Posts Tagged ‘New York in 1951’

The stunning first white brick apartment house

May 18, 2020

New York City has about 140 white brick apartment houses. (Seems like the number should be higher, right?)

But these residences dating back to the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s—with their glazed facades that tend to look gray and grimy—don’t always get a lot of love.

The exception to the rule is magnificent Manhattan House, considered to be New York’s first white brick building.

Spanning East 66th Street from Second to Third Avenues, Manhattan House opened in 1951 in a city undergoing a building boom to meet the housing needs of its 7.8 million residents.

The house’s 21 stories quickly filled with renters, who eschewed the limestone and red brick apartment buildings of old in favor of sleek, European Modernist-inspired design—which included “large windows and projecting balconies, as well as landscaped driveways and a block-long rear garden,” stated the Guide to New York City Landmarks.

From its earliest days, Manhattan House has had an aura of luxury. But its origins were more humble.

It was built in the shadow of the Third Avenue El (above, in 1952) by the New York Life Insurance Company, replacing a former car barn.

Because insurance companies at the time were “only allowed to invest in limited-revenue rentals,” according to a 2015 article in Observer, Manhattan House wasn’t built with all of the trappings of a luxury building. 

“The complex had a wing of maid’s rooms, but no central air,” stated Observer, adding that the ceilings were only nine and half feet high, as opposed to the 10-foot ceilings in more posh residences.

Of course, many of the amenities designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft (who liked his creation so much, he moved in) were pretty sweet, like wood-burning fireplaces and air pressure in the halls that made it less likely cooking odors would waft into another apartment.

“A private garden spanned the property’s length (the second-largest private garden in the city after Gramercy Park) and the complex’s layout—five towers arranged in a cruciform shape along a shared central lobby—provided a sense of airy continuity while ensuring that the interiors never felt cold or cavernous,” wrote Observer.

Rather than middle class residents, Observer noted that “Manhattan House attracted eminent architects, designers, ad execs, prominent journalists, musicians, and assorted culturati.” Grace Kelly was an early resident, as were Benny Goodman, Jackie Robinson, and Frank Hardart—of Horn & Hardart Automat fame.

Making Manhattan House even more of a showstopper is the strip of land with a stone wall in the middle of 66th Street. It’s something of a moat, a demarcation line separating the building from the rest of the cityscape.

Throughout the decades, Manhattan House has preserved its pedigree. One major change happened in 2005: a condo conversion that took 10 years to complete.

Perhaps the fact that the building was landmarked in 2007 adds to its appeal, and price tag. This airy and lovely apartment is going for $12 million.

[Top image: MCNY 2010.7.1.9773; third image: MCNY 2013.3.2.2344; fourth image: MCNY X2010.7.1.9812; sixth image: X2010.7.1.10115]