By Carter B. Horsley
Gates are intimidating portals
usually meant to keep out hoi polloi (the masses) and keep in
the pit bulls.
Occasionally, however, they
can be grand, befitting hoi oligoi (the few) and in this deluxe
era it is not surprising that Manhattan has two new ones.
Quite ornate gates have recently been installed at the two major
vaulted entrances on 86th Street to the large courtyard of the
Belnord apartment building that occupies the full block bounded
by 86th and 87th Streets, Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.
The new, black, "decorative
metal," spiked gates are topped by a large, italic and gilded
"B" and have been designed by Page Ayres Cowley Architects.
In approving the new gates in August, 2006, the Landmarks Preservation
Commission noted that the "form, details and finishes of
the gates" and a new security guard booth at the eastern
entrance "will relate well to the arched entranceways and
their decorative elements." The building was designed by
Hiss and Weekes and built in 1909 and is one of the city's most
spectacular "courtyard" buildings and boasts a rusticated
The Upper West Side has several
other very impressive gates on some of its better pre-war apartment
buildings. At the Dorilton on West 71st Street at the northeast
corner at Broadway it has two gracious putti hoving over its ornate
At the Apthorp, the fine full-block
pre-war apartment building on the southwest corner of Broadway
and 79th Street the inside of its Broadway gate sports two heads
of horned animal sculptures facing its inner courtyard and barely
noticeable from the sidewalk.
The imposing Belnord gates,
of course, are not quite as grandiose as those at the Metropolitan
Club at 1 East 60th Street, and they are not the city's only impressive
When renderings were first
released by Herzog & de Meuron for their design of 40 Bond
Street, jaws dropped across much of Manhattan.
At first glance, the plan was
an extremely modern interpretation in green glass of the classic
cast-iron facades of the 19th Century that are found in many sections
of SoHo, NoHo, and TriBeCa: big rectangular windows deeply set
in multi-columned facades.
A closer inspection of the
plans, however, indicated that the building's very handsome and
impressive protruding thick green glass columns hovered over a
set-back, two-story-high base behind a looping white screen that
resembled the sun-dried and bleached remains of some vineyard.
The screen, of course, is the
famous "Graffiti Gate," and is made out of aluminum
in what appears to be a "wild and crazy," random and
Some observers initially thought,
wrongly, the screen would be of uniform height, creating a frilly,
lacy bottom border to the building's composition. In realty, the
graffiti gate crawls upward at regular intervals like ivy stretching
The juxtaposition and contrast
of the ordered, elegant, green-glass façade with the sprawling,
amorphous dynamic of the gate is intriguing in theory and the
aesthetic is strongly reinforced by the incised walls behind the
gates and similar motifs in the lobby.
The overall affect is fractalization,
which is to say it is optically fascinating and bedeviling.
For those too young to remember
the ghastly graffiti attacks that slathered the city in ugliness,
40 Bond Street may seem too antiseptic, too pristine.
Give it time....
Some buildings seem to languish
in the marketplace for quite some time until they are "spruced
up." The lions on the base facade at 23 East 83rd Street
recently got cleaned and restored but even more noticeable was
a new, low, ornate and curved low cast-iron gate that was something
of a new twist on the tall but simple gates that proliferate in