Archive for the ‘Upper East Side’ Category

The stories of 4 holdout buildings that refused to bow to the wrecking ball

May 22, 2023

It’s hard not to cheer on a New York City holdout building.

You know holdouts: smaller walkup buildings, usually one-time residences, that somehow managed to remain intact over the past century or so in a city filled with developers who would love to get their hands on them—or at least the land they occupy.

Some holdouts are in beautiful shape, a testament to former and current owners who had the means and the will to maintain their original loveliness. This French Renaissance-style holdout, at 612 West 116th Street, began its life in 1906 as the Delta Phi fraternity house for the Columbia University chapter, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission report for the Morningside Heights Historic District.

Today, it’s part of the Columbia campus and houses Casa Hispanica.

In somewhat shabbier shape is this handsome holdout (second image) at 18 East 33rd Street. Today the ground floor is occupied by a bar and restaurant; it’s surrounded by a new glass tower and an early 1900s loft building in a decidedly commercial Murray Hill.

Back in the 1870s, however, it was part of an elite residential row in stylish Murray Hill, home to New York’s upper echelon and steps from Mrs. Astor’s brownstone mansion at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. It might be in this photo from 1885 showing President Grant’s funeral procession.

A New York Daily Herald ad from 1874 describes it as a “first class four story brown stone house, well arranged and in good order.” If only the ad told us what it was selling for!

On Riverside Drive between 75th and 76th Streets stand two eclectic row houses. Both Number 35 and 36 were completed in 1889 by the architectural firm Lamb & Rich, according to the LPC report for the West End-Collegiate Historic District.

These two fanciful homes would have housed one family in each; they were early arrivals on the new “millionaire’s row” of Riverside Drive, which was supposed to overtake Fifth Avenue as the city’s wealthiest avenue. Originally there were four row houses, but only two remain, replaced by the 1922 tower next door.

Another Queen Anne-style stunner between Park and Madison Avenues also went up in the 1880s. Number 72 East 86th Street changed hands often during the first decades of its existence.

Built as a single-family home, it was increasingly crowded out by the new elegant apartment towers going up on the Upper East Side. Perhaps the trend toward apartment living was what prompted its owners in the early 1920s to convert it into apartments.

Two rooms and a bath for $75 a month? That was pricey in 1922, when this ad appeared in the New York Herald!

[Third photo: NYPL Digital Collections; sixth image: New York Herald]

Art Deco mystery nudes on a Park Avenue apartment house

May 1, 2023

There’s a lot to admire about 940 Park Avenue, a limestone and brick prewar beauty at the corner of East 81st Street described as having “refined, slender lines” in a 1925 announcement of the building in the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide.

That description sounds feminine, and perhaps not coincidentally, a series of brass female nudes grace the ironwork at the building entrance.

One figure extends her arms in a brass circle against a second-floor iron juliet balcony. Three other brass nudes appear above the front door, seemingly playing music.

Specifically what they represent (the three graces, possibly, like these similar figures on East 57th Street?) and why they were placed there by architects George and Edward Blum remains a mystery.

But these symmetrical, streamlined Art Deco emblems appear to celebrate humanity and creativity. How lovely for residents to view them every day as they enter the building!

19th century architectural remnants hiding in today’s Metropolitan Museum of Art

April 24, 2023

Every week, thousands of people come to see the millions of artifacts on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the city’s treasures for indoor art viewing and outside people watching.

But hidden inside this majestic museum building and its many additions fronting Fifth Avenue from 79th to 84th Streets are some fascinating architectural artifacts. They’re not officially on exhibit, nor do they come with captions explaining their origins.

These are the remnants of the museum’s first incarnation as a much smaller Romanesque- and Gothic-style structure dating back to 1879—nine years after a group of citizens decided Gotham needed a world-class art museum, then put plans in place to make it happen.

The museum’s original facade, seen in this 1880 photo at top, is one such architectural fragment. This first museum building was designed by Calvert Vaux, co-creator of Central Park, and Jacob Wray Mould, the man behind many of Central Park’s buildings and features.

