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.
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.
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
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,"
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
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 gardens...in 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."
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.