The lavish porte cocheres of Gilded Age New York

When New York’s first luxury apartment residences were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, developers added all kinds of fabulous amenities to entice the city’s wealthy.

After all, the idea of apartment living—”living on a shelf,” as Mrs. Astor reportedly called it—was a hard sell in a city where the elite preferred the status symbol of their own freestanding mansion.

Electric lights, wall safes, private restaurants, billiards rooms, servant quarters, a chauffeurs’ lounge, even a rooftop farm were among the offerings developers used to lure potential buyers.

And there was one other convenience well-heeled New Yorker desired: a porte cochere.

What’s a porte cochere? It’s a recessed entrance—sometimes covered, sometimes not—that allows a vehicle to enter into a building’s private courtyard, so a resident alighting from a car or carriage wouldn’t have to step out on the street.

The porte cochere (it’s in French, so of course it connotes luxury) brings the vehicle to an interior door instead, which was the ultimate in comfort and privacy.

So in the early days of opulent apartment houses, the best buildings all featured porte cocheres. Many of these buildings are still with us, and so are their delightfully old-world porte cocheres, though not all are in use.

Two of the loveliest are—where else?—Sutton Place. The top two photos show the exterior porte cochere and the interior driveway at 2 Sutton Place, at 57th Street. The third photo is the three-entrance porte cochere at 1 Sutton Place across the street.

The fourth image is the beautiful porte cochere of the St. Urban, a building that wouldn’t be out of place in Paris or Prague but was actually constructed in 1906 on Central Park West and 89th Street.

Beneath it is the porte cochere at 1185 Park Avenue and 94th Street, completed in 1929 and so luxurious, this residence doesn’t even have a name.

Finally, here’s a throwback photo showing off the wide, high-ceiling port cochere at the Paterno, the magnificent building at 440 Riverside Drive and 116th Street, built in 1909.

Supposedly porte cocheres are all the rage once again, in what some people call New York’s second Gilded Age. The New York Times ran an article last month about how these are the new must-have feature potential buyers want in a co-op or condo.

The demands of the uber rich apparently have not changed very much since the first Gilded Age.

[Last photo: MCNY, 1910]

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5 Responses to “The lavish porte cocheres of Gilded Age New York”

  1. Nancy Anderson Says:

    Hope those 21 century port cocheres are equipped with EV rechargers, even better Metrocard vending machines!

  2. Tom B Says:

    Do they consider the entrance to the Dakota a porte cocheres? Doesn’t 15 CPW have one too? I like the Sutton Place one. It makes so much practical sense putting it on the corner of the building

    • Beth Says:

      I was going to mention these two as well.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      You’re right; the Dakota entrance is also a porte cochere, and 15 CPW has one, too. Manhattan House in the east 60s as well. They are perfect examples of how different porte cocheres can look depending on the decade the building opened.

  3. Tom B Says:

    Directly across the entrance to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum is 1 East 91 Street, the Otto Kahn House. It has a very big carriage entrance which could be considered a Porte Cochere. This entrance/mansion was used in the 1972 movie, The Anderson Tapes, starring Sean Connery. They parked a Mayflower moving van inside it.

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