a 12-story modernist museum on Columbus Circle ain’t worth preserving.

  3. lisaakalisa Says:

    It’s comical that the widow Stone was prevented from removing a decorative element that she and her husband added only thirty years earlier– an addition that very likely would have been prohibited in the first place, had the landmarks commission been in existence in 1956.

    According to longtime New York City Landmarks Commissioner Thomas Pike, standards for landmark status have changed significantly over the years, “Now we’re preserving not just beautiful buildings, not just those connected to history, but the fabric of history itself.”

    Perhaps Pike could explain to us why action A –erecting the decorative grill in ’56– is a part of the glorious “fabric of history” while action B –removing the grill in ’88– doesn’t meet this exalted standard.

    • Bob_in_MA Says:

      lisaakalisa,

      That’s a great point. There’s something incredibly pretentious about it. Especially since there’s apparently no problem with the old NYT building being covered with tacky ads.

  4. 24gotham Says:

    While I wouldn’t advocate one of these on every block or even in every neighborhood, I like it, and am glad it was required to be put back up. Random blips like these that add another level of character to the city.

    • lisaakalisa Says:

      I too like the grill, however I don’t think it’s appropriate for me, you, or Thomas Pike to impose our random preferences on property owners.

      The Stone family presumably had valid reasons to want the grill removed, it’s entirely possible that Edward himself didn’t foresee the long-term drawbacks of such an architectural device. But, then again in 1956 he couldn’t have predicted that he or his heirs would be prohibited from altering it.

      Why should your or my appreciation of random architectural blips supersede an owners desire to have windows that can be easily cleaned… or that aren’t obscured by pigeon nests and snow? You think landmarking bestows us with random blips of interesting architecture? What of the “random blips” that will never come into existence specifically BECAUSE of the Landmarks Commission? “The seen, and the unseen” as Frederic Bastiat would say-)

  5. Dustin Carlton Says:

    here’s a vote for loving it!

  6. d_m1lls Says:

    it looks like a old radiator cover

  7. Is this the ugliest brownstone in Chelsea? | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] this Modernist example in Turtle Bay, the concrete grill townhouse in the East 60s, and the futuristic bubble-window brownstone in the East […]

  8. Weird things done to New York brownstones | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] entire front of this rowhouse on the Upper East Side. I wonder what kind of light comes in. It was designed by a Modernist architect in the […]

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