By Carter B. Horsley
This huge limestone palazzo apartment building
was erected by Vincent Astor, who for many years occupied its
top floor. It was the third and most luxurious of three large
apartment houses developed by Astor in the area. The others are
520 and 530 East 86th Street.
Designed by Charles A. Platt in an understated
International Style and overlooking Carl Schurz Park, the 17-story
building has large apartments, three to most floors, and five
duplex apartments. Since its completion in 1931, it has been one
of the premier residential buildings around Carl Schurz Park.
Platt's design was "a preeminent example
of his restrained, even dry approach," 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," (Rizzoli, International Publications, Inc.,
1988). They noted that the building "troubled" famed
architecture critic Lewis Mumford who found it "chaste,"
adding that "The taste is excellent; the architectural conception,
deficient…The virtues of 120 East End Avenue are perhaps
real, but they are negative; its vices are positive….it disregards
the standards that are now accepted as minimal for the lower income
groups….Obviously, the sound doctrine that every house must
provide, part of its original cost and equipment, the open spaces
needed for amenity and decency has a long way to go, particularly
in upper-class housing....Mr. Vincent Astor's standards would
not do for the Amalgamated Clothing workers."
In pre-air-conditioned days, of course, such
concern for "light and air" was not entirely unjustified,
but few today would worry about having a very large apartment
with park and water views.
The entrance to 120 East End Avenue is on the
sidestreet, but a large maisonette unit in the building has its
own entrance on the avenue.
The façade is without decoration but
fine thin courses, or projecting horizontal elements, add strong
accents. The façade is also delicately enlivened by balustrades
at the 16th and 17th floors and by a fenestration pattern for
the lower 13 floors that has broad windows at the 83rd Street
corner and narrow windows in the central portions. The top four
floors have a different pattern of mostly broad windows and the
narrower avenue frontage is the more attractive because it is
symmetrical and not as bland as the sidestreet frontage. The building
also has small corner setbacks.
This building, which is also known as 533-543
East 85th Street, has immensity and is an imposing, modern, white
Although the neighborhood is relatively inconvenient
for public transportation, its devotees swear by the pleasant
park and the celebrated nearby schools such as Brearley and Chapin.
In an article in the April 24, 2008 on-line
edition of The New York Observer Max Abelson wrote that Asher
B. Edelman told him in an interview about a rumor that he had
once been rejected by the building's board at 820 Fifth Avenue
that had turned away people such as Steve Wynn and Ron Perelman.
Mr. Edelman told Mr. Abelson that he "never
actually made an offer," but offered the following commentary:
“At the time, I was between marriages,
it was in the 80s, and I looked at an apartment at 820 Fifth.
I knew more or less all the tenants of the building, and the president
of the building....So I told him to ask among the tenants, because
I didn’t want to ask, whether they thought I would get into
the building. And Mrs. Wrightsman, who I knew, she said, ‘You
know, I like Asher very, very much, but we just turned down Freddie
Koch - Freddie, you know, very out-there gay, and was very out
- there gay in those days; it should make no difference to them,
but they are who they are - ‘we just turned him down, and
we told him that to be in this building you had to be married
with a family, or at least married, so if we took Asher in between
marriages, it would cause us potentially some problems,
so if he is ready to get married, we’re sure he would get
into the building, but if he’s not ready to get married,
then we would have to
stay no until he got married.’ It was fine, I understood
completely the risk.”
Mr. Abelson's article added that Mr. Edelman
"never moved in to 820 Fifth, but he did own Vincent Astor’s
old apartment at 120 East End Avenue, long before he got his current
townhouse. Is the former raider sorry that his old 10,000-square-foot
Astor apartment wasn’t on Park or Fifth Avenue? 'My co-op
was 800 times nicer than that,' he said."