In the controversial
history of additions to landmarks in New York City, there is perhaps
no happier story than that of the 1993 expansion of The Jewish
The museum's original structure was the Felix and Frieda Warburg
mansion, designed by C. P. H. Gilbert and completed in 1909 on
the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street. Frieda Warburg
donated the François I chateau-style building to the Jewish
Theological Seminary in 1944 and subsequently the museum was able
to acquire the adjacent property on the avenue just to the north
of it and built a modest expansion building that was significantly
setback from the building line on the avenue and raised up a few
steps to create an entrance plaza.
Not only did that expansion break with the avenue's traditional
building line, it also was a pretty bland and unattractive modern
structure that was out of context with the Warburg building and
its apartment house neighbor to the north.
Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo
& Associates were commissioned by the museum to fill in the
plaza with a new structure in 1993 and they opted to replicate
the François I chateau style to make it appear as the expansion
had been built at the same time as the original mansion. To passerbys
today, it is just about impossible to recognize that the mid-block
expansion on the avenue was not part of the original building.
The accomplishment is all the more remarkable given the fact that
Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo & Associates are best known for
such modern projects as the Ford Foundation Building on East 42nd
Street, which is noted for its huge atrium, and the mammoth expansion
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art including the glass pyramid
structure of its Lehman Wing.
In his fine book, "Touring
The Upper East Side, Walks in Five Historic Districts" (The
New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1995), Andrew S. Dolkart provides
the following commentary:
"Apparently, Felix and Frieda Warburg, prominent members
of New York's German-Jewish aristocracy, were so impressed with
the François I chateaux that C. P. H. Gilbert had designed
for the Fletchers [at 2 East 79th Street][see The
City Review article] and Woolworths [formerly at 990 Fifth
Avenue] farther south of Fifth Avenue, that they commissioned
a similar house for themselves. For the Warburgs, Gilbert created
a house that, in its basic form, is similar to the Fletchers',
but is somewhat more refined. The Warburg House is more artfully
massed, with a subtle balance of window and door openings and
projecting and receding planes, but it is less whimsical than
the earlier dwelling, lacking much of the droll detail that so
enlivens the 79th Street house."
Mr. Dolkart praised the carved limestone detail of the 1988 expansion
as "expertly replicated," but added that "the balance
and integrity of the original mansion have been compromised,"
a criticism that is far too harsh and unjustified.
C. P.H. Gilbert was an associate architect for Otto Kahn's great
mansion at 1 East 91st Street that is now the Convent of the Sacred
Heart School (see The City Review article),
another Carnegie Hill neighborhood landmark.