A West Side apartment house that transports you to Renaissance England

So many of the side streets of the Upper West Side are lovely architectural time capsules, with uniform groups of townhouses and majestic apartment buildings reflecting the fashionable styles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But sometimes you come across a building that feels like a design unicorn. Case in point is Red House, on West 85th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.

This delightful six-story confection of English and French-inspired Gothic details feels more like an Elizabethan manor house, with its white terra cotta, crown cartouche, and red brick—which gave the building its name, according to The Landmarks of New York, Fifth Edition.

Why architects Herbert S. Harde and R. Thomas Short were inspired by Renaissance-era England and France isn’t clear. But Red House is the first upper-class residence the two collaborated on, and it serves as something of an advertisement for their work—which departed from the stately Beaux-Arts style and offered delight and whimsy. “A six-story romantic masterpiece,” the AIA Guide to New York City calls it.

Harde himself lived at Red House with his wife through the 1910s. The building can boast of another notable tenant: a young Dorothy Rothschild—the future Dorothy Parker, states Kevin Fitzpatrick, author of A Journey Into Dorothy Parker’s New York.

“An early example of Harde & Short’s elaborate and luxurious apartment buildings, Red House established many of the recognizable elements which were to become the firm’s calling card,” stated the 1982 Landmarks Preservation Commission report, designating the building a historic landmark.

“The building indicates the acceptance of the apartment building as a desirable housing form, and reflects the impact of this change in the physical development of the Upper West Side.”

After completing Red House in 1904 (above), Harde & Short went on to design the Gothic renaissance-inspired 44 West 77th Street. They’re also the creative geniuses behind 45 East 66th Street as well as Alwyn Court, at Seventh Avenue and 55th Street. All three buildings still grace the cityscape with lots of visual eye candy, such as cathedral-like flourishes and flamboyant detailing.

There’s one unusual design feature that both Alwyn Court and Red House share, courtesy of Harde & Short: both buildings have terra cotta salamanders on the facade. The Red House salamander wears a crown.

Why a salamander? It’s the emblem of Francois I, the king of France from 1515 to 1547—another Renaissance-inspired touch.

[Third image: MCNY; X2010.7.1.395]

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16 Responses to “A West Side apartment house that transports you to Renaissance England”

  1. paragod333 Says:

    I thought it was Riverside Drive, not Riverside Ave. It was when I lived on West End and 83rd, many many years ago

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Fixed! Well, it was Riverside Avenue until about 1908, if that makes the typo less of an offense!

      • Andrew ALPERN Says:

        I believe that the change from Riverside Avenue to Riverside Drive was in 1880 when construction on that new boulevard was completed.

  2. Andrew ALPERN Says:

    I have included in my latest book Posh Portals all four Harde & Short buildings you mention here.

  3. Michael Morris Says:

    Very attractive

  4. Michael Morris Says:

    Very attractive

  5. Ron Says:

    West End Avenue, and Riverside Drive.

  6. countrypaul Says:

    Another example of a building that, in most other cities, would be a tourist landmark. In NYC, it’s just “another face in the crowd,” even a somewhat hidden one. It’s also another reason I love this blog. Thank you!

  7. Ann Haddad Says:

    One of my favorites in the nabe!

  8. jms Says:

    Why a salamander? (Why not a duck?) Besides what you wrote, they’ve long been a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.

    Why this was so significant to Harde & Short is yet another question.

    Anyhow, the Red House is certainly another of their extravaganzas.

    • Andrew ALPERN Says:

      The architectural detail of the Red House was derived from the architecture of Francois the first of France, and his symbol was the salamander. That’s why it shows up on this building and also on Alwyn Court. I doubt that the creature had any personal significance to the architects.

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