Blocked from view in the early 1900s—apparently when Richard Morris Hunt’s Beaux-Arts limestone design was constructed in front of it and became the museum’s Neo-classical entrance (above, 1905)—the southern side of the old facade is now visible in the Robert Lehman Wing.

A small piece of the original facade, in the form of a “banded-granite pointed arch,” per a 2010 museum post, can be viewed near the top of the grand staircase on the second floor beside the Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery.

These Victorian Gothic staircases (note the gorgeous florals on the staircase column!) are also survivors inside the contemporary museum. Originally part of the 1879 building, they were restored in 1995, according to the 2010 post. (During my visit, they were also blocked off to visitors.)

Recognize these brick arches under the grand staircase (below)? They make for a wonderfully evocative exhibit space for Byzantine art. But they used to be part of Richard Morris Hunt’s 1902 entrance pavilion, per a second museum post from 2010.

If you were a museum visitor after 1888, you would be greeted by a new southern wing (below postcard), designed by architect Theodore Weston. With its three enormous arched windows framed by limestone and red brick, Weston’s wing complemented Vaux and Mould’s original building.

Eventually, as the museum continued to expand, the facade of Weston’s wing became an interior wall. Where can you view it today? Head to the Carroll and Milton Petrie Sculpture Court, where its beauty is on full display.

It’s worth noting that the Met’s collection contains several artifacts from New York City’s architectural past. The facade of an 1822 bank building on Wall Street forms one wall of Charles Englehard Court. A column from LaGrange Terrace, aka Colonnade Row on Lafayette Street, is also on view in the American Wing, per a 2021 museum post.

The Gilded Age interior of the Arabella Worsham/Laura and John D. Rockefeller house, formerly at 4 West 54th Street, is also on exhibit.

But for additional glimpses of the original museum hiding inside the contemporary Metropolitan Museum of Art, don’t look for caption cards—just keep your eyes peeled.

[Top image: MCNY, X2010.11.4938; third image: NYPL]

A “wonderfully gaudy” Fifth Avenue chateau for a Gilded Age financier’s large family

January 30, 2023

Many of the Gilded Age mansions built on or around Fifth Avenue carried unhappy backstories. Residents of these marble and limestone palaces navigated disappointing marriages and disappearing fortunes. Intended to be monuments to wealth and grandeur, their homes were often reduced to rubble within a few generations.

But the still-extant mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street is the rare home on Millionaire Mile built for a close-knit clan that valued art and philanthropy. Within these ecclesiastical-like walls lived two parents who modeled for their children what it meant to give back.

The story of the mansion, at 1109 Fifth Avenue, begins with Felix Moritz Warburg. Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1871 into a family of bankers, Warburg immigrated to America in 1894 and became a partner in the banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb & Co.

“He established a reputation as a financier, bon vivant, art collector, philanthropist, and leader within the Jewish community,” noted the Expanded Carnegie Hill Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

Warburg was also becoming a family man. A year later he married Frieda Schiff (below, in 1894), daughter of Jacob Schiff, the philanthropist and financier who was a senior partner in the firm.

In the next eight years, the Warburgs would have five children—one girl and four boys. Though they lived in a posh townhouse on East 72nd Street, they needed a larger space to fit their growing family (as well as Felix Warburg’s growing art collection).

So amid the Panic of 1907, Warburg bought a corner lot at Fifth and 92nd Street a block from Andrew Carnegie’s mansion on 91st Street. Warburg admired the style of the 1899 Fletcher-Sinclair mansion at Fifth Avenue and 79th Street (today’s Ukrainian Institute), and he commissioned that mansion’s architect, C. P. H. Gilbert, to create a similar residence for his family.

Gilbert was already at work designing a home for Felix Warburg’s brother, Paul. It probably wasn’t difficult for Felix to ask the highly acclaimed architect to create one for him as well.

