& THE SHERRY NETHERLAND HOTELS
795 FIFTH AVENUE (Pierre) and 781 FIFTH AVENUE
(Southeast corner at 61st Street: Pierre)(Northeast
corner at 59th Street: Sherry Netherland)
Developer: Charles Pierre (Pierre); The Sherry
Architect: Schultze & Weaver (both)
Erected: 1929 (Pierre); 1927 (Sherry Netherland)
By Carter B. Horsley
Although the Plaza Hotel dominated the midtown
gateway to Central Park for about two decades before these two
skyscraper hotels were built, the Pierre and the Sherry-Netherland
hotels, two blocks and two years apart, quickly became two of
the most recognized profiles in the world until the incursion
several decades later of the mammoth General Motors Building.
The two hotels are quite different. The Pierre, shown
at the left in the picture at the right, is light colored and
the Sherry Netherland, in the center of the picture in front of
the taller General Motors Building, is dark. The Pierre has a
green mansard-style roof and the Sherry Netherland has an elaborate
minaret. Both have slender shafts rising from fairly large bases.
The General Motors Building replaced the very
elegant, formal, twin-chimneyed Savoy Plaza Hotel that had been
designed by McKim, Mead & White directly across Fifth Avenue
from the Plaza Hotel. The Savoy Plaza was, in fact, the best looking
of this group of super luxury hotels though it was far shorter
and bulkier than the Pierre and Sherry Netherland. (The Sherry
Netherland has the best architecture of this group with its truly
exotic top and svelte lines, but the Savoy Plaza had a more regal,
palatial air to its exterior.)
Because the Plaza was older and more established
and had far larger and far more spectacular interiors than the
rest of the group, the Pierre and the Sherry Netherland hotels
have not shared as much limelight despite their far greater visibility.
As elegant as the area was before their arrival, the hotels, nevertheless,
incredibly enhanced the prestige of this district with their towering
presence and romantic silhouettes, giving hope, realized decades
later when design styles had changed markedly, that the Plaza
District might become Manhattan's third major skyline district
after Lower Manhattan and 42nd Street.
Although the silhouette of the Sherry Netherland is
infinitely more memorable and dramatic and interesting than the
Pierre's, the Pierre's more conventional formality and light tones
made for a more compatible transition with the white mansions
of "Millionaire's Row" north of it on the avenue that
were already being razed to make way for expensive apartment buildings.
Furthermore, in an age when contextual design
had not yet reared its wagging head in architectural circles,
the Pierre's light colors were more appropriate as a backdrop
for its very impressive small neighbor on the same Fifth Avenue
block, the Metropolitan Club.
(Quality architecture in the city in the 1960's
and 1970's was a rarity as evidenced sadly by the terribly bland
and ugly apartment buildings at 800 Fifth Avenue, across 61st
Street from the Pierre, and 775 Fifth Avenue, across 60th Street
from the Metropolitan Club, as shown in the picture at the left.
Ulrich Franzen & Associates and Wechsler & Schimenti were
the architects of 800 Fifth Avenue, whose rear facade facing an
utterly unnecessary, large, heavily fenced garden plaza is far
better than its pedestrian park frontage. The incongruous rear
plaza was perhaps some misguided city planner's brainstorm to
recall the walled in, unattended gardens of the former Geraldine
Rockefeller Dodge Georgian-style red-brick mansion that formerly
occupied, rather dourly, this large important site. Mrs. Dodge,
a niece of John D. Rockefeller, had been married to Marcellus
Hartley Dodge, the chairman of the Remington Arms Company, and
was known as the "first lady of dogdom" and had founded,
with her husband, the Morris and Essex Kennel Club in New Jersey
and their estate, Giralda Farms in Madison, N.J., was the scene
of many important dog shows. Over the years she acquired several
adjacent brownstones and tore them down letting the foliage grow
wild next to her austere 61st Street 35-room mansion filled mostly
with animal paintings. The other apartment building, known as
the Parc V and located adjacent to the Sherry Netherland Hotel,
would be unattractive even in a slum except for the nicely appointed
bank branch on the ground floor that has expensive looking, French
antique style furniture.)
