By Carter B. Horsley
For several decades, this was the most prominent
tower on the Upper East Side and, with its peaked roof, the gilden
crown of which is a discrete, working chimney, it is a major Art
The 40-story, yellow brick and limestone building
was completed in 1930 and 187 of its units were converted to cooperative
apartments in 1970. Its residents 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 for
its modern "carbuncles."
The building was designed by Bien & Prince
and actually consists of two buildings occupying the entire blockfront
on Madison Avenue between 76th and 77th Streets that are so skillfully
joined that most people are not aware that they are separate.
The "hotel" is the tower on the south side of the frontage
and the second building is a 17-story apartment house with an
entrance at 50 East 77th Street that appears to be part of the
base of the setback "hotel" tower.
"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. 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 Park West.
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 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 detailing of the Carlyle is very fine as
can be seen in the photograph above, and in the first-floor picture
"frames" on the sidestreet and the nice scalloping of
the bandcourse above the second floor.