Jacob Schiff, however, tried to dissuade Felix and Frieda from going with such a showy, fanciful style, thinking it might foment envy and encourage anti-semitism, according to Ron Chernow’s The Warburgs. But Schiff’s objection didn’t change the Warburgs’ plans.

In 1908, the Warburg mansion was completed (above, early 1900s): a massive French Gothic home with its main entrance on 92nd Street and a lawn along the side. It was not dissimilar to the many ostentatious chateaus wealthy New Yorkers were building at the time.

“Made of Indiana limestone, with steep slate mansard roofs and ogee-arched windows with crocketed gables, this wonderfully gaudy edifice fit into the row of extravagant mansions that lined Fifth Avenue in the aftermath of the Gilded Age,” wrote Chernow.

Inside, the house (above, around 1940) reflected the family’s interests. A second floor room and conservatory were filled with Felix Warburg’s art collection, which included works by Botticelli and etchings by Rembrandt, Durer, and Cranach, noted Chernow. The third floor contained an office for Felix and a space for Frieda to host friends for tea.

The children’s rooms were on the fourth floor, where “a miniature electric railroad snaked from room to room,” noted the 1981 report by the Landmarks Preservation Commission declaring the mansion to be a historic landmark. The fifth floor contained squash courts, and the sixth floor was given over to the 13 live-in servants.

While their “bright, smart-alecky, irreverent children,” as Chernow described them, grew up and began adult lives, the Warburgs became deeper involved in philanthropic efforts. The scope of these efforts is almost impossible to describe.

Felix Warburg (above) became “involved with hospitals, aid to children, to the blind, and to the immigrant poor, ” stated the 1981 LPC report. “He organized 75 separate charities into the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, and served as its president and later chairman of the board.”

Warburg also established the first children’s courts in New York City, brought nurses into public schools, funded playgrounds and settlement houses, and lent his financial support to museums while helping to establish Juilliard School of Music.

His philanthropy extended overseas as well. “During World War I when Central Europe endured desperate privations, Warburg became a founder and chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee, of which he remained head until 1932,” per the 1981 report.

After the Nazis seized power, Warburg helped thousands of Jewish residents flee, according to a Time article from 1937. Ultimately, he gave millions to assist Jewish causes around the world.

The Warburgs’ biggest and most personal act of charity was also the one that kept their mansion from meeting the wrecking ball.

Both Felix and Frieda served on the board of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Seven years after Felix died in his Fifth Avenue home in 1937—he had a heart attack at age 66—Frieda decided to donate the home to the Jewish Theological Seminary.

“Thirty-nine years after its erection as a private home for a German-born banker, the Warburg Mansion opened to the public as the Jewish Museum in 1947,” states the website for the Jewish Museum.

Considering the Warburgs’ deep involvement in educational and cultural philanthropy, not to mention Jewish causes, we can assume that they both would enthusiastically approve of the ongoing use of their magnificent former family home.

[Third image:; fourth photo: NYPL; fifth photo: NYC Department of Records & Information Services; fifth photo:]

What the figures on the doors of a Third Avenue Gap store tell us about the building

January 23, 2023

The front doors caught my eye first. Heavy and bronze, these two doors at the entrance of the Gap store at Third Avenue and 85th Street feature intricate carvings and curious allegorical figures reminiscent of ancient Greece.

On one door, a woman balances a locomotive engine in her left hand and grips a caduceus in the right. Behind her is a sailing ship, and beside her head are the words “commerce and industry.”

The man on the opposite door holds a staff with a beehive at the top. In his other hand is a key, and at his feet a cornucopia. “Finance and savings” is inscribed at his shoulder.

Classical figures like these are pretty much the last thing you’d expect to find as you walk into the Gap. But the same set of doors also exist on the 85th Street side of the building, and the allegorical images offer a solid clue about what this unusually dignified building in the heart of Yorkville was built for.

The building was once the home of Yorkville Bank—an Italian Renaissance Revival structure built to serve this growing middle- and working-class immigrant neighborhood in 1905, according to a 2012 Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

The cast-bronze doors, fabricated by John Polachek Bronze & Iron Company of Long Island City, arrived after a renovation in the 1920s.