In "Fifth Avenue, A Very Social History,"
published in 1978 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., Kate Simon
recounts some of the Pierre Hotel's early history:
"Ambitious and tenacious, like many of
his fellow Corsicans, Charles Pierre Casalesco left his father's
Ajaccio restaurant where he had been the busboy, to go as Charles
Pierre to the brilliant Hotel Anglais in Monte Carlo....On a job
foray to London, he was picked out by Louis Sherry for a position
in New York. Twelve years of Sherry's brought him to an impasse.
Smart women were beginning to smoke in public rooms. Mr. Sherry
forbade it in his restaurant, an irritating, old-fashioned prohibition,
Pierre thought, and, after flights of heated words he left. A
stint then at the Ritz-Carlton on Madison Avenue at Forty-sixth,
followed by his own restaurant, first on Forty-fifth immediately
west of Fifth Avenue, and later at 230 Park, a place equally famous
for its cuisine and for its care of American heiresses who, it
was seen to by M. Pierre (himself occasionally the escort) went
directly home to Mama. Inevitably he became a conservative elder
statesman, deploring the vast democratic size of World War I parties
and the unrestrained Prohibition guzzling that followed after.
He soldiered on in this frantic new world that had lost its manners
until a group of admirers and financiers, among them Otto H. Kahn,
Finley J. Shepherd (who had married Helen Gould), Edward F. Hutton,
Walter P. Chrysler, Robert Livingston Gerry (the son of Elbridge
Thomas Gerry, lawyer, philanthropist and grandson of Elbridge
Gerry, the inventor of 'gerrymandering') and others decided to
use the site of the Gerry mansion at Sixty-first Street and Fifth
Avenue for a hotel to be managed and run by Charles Pierre. The
new structure, rising forty-two stories, could hardly keep the
Richard Hunt chateau quality of the pink mansion it replaced,
but a few old France touches were built into the hotel whose motto
was 'from this place hope beams.'"
The Depression took its toll, however, and
the hotel went into bankruptcy in 1932. Six years later, oilman
J. Paul Getty bought it for about $2.5 million in 1938 and subsequently
sold many cooperative apartments in the building. The hotel's
operations changed hands a few times until Trust Houses Forte
Corporation took it over in 1973 and finally the Four Seasons
luxury hotel chain in 1986.
(Having sold his townhouse for the new hotel,
Elbridge T. Gerry bought a Georgian-style townhouse on the northeast
corner of Fifth Avenue and 94th Street from Mrs. Leonard K. Elmhirst,
who, according to Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas
Mellins in their book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism
Between the Two World Wars," published in 1988 by Rizzoli,
"stipulated that it not be demolished. Mrs. Elmhirst was
Dorothy Payne Whitney Strait, one of the country's leading heiresses,
suffragettes and a founder of the Junior League whose first husband,
Willard Strait, had founded The New Republic magazine.
She and her late husband, Mr. Elmhirst founded and operated Dartington
Hall, a very progressive school and cultural center in England.)
In 1988, the hotel's duplex penthouse, shown at the
left, with an enormous ballroom with double-height arched windows,
was put on the market with the highest price tag ever believed
then asked for a single co-op - $20 million. A couple years later,
it was sold to Lady Fairfax for about $12 million, who was reported
to have sold it in 1998 by The New York Observer for more
than $20 million.
The ballroom, which had served for a while
as a supper club, had been rented for parties over the years had
long been not in use as the hotel had redone its main public spaces
in its base where it had another ballroom as well as a circular
double-height lounge with a painted mural that included a portrait
of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
The penthouse ballroom, with views in all directions,
large mirrors etched with palm trees, a small bandstand and some
peeling pink paint when it was offered in 1988, can hold 285 people
at once, according to a Fire Department sign that then hung on
a wall. It had not been used as a ballroom since 1973. A hotel
employee said that the views from its corner terraces were so
grand that they had been used as lookouts by the Police Department.
The views, in fact, from its terraces are grand. In 1994, the
building, shown at the right above in a view from 59th Street,
announced it would have to replace its three-story-high copper
roof, but since the building is within the Upper East Side Historic
District and therefore a landmark the new roof will not alter
the hotel's appearance. The hotel originally had 714 guest rooms,
but many of them were combined into larger suites over the years.
