Posts Tagged ‘Central Park West Apartment Buildings’

The magic of a ‘complicated, chaotic’ Central Park West apartment house

April 21, 2022

It doesn’t have the Gothic, French Renaissance-inspired fancy of the Dakota to the south on 72nd Street. Nor is it a balancing act of flamboyance and elegance like the St. Urban, at 89th Street, which looks right out of La Belle Epoque.

What the Braender, a 1903 apartment building at Central Park West and 102nd Street, does have is that kind of enchantment found in buildings that blend various design styles and come out looking eclectic and unique. These buildings are often found outside official historic district boundary lines and far from the trendy end of the avenue—and the Braender checks both boxes.

The Braender’s story begins at the turn of the century, when Central Park West was fulfilling its destiny as a grand thoroughfare of apartment residences. The builder, German-born Philip Braender, hired architect Frederick Browne to design his eponymous apartment house.

The result was a 10-story, 50-unit structure. The building was “fireproof,” as the ad below says, and it featured apartments of 5 to 12 rooms (with from one to 3 bathrooms per residence).

The Braender, from an early promotional booklet

Its style was quite a lovely mishmash. “The exterior of the Braender — residents pronounce the name to rhyme with gander — is a complicated, even chaotic mix of French Renaissance, Spanish and Baroque styles, all in light-colored stone, brick and terra cotta,” wrote Christopher Gray in a 2006 New York Times column. Gray seemed to have a fondness for the building, deeming it “lovably awkward.”

I don’t know if awkward is the right word. On one hand, it has an inviting beauty, thanks to the gentle curves of the facade. Yet the figures carved into the entrance and the winged creatures that stare down at you from under a ninth floor balcony give it a Gothic, spooky feel.

The courtyard is accessed by walking through a wide arched entrance perhaps inspired by a Medieval castle. Two large terra cotta griffins are surrounded by greenery on the ground—casualties of a building renovation from the 1990s, according to the doorman.

Then there’s the lobby, with its marble walls, hand-tiled floor, and original light fixtures. You can just imagine late Gilded Age residents alighting from carriages on cold nights, then entering this sumptuous space and warming up by the fireplace before getting the elevator to one of those 12-room apartments.

By 1920, the Braender fell into the hands of Frederick Bangerter, an “inventor of automatic machinery” who planned to turn the building into a “cooperative home for people of moderate circumstances, and a home that will run easily and happily through co-operation of all its members, just as one cog in his automatic machinery runs smoothly with another,” according to a 1920 issue of the magazine Forecast.

If that cooperative plan ever panned out isn’t clear, and the Braender stayed under the radar in the news and real estate pages in the decades since.

“In the mid-1900s most of the large apartments in the Braender were cut up into smaller ones, and by the 1980s, when it was converted to condominiums, the building was in poor shape: its stone was battered and defaced, and the cornice and much its ornament had been removed,” wrote Gray.

The Braender in 1940, already minus its unusual cornice

Despite the stripped down ornamentation and the addition of a fire escape on the facade, the Braender maintains an old New York charm in the upper Upper West Side neighborhood of Manhattan Valley. The building is a condo now, and a two bedroom is currently on the market for $1.6 million.

[Third photo: NYPL; last photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services]