Four stories of limestone, brick, terra cotta, and granite, the building has the imposing, fortress-like look of a typical bank building from turn of the century New York City—when savings bank failures weren’t uncommon and financial institutions wanted to instill a sense of trust and strength to entice potential customers.

The allegorical figures are part of this strength and trust. The train the woman holds is a symbol of industry; the caduceus suggests commerce, according to the LPC report. The key in the man’s hands represents prudence, and the cornucopia is a sign of plenty.

The beehive is a traditional symbol of thrift, one found on the remains of other former bank buildings across Gotham.

Yorkville Bank’s rise and fall (above, about 1940) seem to mimic the rise and fall of Yorkville. A solid neighborhood bank in the first part of the 20th century, it merged with Manufacturer’s Trust Company in the 1920s. Business slowed as Yorkville’s German, Hungarian, and Czech immigrant communities dispersed and the neighborhood began its slow absorption by the Upper East Side.

The bank closed in 1990, after which it underwent a renovation into a more up-to-date commercial space. A year later, the Gap moved in.

Thankfully the Gap kept the doors, as well as the charming “YB” (Yorkville Bank, of course!) inscription above them.

Bank buildings all over New York City have been repurposed for other businesses—here’s one on the Upper West Side that now serves as a CVS, and another on Lafayette Street that’s become a Duane Reade.

[Fourth image: NYC Department of Records & Information Services]

The story behind the flowers in the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

January 23, 2023

When you walk through the front doors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you enter a Neoclassical lobby that’s an architectural treasure in its own right—with dramatic archways, a marble floor, and a ceiling that seems to soar to the heavens.

But amid the coolness of the stone and marble, there’s a feature of the museum’s “Great Hall” that adds an aura of warmth and life: the giant urns that contain beautiful oversize fresh flower arrangements.

These lovely blooms change weekly; they tend to reflect the seasons. And just like every work of art displayed at the Met, there’s a story behind them.

The flowers were the idea of philanthropist Lila Acheson Wallace. In the late 1960s, she funded an endowment that would allow Met administrators to purchase and display weekly “starburst” flower arrangements throughout the lobby.

“An ephemeral addition to an otherwise timeless space, the florals change every Tuesday thanks to the generosity of a single donor, Lila Acheson Wallace, whose endowment in 1967 funded fresh flowers in perpetuity,” reported the New York Times in 2016.

Wallace herself reportedly wanted the flowers to convey to visitors, “we’re expecting you—welcome.”

Wallace, who with her husband founded Readers’ Digest in 1922, was a major benefactor of the Met. Museum-goers may recognize her name above the entrance to the Lila Acheson Wallace wing, which opened in 1987 to exhibit modern art.

Though she passed away in 1984, her endowment continues to grace the Great Hall and bring a sense of the present to a building famed for its antiquities.

[Top image: TomasEE/Wikipedia; third image: MetKids/]

What happened to the missing mansion built in 1906 on Upper Fifth Avenue

January 16, 2023

There’s a curious hole in the cityscape across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On a stretch of Fifth Avenue once known as Millionaire Mile, where handsome apartment houses and single-family mansions stand in alignment (with few exceptions) from 59th Street to the upper reaches of Central Park, the faded outline of a building can be seen on the side of 1026 Fifth, between 83rd and 84th Streets.

Number 1025 Fifth Avenue was evidently a smaller structure. Based on the ghostly outline left behind, it also lacked the Beaux-Arts flourishes of its neighbors, with their steep rooflines.

But even though it’s just a phantom building these days, its prominent address and strange disappearance from such an expensive swatch of real estate hint that the house has a backstory worth exploring. Here’s the mansion’s story, and the prominent early New Yorkers who called it home.

It all started in 1906, a few years after the three neighboring mansions to the north went up and filled out the block to 84th Street. Architect Ogden Codman was brought in to design a house for Genera Lloyd S. Bryce and his wife Edith, a granddaughter of Peter Cooper.

