1 EAST 60TH STREET
Developer: The Metropolitan Club
Architect: McKim, Mead & White; Ogden Codman Jr. (east
Erected: 1893; 1912 (east wing)
By Carter B. Horsley
The city's grandest palazzo,
the Metropolitan Club, shown above, was organized by J. P. Morgan
in protest against not being admitted to some of the city's other
exclusive private men's clubs.
He showed them.
This is Stanford White's most
sumptuous and lavish work in Manhattan. Its supremely elegant
white marble exterior with its strong accents and regal demeanor
is but a hint of its very lavish and spectacular interiors. Charles
McKim's University Club further down the avenue at 54th Street
actually has more impressive interiors, but a decidedly more somber
less extravagant air about it. As Morgan was wont to say, if you
have to ask the price, forget about it. This club, whose cornice
projects 6 feet from the building's walls, flaunts its stuff in
the grandest traditions of merchant princes only interested in
the very best piece de resistance.
The building's entrance is
It is approached through a
very wide, tall and elaborate gate that opens onto a large curved
courtyard framed by the rear and the east by a two-story wing
and on the west by the four-story main clubhouse. The asymmetrical
composition was somewhat balanced by Ogden Codman Jr.'s 6-story
addition at No. 3 that was designed for bachelor quarters. In
the late 1960's, a small room with very tall ceilings and a fireplace
could be rented for the night for about $25 by members. The club
subsequently leased this east wing to the Canadian Club and in
1993 it was leased to the American Academy in Rome, which had
been also designed by McKim, Mead & White.
In 1987, the club agreed to lease its
undeveloped air rights to Park Tower Realty, headed by George
Klein, who commissioned James Stewart Polshek and Partners to
design a 37-story luxury apartment tower to rise above the courtyard
and the east wing. The plan, shown at the right, set off a major
preservation controversy that ended with the city's Landmarks
Preservation Commission declining to issue a certificate of appropriateness
for the plan.
The commission's decision was
deplorable, a complete capitulation to the anti-development forces
that had outshouted virtually all voices of reason, or at least
architectural awareness, in the city.
The Municipal Art Society and
other civic groups conceded that the design was "handsome"
and admirable, but argued it would compromise the Upper East Side
Historic District of which it was a part. Many civic activists
claimed that the principle was that the area could not tolerate
more density, but since the proposal only called for a total of
51 apartments, their argument was not intellectually convincing.
Furthermore, the more important context was not the Upper East
Side Historic District, but the Plaza District, the city's premier
When members of the architectural
and development community learned of Klein's plan to use the club's
air rights, most were horrified as the club was one of the rare
genuine landmarks of true architectural distinction among the
city's large inventory of officially designated "landmarks"
and it was hard to conceive how such a large project could not
severely violate the architectural integrity of the club and its
Polshek, however, dumbfounded
everybody by performing the magical feat of violating neither
the courtyard nor the club's great interior spaces. He designed
a limestone tower that was very compatible with the club's exteriors
but also strikingly sophisticated and a strong statement of contemporary
The projecting window treatment
on the proposed tower's Fifth Avenue side was as classically modern
as Lever House, but it had a large cornice to echo the club's
and its top had multi-story columns to thematically repeat those
used in the club's great entrance gate. Moreover, the protrusions
and recesses of the tower's plan created a rich visual interest
that stopped short of overwhelming both the club and the adjacent
Pierre Hotel (see
The City Review article)
that already loomed over the club. Furthermore, Polshek stopped
his tower at a height significantly below the great mansard roof
of the Pierre and positioned his tower considerably back of the
Pierre tower's west front. Indeed, the Polshek tower covered over
most of the Pierre's blank walls on its south facade where the
hotel's elevator bank was located. Polshek's siting did not interrupt
the park and midtown views from the Pierre's west corner apartments
and hardly impinged at all over the main clubhouse.
Viewed from the west, however,
the Polshek tower was flush with the Pierre and therefore added
a degree of bulkiness to that hotel's rather slender shaft. Ideally,
some space between the two towers would have retained more of
the Pierre's soaring élan, but that was not possible without
building in the courtyard, shown below, or cantilevering over
it, neither a very acceptable solution.
Polshek's solution, in retrospect,
was quite similar to Cesar Pelli's marvelous addition of a skyscraper
tower to Carnegie Hall that raised no hackles among preservationists
whose record of consistency since the belated creation of the
city's Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965 has been abysmal.
The Klein/Polshek design was
brilliant and should have been built.
The main feature of the Metropolitan
Club's interior is its great central hall with a grand staircase
on its north side facing a massive fireplace on its south side.
At the second level, the hall was ringed on its west, south and
east sides by a handsome broad arcade leading to a variety of
gaming and meeting rooms and a much smaller staircase leading
to the third floor dining room overlooking Fifth Avenue.
The main central hall is exceptionally
bright because of its polished white marble walls.
A large attractive bar room
occupies most of the first floor's south end overlooking the sidestreet
while the entire Fifth Avenue frontage on this floor is occupied
by a spectacularly ornate reading room that often is converted
to a dining room for special banquets and balls.
Unlike some clubs, the Metropolitan
has no special athletic facilities. It just is wonderfully palatial,
which is as healthy a tonic as exists.
In 2007, the club opened
a setback roof-top addition that included a lounge, a skylit dining
room on a raised level and a terrace. The new rooms were modern
in style but very sumptuous and are a very significant addition
to the club.