By Carter B. Horsley
Many people mistake this as an annex for the
Hotel Carlyle, but it is actually a separate building although
it was erected at the same time and designed by the same architects.
Built in 1930, this 17-story building has 43
apartments and was converted to a cooperative in 1954, sixteen
years before many of the units in the Hotel Carlyle were so converted.
The yellow brick and limestone, Art Deco-style building was designed
by Bien & Prince and has many apartments with very tall ceilings
in their living rooms as is evident by the large windows on the
pleasant, tree-lined sidestreet.
For several decades, the Hotel Carlyle was
the most prominent tower on the Upper East Side and with its peaked
roof, the crown of which is a discrete, working gilded chimney,
it is a major Art Deco landmark.
The residents of the 40-story tower have included
famous automobile magnates and oil company executives and the
hotel's guests have included President John F. Kennedy. Over the
years, the tower has been modified somewhat to accommodate the
desires of some residents for large picture or bay windows with
the result that it is appearance is most irregular, but not marred
and in fact quite interesting.
Both buildings occupying the entire blockfront
on Madison Avenue between 76th and 77th Streets and are so skillfully
joined that most people are not aware that they are separate.
"The Carlyle's tower, said to be inspired
by John Francis Bentley's Byzantine-style Westminister Cathedral
in London, although Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue's more abstract
integrations of Roman and Byzantine sources seem more clearly
evident as an influence, became the symbolic campanile for the
most fashionable district of the Upper East Side," wrote
Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins in their
fine book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between
The Two World Wars," (Rizzoli International, 1987).
"There is a fine, sweeping vigor in the
[tower's] shaft, which sets back at the top simply and gracefully
to an octagonal tile roof capped by a gilded element that looks
like a gigantic screw-plug for an electrical light connection,"
observed T-Square, an architectural journal, shortly after its
It is the proportions of the rather slender
tower that make it so successful as well as its placement on the
south half of the avenue blockfront rather than in the center.
It was built only a few years after Harvey Wiley Corbett's great
apartment towers at One Fifth Avenue and Riverside Drive and 103rd
Streets and Emery Roth's great Ritz Tower on Park Avenue at 57th
Street that established the skyscraper luxury apartment house
type. Emery Roth would soon design more such as the great San
Remo and Beresford multi-towered apartment buildings on Central
It is interesting that the Carlyle has survived
in splendid isolation that has heightened its visibility in comparison
with most of these other pioneering residential towers. Much of
the credit for that must go to Peter Sharp, the late developer
who bought the hotel and also owned the low-rise building that
fills the avenue blockfront across the street. That building was
for many years the headquarters of Parke-Bernet, the auction house
that was subsequently acquired by Sotheby's, which proceeded to
relocate it to a warehouse-like building on 72nd Street and York
Avenue. After World War II, Parke-Bernet was the center of the
art world and largely responsible for many art galleries moving
uptown around Madison Avenue from 57th Street.
Sharp could have erected a very major new tower
on the site after the auction house was moved, but he chose to
not develop it and protect the sweeping and stupendous Central
Park views for the Carlyle. The low-rise building now contains
several important art galleries and some offices of the real estate
division of Sotheby's as well as some high-end boutiques. Sharp,
whose mother was a major art collector, also installed planters
on poles on the sidewalks in front of the buildings on both sides
of the avenue on the block.
The Carlyle's retail frontage on the avenue
is highlighted by stainless steel columns and the center of the
frontage has an entrance to its famous bar decorated with murals
by Ludwig Bemelmans and its nightclub where singer Bobby Short
has been the lead attraction for decades. The retail treatment
extends along the avenue of this apartment building and the tenant
at the 77th Street corner is Vera Wang, the famous designer who
also happens to be an extremely graceful ice-skater.
The entrance to the hotel and tower apartments
is brightly lit and attractively formal and the hotel has a medium-size
ballroom on the second floor. Its very attractive, double-height
dining room is the city's most attractive "power breakfast"
The hotel has always been one of the city's
most elegant and most expensive. Although its apartments are not
huge, they have stupendous views and all the service that a major
luxury hotel can muster.
The Carlyle House apartments are generally
larger than those in the Hotel Carlyle, but they do not have as
many stupendous views as those in adjacent tower although they
benefit significantly from the openness created by the low-rise
building across the avenue. This area abounds in major cultural
institutions, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants and there
is good cappuchino available at Fauchon nearby on Madison Avenue.