Bryce isn’t a household name anymore. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he was a well-known writer, editor, and politician, serving positions in New York State government and as a rep in Congress in the 1880s.

The house Codman designed for Bryce (above, in 1939)) was a restrained, elegant beauty, described as a “white marble English basement” dwelling by the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide. The guide also noted Bryce’s well-heeled neighbors, which included Mrs. William M. Kingsland at Number 1026 next door.

Bryce spent five years in his Fifth Avenue mansion before being named the U.S. diplomat to the Netherlands in 1911. Newspaper accounts have it that Vincent Astor (son of John Jacob Astor IV, who died on the Titanic) leased the house from Bryce.

After Astor, a newlywed couple with an old New York pedigree became the new occupants in 1912 (above photo).

Peter Goelet Gerry (descendent of the landowning, Knickerbocker-era Goelet family) and his bride, railroad heiress Mathilde Townsend (“one of the noted beauties” of her hometown of Washington, D.C., per one newspaper), threw themselves what the New York Times described as a “small house warming” party in their ballroom to celebrate their move into Number 1025.

“There was a dinner of 28 covers, followed by dancing, for which additional guests came in, and a seated supper was served soon after 12 o’clock,” wrote the Times on February 1. “There were 150 guests in all. The guests were chiefly young married couples.”

Unfortunately, the party didn’t last. Mathilde and Peter, who would eventually become a senator from Rhode Island, divorced in 1925.

The next occupants of 1025 Fifth Avenue arrived in 1918, purchasing the mansion from the estate of Bryce, who passed away in 1917. Their last name was the one that likely opened the most doors.

Frederick W.Vanderbilt, grandson of Commodore Vanderbilt, and his wife, Louise (below, in the 1880s), had original architect Ogden Codman renovate the house (above photo) before they took up occupancy.

Though the Vanderbilt name is synonymous with fancy dress balls and nights at the Metropolitan Opera, Frederick and Louise lived a relatively quiet life. Louise opened the home to recitals and luncheons; she was known for her devotion to charity and philanthropy.

After Louise’s death in 1926, this genealogy source states that Frederick spent the rest of his life in his Hyde Park mansion, becoming “a virtual recluse, living alone except for his servants.”

Frederick died in 1938, and Number 1025 was sold after his death. By 1954, the house was knocked down, replaced not by another mansion but by the long courtyard and corridor-like lobby of a towering apartment building erected in 1955, according to the Metropolitan Museum Historic District report.

The new apartment building took the mansion’s address, though only the 100-foot-long canopy and lobby extend to Fifth. It’s been called a gimmick and “clever ploy” by developers to obtain a Fifth Avenue address even though the building itself is actually on a side street.

The lobby gimmick has an upside, though: It keeps the original mansion’s faded outline visible, never fully erased from the cityscape like so many other houses with equally rich histories.

[Second photo: NYC Department of Records & Information Services; third photo: Library of Congress; fourth photo: unknown; fifth photo: Wikipedia; sixth photo: Google]

The story of a Fifth Avenue mansion scorned by its second owner as a “gardener’s cottage”

January 2, 2023

If houses could talk, I’m betting 1048 Fifth Avenue would tell lots of stories—specifically about the first two of its four total owners over more than a century overlooking 86th Street.

The first owner was a wealthy industrialist who made the most of his good fortune, holding his daughter’s wedding to a British lord in the music room. The other owner was a society doyenne forced to downsize from an 80+ room palace, and she dubbed it a mere cottage compared to the house she was accustomed to.

The story began during the Fifth Avenue mansion-building mania after 1890. For the next 25 years, a rush of business titans and old money millionaires sought to build their castles opposite Central Park.

Mrs. Astor, Andrew Carnegie, William A. Clark—one by one, the Gilded Age wealthy relocated to their new dwellings. At the tail end of this mansion boom came the French Classical–style house at 1048 Fifth Avenue, at the southeast corner of 86th Street.