The Pierre Hotel's Fifth Avenue entrance, under
a white and gold canopy, is very disappointing as the main entrance
is really on the sidestreet. The Fifth Avenue entrance leads up
a few stairs to the elevator bank and also has stairs leading
down to a restaurant. A pleasant window-less, street-level cafe
has its own Fifth Avenue entrance. The main sidestreet entrance
opens onto a pleasant, but low-ceiled lobby and raised alcove,
but is rather restrained and not spectacular, similar to the lobby
treatment at the Carlyle Hotel on Madison Avenue at 76th Street.
The hotel's tower was marred somewhat by repairs
to its corners over the years and much of its south facade is
blank because of the placement of the elevator bank.
In 2007, the 200-room hotel announced that
it would close its hotel operations in 2008 for about a year for
renovation work although it will remain open for its 75 co-op
apartment residents. A December 29, 2007 article in The New
York Times by Anthony Ramirez noted that "For decades,
the Pierre has been a favorite of people who had little in common
except a taste for luxury, including Audrey Hepburn, William S.
Paley, and Mikhail Gorbachev," adding that "And then
there was Frank Sinatra, who was unintimidated by the hotel's
According to authors Stern, Gilmartin and Mellins,
Buchman & Kahn assisted Schultze & Weaver in the design
of the Sherry Netherland Hotel that replaced William H. Hume's
New Netherland Hotel of 1892, "one of the city's first steel-framed
buildings." They also noted that the small lobby entrance
is adorned with sculpture panels salvaged from the William K.
Vanderbilt mansion that was demolished to make way for the Bergdorf
Goodman store nearby on the southwest corner of the avenue at
58th Street. During its construction, a major fire broke out in
its scaffolding before its standpipes were functioning, but the
hotel was not destroyed. The 570-foot-high, 38-story building
was the world's tallest apartment hotel when it was opened and
all the floors above the 24th had only one apartment each.
Because it was erected during the Prohibition, the
Sherry Netherland, shown at the left from across Fifth Avenue,
developed by Louis Sherry and Lucius Boomer, did not have major
dining facilities, although its basement was converted in the
1970's to a very exclusive private disco and restaurant known
as Raffles that within a few years was renamed Doubles and redesigned
by Valerian Rybar in bright red colors. It remains one of the
most elegant and exclusive nightspots in the city for its members.
Unlike the Pierre, which was located in a residential
zone, the Sherry Netherland's retail frontage has always been
supremely elegant. The long-term tenant of the corner store has
been La Vieille Russe, specializing in extravagant Russian bibelots.
South of the entrance, the restaurant space has been operated
for several years by Harry Cipriani as one of the city's most
elegant restaurants. North of the entrance, Diane von Furstenberg
commissioned architect Michael Graves to design an opulent salon
in 1984 that was subsequently taken over by Geoffrey Beene. It
is the best design by Graves, a great draftsman who is a far better
designer of storefronts and kitchen appliances than buildings.
The base of the hotel, shown at the right, is the most
elegant and wonderful in the city because of its travertine marble
facing and, most particularly, its fantastic griffins with hanging
lanterns. The subdued, understated ambiance of the Sherry Netherlands's
small lobby exudes refinement and attracts the world's elite.
While the griffin lanterns may frighten off the hoi-polloi, the
elegant sidewalk clock is a very handsome public gesture.
One of the great joys of life must be a walk
around the tiny parapet at the base of the hotel's crowning fleche.
Despite its relative modest size, the Sherry
Netherland must be considered one of the world's greatest skyscrapers
and is, in my opinion, the best in midtown. The monumental scale
of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings have made them more
famous, but the Sherry Netherland comes closer to perfection in
its massing and wondrous top. (The original R.C.A. building that
became the original G.E. building and is now simply 570 Lexington
Avenue comes in second, closely followed by the Chanin Building
at 122 East 42nd Street whose decorative elements, especially
within its lobby, are masterpieces of modern art.) The Woolworth
Building probably qualifies as the best skyscraper downtown while
the Metropolitan Insurance Company tower on Madison Avenue at
24th Street is the best in Midtown South.)