By Carter B. Horsley
This twin-towered, 38-story apartment and office
complex commands impressive views of the United Nations to the
south, midtown to the west and the East River to the east.
The six-story base of the large development
contains about 300,000 square feet of office space and the cooperative
apartments share an expansive, corporate-style lobby overlooking
an enclosed garden court.
The full-block project has its own block-long
driveway that makes for an impressive entrance. It was designed
by Harrison, Abramovitz & Harris and erected in 1966.
The towers are huge and a bit ungainly and
the apartments are notable mostly for their large and tall windows
and views. The tower facades are in the Miesian tradition of crisp
rectilinearity and are reminiscent of, but inferior to, the Seagram
Building and the former Union Carbide Building, both on Park Avenue.
The towers are slightly lower than the United
Nations Secretariat Building, as was mandated by zoning, and clearly
its glass facades were also in deference to that tower, although
they are black rather than blue-green. Almost four decades later,
however, Donald Trump erected a much taller apartment tower across
First Avenue from this complex and one block to the south, breaking
through the skyline ceiling of the United Nations (see The
City Review article).
Despite its lack of fine architectural detail,
this enormous complex has always attracted an impressive roster
of affluent or famous tenants, attracted presumably to its great
views, the large gardens and park of the United Nations to the
south, and the surrounding Beekman Place neighborhood rather than
any thought of exclusivity.
The two towers contain a total of 334 apartments,
of which 56 are duplexes on the top eight floors.
While its scale and proportions are rather
cumbersome, the complex nevertheless makes a handsome, if not
distinguished, foil to the U. N. complex, which, after all, is
the most important consideration. The project was the first on
the East Side to follow the pioneering lead of twin-towered residential
projects on Central Park West. It was also influential in helping
to bolster the residential attractiveness of the area for subsequent
high-rise development nearby and major mixed-use development elsewhere
in the city.
In their excellent book, "New York 1960,
Architecture and Urbanism Between The Second World War and the
Bicentennial," (The Monacelli Press, 1995), Robert A. M.
Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman provide the following
commentary relating to the project's design by Wallace Harrison,
who was very active in the design of the United Nations complex:
"In 1963 Harrison's vision of towers at
the north end of the U.N. site, dating back to his X City proposal
of 1946, was at last realized when ground was broken for the two
towers that would become 860-870 United Nations Plaza (1966).
The two thirty-two-story apartment towers were placed on a six-story
base containing 336,000 square feet of office space, with a terrace
floor atop the offices marking the transition between the two.
(This terrace was initially proposed as a sun deck but was never
used as such because it was felt that the sight of semiclad sunbathers
would have an adverse effect on the value of the apartments on
the towers' lower floors.) The apartments were entered through
a common lobby off Forty-ninth Street, while access to the offices
was from two lobby entrances on Forty-eighth Street. Set on 2.3
acres of land, the building housed 334 apartments, including fifty-six
duplexes on the top eight floors, some as large as nine rooms
and many with wood-burning fireplaces; their lavish size and logical
plans represented a level of accommodation that was extremely
rare in the postwar era....Despite its hulking mass and the slightly
brooding quality of its dark-tinted glassy facades, so much more
like commercial ofice buildings than like the palazzoesque prewar
apartment buildings that had set the standard of fashion along
Fifth and Park avenues, the U. N. Plaza, as the development was
commonly referred to, quickly became a fashionable address for
the power elite, including many high-level corporate executives....the
first wave of reisdents included the lawyer Christian Herter Jr.,
the novelist Trumon Capote, the philanthropist Mary Lasker, the
former Attorney General William Rogers and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Mrs. Lasker's apartment in the east tower was to serve not as
her home - she was quite happy in her townhouse on Beekman Place
- but as a kind of private art gallery for her growing collection
of contemporary art."