Taking the place of a previous mansion owned by brewer David Mayer, number 1048 was commissioned by William Starr Miller. An industrialist and real estate operator, Miller had been residing at the more genteel end of Fifth Avenue steps from Washington Square Park.

Exactly what Miller did to make his money is a little unclear. But he had enough of it to hire the premier architectural firm Carrere & Hastings to create his new digs. Carrere & Hastings designed the New York Public Library building at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue in 1912, and the firm was about to begin work on Henry Clay Frick’s house down the avenue on 70th Street.

Completed in 1914, what became known as the William Starr Miller house cost $150,000. It was more refined and restrained than many of the other mansions going up around it. Red brick and trimmed in limestone, it has a slender front on Fifth Avenue, with the bulk of the structure and the entryway facing East 86th Street.

Were the Millers the type of people who love taking in views? They certainly had the opportunity. The house has enormous second- and third-story windows, plus a fourth-floor mansard slate roof with dormers and small “bullseye” windows, perfect for stargazing.

While they may have enjoyed looking outside, the Millers hosted a headline-making social event inside their mansion in 1921. Daughter Edith Starr Miller, 33 (above), wed a 60-year-old British industrialist named Almeric Hugh Paget, a widower (his first wife was Pauline Payne Whitney) known as Lord Queenborough.

It was a surprise affair in the Miller mansion, covered by all the newspapers. “The bride, who was given away by her father, had no attendants, and there was no best man or usher,” reported the New-York Tribune. The marriage gave the couple three kids, but it fell apart after Lady Queenborough accused her husband of abandoning her.

The Millers resided in the mansion until their deaths—William Starr Miller passed away in 1935 inside his house at age 78. His wife, Edith, died in 1944…which marked the next chapter in the house’s life.

The second owner of number 1048 was a woman of social importance with a famous last name. Grace Vanderbilt (above as a younger woman) had been married to Cornelius “Nelly” Vanderbilt III (great-grandson of the Commodore). The couple’s New York home base was the palatial Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue, at 51st Street—aka, the Triple Palace. But after her husband’s death in 1942, she had to downsize.

“The gardener’s cottage” was how she referred to her new living quarters. She held dinners and balls there as she had done her entire life (many that raised money for charitable causes). Yet Vanderbilt reportedly described herself as “all alone in the house,” despite the fact that she had 18 servants attending to her.

Health issues plagued her, and she eventually eased up on her society life. As the Millers had, Vanderbilt died in her so-called gardener’s cottage. One of the last living links to the Gilded Age passed away in 1953 at 82.

The William Starr Miller house changed hands once again in 1955, this time not to a person or family but an organization: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

Almost 40 years later, YIVO sold the mansion to cosmetics billionaire Ronald Lauder and art dealer Serge Sabarsky—who transformed this late Gilded Age survivor into the Neue Galerie. Opened in 2001, the Neue contains Lauder’s magnificent collection of early 20th century German and Austrian art.

Number 1048, a remarkable beauty on what used to be called Millionaire’s Mile is now a must-see destination on Museum Mile.

[Fourth image: New-York Herald; fifth image: MCNY, 1915: x2010.7.1.1838; sixth image: Wikipedia; seventh image: MCNY, 1920:]

A newspaper magnate builds a soundproof, Venetian-style mansion steps from Fifth Avenue

December 19, 2022

The year 1900 wasn’t a good one for Joseph Pulitzer—the rich and influential owner of the New York World, one of Gilded Age Gotham’s most popular and sensational newspapers.

His elegant mansion at 10 East 55th Street, designed by Stanford White, had been destroyed by a fire earlier that year. Two household servants died in the blaze, according to architectural historian Andrew Alpern, author of Luxury Apartment Houses in Manhattan: an Illustrated History.

His health was in bad shape as well. The 53-year-old Hungarian-American immigrant was almost totally blind, and he had developed a condition that made him so excruciatingly sensitive to sound, even the striking of a match sent him into “spasms of suffering,” per a New York magazine article.

