By Carter B. Horsley
The reconstruction of this building was a dramatic
example of how insensitive many developers and many civic groups
were to contextual architecture in the late 1950s, especially
given the importance of very high visibility of this site.
No better indication of changing architectural
fashions in New York City exists than this 16-story apartment
building that occupies a very prominent site at a major entrance
to Central Park.
The original building was erected in 1920 by
the Fred F. French Company and designed in Italian-Renaissance-palazzo-style
that was quite similar to that used by J. E. R. Carpenter for
the building directly across 72nd Street, 907 Fifth Avenue. This
building, in fact, was a bit more attractive because it was not
as bulky and had more decorative elements on its facade and a
very attractive, large, enclosed driveway and curved walkway on
The French Company was one of the city’s
most famous developers and would become best known for its skyscraper
office building on Fifth Avenue at 45th Street and Tudor City
(see The City Review article).
In 1959, the Pador Realty Corporation stripped
away the building’s limestone facade and virtually everything
but its steel skeleton, increasing the number of apartments to
49. The rebuilt structure had 16 floors instead of the original
12 and a large, attractive and rather glossy lobby has replaced
the driveway. Sylvan Bien and Robert L. Bien were the architects
of the rebuilding, which was unfortunate, to say the least. "Its
present appearance is unworthy of pictorial documentation,"
noted Andrew Alpern in his book, "New York’s Fabulous
Luxury Apartments With Original Floor Plans from the Dakota, River
House, Olympic Tower and Other Great Buildings," (Dover Publications,
Inc., 1987), which has an illustration of the original building.
The building, which was converted to a cooperative
in 1978, has excellent views and is close to private schools and
fashionable Madison Avenue boutiques.
This reconstruction was a travesty and this
is the most unattractive building along Museum Mile.
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 wrote that the design of this
apartment house "arguably represented the nadir of the avenue's