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The Seventh Regiment Armory

643 Park Avenue

Full Block between 66th & 67th Streets and Park and Lexington Avenues

Seventh Regiment Armory

Seventh Regiment Armory

By Carter B. Horsley

One tends to conjure Park Avenue as mostly brown and gray because of the preponderance of brown or beige brick or limestone façades, but the mid-60's is distinguished by several fine red-brick structures of which the Seventh Regiment Armory is the most impressive.

The other prominent red-brick buildings nearby were both designed by Delano Aldrich, the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, at 583 Park Avenue (see The City Review article), and the Colony Club at 564 Park Avenue (see The City Review article), and the red-brick mansions on the west blockfront between 68th and 69th Streets. It should be noted, of course, that the mid-90s on the avenue also sports several important red-brick structures such as the Brick Presbyterian Church at 91st Street (see The City Review article), the Russian Orthodox Church Outside America building at 93rd Street (see The City Review article) and the Hunter College School at 94th Street.

View from the northwest

View from the northwest

Armories used to be very important landmarks in the city but few have survived. One of the most spectacular with a very tall tower at 34th Street and Park Avenue was replaced in the 1970s by a mixed-use building and only the ruins of the Madison Avenue façade of the Squadron A Armory remain between 94th and 95th Streets. Another armory on Lexington Avenue at 26th Street was impressed into service to help the families of victims lost in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. While its exterior was not as handsome originally as those of the armories on 34th and 94th Streets, the Seventh Regiment Armory, which was completed in 1879, has long played an important role in the city.

The Seventh Regiment was organized in 1806 by members from many of the city's most prominent families and after the Civil War convinced the city to lease it the site of the present structure.

In his fine book, "Touring The Upper East Side, Walks in Five Historic Districts" (published by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1995), Andrew S. Dolkart offers the following commentary about the armory and it architect: "Charles Clinton, a veteran of the Seventh, designed what is generally considered to be the prototype model for the urban armory - a medieval-inspired administration building set in front of a large drill shed. The massive brick administration building, with its heavy base and mock-fortress features - such as crenellations and slits for crossbow arrows - is an imaginative structure borrowing elements from various medieval styles. The arched drill hall is supported by iron trusses resembling those of contemporary railroad station sheds. Urban armories not only served as drillhalls for volunteer militia, but were also primate men's clubs with appropriately elaborate interior decor. No regiment was more exclusive than the Seventh, known as the 'silk stocking' regiment, and the interiors of its armory reflect that status. The armory contains some of the finest surviving 19th Century rooms in America, including the Veteran's Room and Library (now the Trophy Room), which were the earliest major commissions of the Associated Artists, the decorated firm established by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Other rooms were decorated by Alexander Roux Co., L. Marcotte Co., Herter Brothers, and Pottier Stymus, all leading American decorating firms. The armory was endangered in 1980-81 by an imprudent plan to construct a highrise luxury hotel or apartment building above the drill hall and, more recently, by proposals to mar the interiors with exposed sprinklers. A preservation campaign spearheaded by the Friends of the Armory was successful in gaining landmark designation for much of the interior in 1994."

The Armory's double staircase entry leads to a main hall that runs parallel to Park Avenue off of which are numerous high-ceiling, paneled meeting rooms. The entrance to the main "drill hall" is flanked by a very large double staircase. The main hall is often used for special exhibitions such as the Winter Antiques Show, one of the city's major cultural and social events. It also is used occasionally for tennis. The armory has a large dining room on one of its higher floors.

In his superb book, "Park Avenue, Street of Dreams" (Atheneum, 1900), James Trager provides the following excellent commentary:

"The 7th Regiment, formed in 1806, had served in the war of 1812 and had gained some powerful friends by its performance in the Astor Place riots of 1847. It was unified in 1860 at the newly built Tomkins Market Armory, on the east side of the Bowery between 6th and 7th Streets, and played an important part at the outset of the Civl War, protecting the nation's capital when it was cut off by rebel forces in Maryland. Its members included included a number of socially prominent New Yorkers, and its spelendid new the nation's only armory built and furnished with private funds....Youngsters enrolled in the very social Knickerbocker greys exercised twice each week under the iron roof of the great drill hall. Today the armory is home to the 2nd Brigade, 42nd Infantry Division, and the 1st Batallion, 107th Infanty, New York Army National Guard."

The armory has also been used as a homeless shelter.

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