So while he and his family temporarily relocated to the posh Savoy Hotel on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street after the fire, Pulitzer shelled out $240,000 on a plot on East 73rd Street measuring 98 feet wide—about three times the size of the land on which his 55th Street mansion stood.

He then asked Stanford White to design a spectacular residence, one that would be soundproof in addition to being fireproof.

For Pulitzer’s new mansion, White looked to Italy for inspiration, basing his design on the Palazzo Pesaro and Palazzo Rezzonico, both built in Venice in the 17th century.

“The limestone-clad, 4-story structure has a rusticated base with a step-up entrance with a pair of rusticated columns that leads to a step-up lobby that opens onto a very large and impressive entrance hall with a quite grand staircase,” stated

Unlike more typical Gilded Age mansions, which tended to be decorated with lots of terra cotta ornamentation and other Beaux Arts bells and whistles, the facade of Pulitzer’s new palace is relatively plain—likely a nod to Pulitzer’s lack of sight.

“While the design of the outside of the house had been developed in a way that took Pulitzer’s blindness into account, the interior made no such concessions,” wrote Alpern.

“Completed in 1903, it was the sort of lavishly grand pastiche of period styles that had made Stanford White the architect and interior designer most sought out by the socially secure and the arrivistes alike. It was a visual feast that Pulitzer could hear described to him but could not enjoy himself.”

White took steps to address Pulitzer’s sensitivity to noise. Said Alpern: “Especially sound-resistant construction was specified, and a secondary glazed partition was erected to acoustically block the windows that overlooked the street.”

Unfortunately, Pulitzer was still tortured by sounds. So in 1904, a one-story extension of the house was created at the end of a small side garden, stated Alpern. Construction “was set as far from the street as possible, and was built with massive walls and only one small window.” Even so, Pulitzer’s noise sensitivity continued.

For all the effort that went into constructing and perfecting his Venetian-style mansion, Pulitzer ended up living there for only another eight years. This accomplished publisher—who bequeathed the funds to start Columbia University’s journalism school, established the Pulitzer prizes, and led a campaign in the World to help finance the Statue of Liberty—passed away in 1911.

After his death, Pulitzer’s family moved out of the mansion, according to, and it stood vacate for years because a buyer could not be found. Grand stand-alone residences like Pulitzer’s were going out of style, and apartment living was preferred by wealthy residents, In 1930, investors planned to knock it down and put up an apartment house.

The Depression put an end to that, and in the 1950s, another plan to bulldoze the mansion and replace it with an apartment building also fell through. Somehow, Pulitzer’s palazzo managed to escape the wrecking ball a second time.

This beautiful and unique dwelling house has since become a co-op with 16 apartments carved out of the original mansion. Occasionally an apartment will come up for sale, like this one on the ground floor—which the listing says includes Pulitzer’s post-construction bedroom.

[Third image: New-York Historical Society; seventh image: Wikipedia]

A Yorkville tenement with mystery architectural details

December 12, 2022

The side streets of Yorkville are mostly old-school tenement blocks, and I’m a fan of these iconic Gotham residences. But it’s easy to walk past row upon row of these early 1900s walkups and not see the subtle design differences among them.

But sometimes you pass one that stands out. That’s the case with this five-floor low-rise at York Avenue and 75th Street.

If you view the York Avenue front, it looks like an ordinary tenement that lost its cornice but retains the evenly spaced rectangular windows and old-school fire escape characteristic of New York City tenements.

On the 75th Street side, however, are architectural details that appear almost Art Deco: geometric shapes with grooves between them and checkerboard-like ornamentation under some windows.

Perhaps 1409 York Avenue is an old-school tenement built at the turn of the century and then remodeled in the prewar decades to fit a more Moderne style. Or it’s a 1920s or 1930s building designed as kind of a cross between a tenement and a more contemporary style.

Building databases I’ve been looking pin the date it was built as 1910, which doesn’t seem right. In any case, it’s interesting to look at and wonder.