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One Beekman Place

North East Corner of Mitchell Place



By Carter B. Horsley

The most prestigious Beekman Place apartment building is, appropriately, One Beekman Place, which was designed by Sloan & Robertson and Corbett, Harrison & MacMurray and completed in 1929.

Detail of entrance

Detail of entrance

While it presents a handsome west facade, it gives no hint of the complex and far more impressive facade facing the East River. There, it presents an asymmetrical mass of balconies and bay windows that is not beautiful but as awesome as any castle's battlements. It would soon be followed by another residential colossus, the River House, a few blocks to the north along the river and both originally had waterfront facilities until the construction of the FDR Drive. At the time of their construction, the area still contained many tenements and a famous play that was later made into a movie, "Dead End," used the juxtaposition of a super luxury apartment tower with low-income buildings nearby at such a location to evocatively contrast their different worlds and values.

View from First Avenue

View from First Avenue

Beekman Place is now filled with other apartment buildings and many attractive townhouses and is considered one of the city's most desirable enclaves because of its quiet, river views and convenience to midtown. Two decades after it was built, the United Nations complex was completed and this building had very impressive views of it from its south facade until the subsequent construction of the large twin-towered luxury apartment and office building known as 860 and 870 United Nations Plaza.

Rear of building has rounded bays

Rear of building has chamfered corner and rounded bays facing the river

In their book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Two World Wars," (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1987), Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins noted that this building's "severely detailed exterior sheltered lavishly planned duplex suites with loggias and balconies jutting out over the river." "An elaborate club facility that included an indoor swimming pool occupied the lower floors and opened onto a waterfront terrace," they added.

In his fine book, "New York Streetscapes, Tales of Manhattan's Significant Buildings and Landmarks," Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2003, Christopher Gray provides the following commentary about this property:

"The Beekman family, Colonial-era merchants, built a riverfront mansion near the foot of 50th Street in 1784. Many sources say that the patriot-spy Nathan Hale was first arraigned there after his capture by the British in 1776. By the mid-nineteenth century the East river waterfront had fallen far from its resort status, and coal yards, lumber mills and other industries dotted the shoreline, at least where there was good river access. Perhaps because the Beekman mansion's grounds were on a high, rocky bluff without good water access, the house remained until the 1870s. But in 1865 the family sold off much of its land around the newly established Beekman Place, including most of the river-facing lots between 49th and 51st Streets. To protect the light and air of the brownstone row houses that soon went up at 13-39 Beekman Place, the Beekmans promised to restrict the height of future buildings on their remaining waterfront strip of land, directly below the houses, to no higher than that of Beekman Place itself. By the turn of the century bigger and bigger factories were crowding the shoreline - among them the huge Cremo cigar factory on the current side of River House [see The City Review article] at 52nd Street - and the once-genteel private houses were filled with borders."

The Beekman estate eventually would try to void the 1865 height restrictions on the waterfront and in 1920 its lawyer, Herbert I. Fordham, Mr. Gray recounted, argued that it was ludricrous to retain the "half-forgotten vision of terraces and the midst of towering steam plants, electric light plants, and coal pockets. New York needs its waterfront for business."

"By 1922," Mr. Gray continued, "the Beekmans gave up the fight and leased the waterfront strip - 460 feet long, stretching from 49th to 51st, and including the empty plot on Beekman Place now occupied by 1 Beekman Place. The lease was acquired by a development group that announced plans for a studio apartment on the Beekman Place frontage, and a one-story garage on the waterfront strip. The studio apartment was not built, but the garage, designed by John J. Dunnigan, later a state senator from the Bronx, did go up. It had simple rubble-stone walls, and a curved, wood-truss roof. The garage entrance was at 49th Street. Perhaps the Beekmans should have held out, because just as they surrendered, fashion came to Beekman Place, and house after house was turned into elite occupancy. The natural outcome, for the empty plot at the south end of Beekman Place, was the luxurious sixteen-story co-op at 1 Beekman, built in 1930 by a syndicate headed by David M. Milton, the son-in-law of John D. Rockefeller Jr. Milton's wife, Abby, was called by The New York Times 'the wealthiest young woman in America.'...Milton's syndicate reached an accommodation with the garage operator and reduced the southerly section of the garage to a narrow driveway encased in the building and running through 1 Beekman's waterside complex of tea room, gym, swimming pool, squash courts, and additional duplex apartments. Early tenants at 1 Beekman included the diplomat David K. E. Bruce, William J. Donovan - who founded the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA - the Miltons, and John D. Rockefeller III."

View from Queens

View from Queens

Mr. Gray noted that the co-op at 1 Beekman "recently rebuilt the garage, but they were very careful to retain their views."

The 16-story structure was built as a cooperative and has 42 apartments.

For more information about 1 Beekman Place check its entry at

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