By Carter B. Horsley
With its very tall gables,
this 32-story condominium apartment tower would seem more at home
near the peaks of the Dakota apartment building on Central Park
West at 72nd Street than in the middle of a fairly bland stretch
along Third Avenue in the 70s.
It replaced a two-story building that ran between 77th and 78th
Streets along the avenue and hid a spacious private garden enclave
that had been known as "The Cottages" that was designed by E. H.
Faile in 1937.
his May 10, 1987 "Streetscapes" column in The New York Times,
Christopher Gray provides the following fine commentary about the
effect of the Depression on holding properties until the time was ripe
Goelets, a New York merchant family dating back to the Federal era, had
such a problem with a row of eight 70-year-old tenements on the west
side of Third Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets In 1936, new
multiple-dwelling regulations required substantial upgrading, and
according to the Real Estate Record and Guide in 1938, the cost was not
worth the result. The Goelets evicted their tenants and
reimproved the property with a novel scheme, using a lot running almost
150 feet deep. They built a two-story apartment/store building
with a tennis/badminton complex behind Access to the apartments
above the stores was not from Third Avenue, with its noisy, blighting
el, but from 78th Street, where a walk leads to stairs to the eight
apartments. The cottages are of ingenious design, with
glass-block windows on Third Avenue to seal out the rattle of the el,
which was not demolished until 1956. Their front doors are at the
second-floor level, where a setback creates a strip of tiny,
20-foot-deep, turfed front yards. Designed by Edward H. Failel,
an engineer who also designed the Goelet Building at 49th Street and
Fifth Avenue, the cottage complex really has two fronts. The
stores on Third Avenue are of plain brick with simple show windows,
albeit with very soft purple art-lgass transos and big circular
marquees at the cross-street corners. The garden side is
basically Regency in theme, with white painted brick (now weathered
bare), Chippendale-style ironwork and brick quoining. The
apartments are all one-bedroom units, although the corner ones have
tiny square sunrooms. There is a protected feeling here, not as
grand as the gardens of Sutton Place but just as serene and removed.
This delightful amenity is not hidden from the passers-by behind
brick walls - the usual model in New York - but only lightly screened
by an iron fence. It is a gracious touch in a city where public
and private rarely mix."
Mr. Gray noted that the Goelets
eventually sold off a 100-foot-square plot on 77th Street to Sidney and
Arthur Diamond who in 1941 built the 11-sotry apartment house at 177
East 77th Street and eventually bought the entire Cottages site.
In 1961, the Diamonds filed plans for a 20-story building to
cover the Cottages site and did not carry it out, Mr. Gray added.
The Cottages, which contained
stores on the first floor and eight one-bedroom apartments on
the second floor with glass-block windows facing the avenue, were
undistinguished architecturally, but the charm of the garden and
the anachronism of such underdevelopment in such a prime area
of the Upper East Side led to one of the city's more heated landmark
controversies in the 1990s.
"A gatehouse on Seventy-Eighth Street marked the building's
entrance and opened onto an 11,000-square-foot garden that originally
contained two tennis courts and two badminton courts, which were
eliminated with the construction of the apartment house at 177
East 77th Street in 1941," noted Robert A. M. Stern, David
Fishman and Jacob Tilove in their wonderful book, "New York
2000, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Bicentennial And The
Millennium" (The Monacelli Press, 2006.)
"In contrast to the Modernism
of the glass and brick Third Avenue-facing facade, the garden
front, with its flights of stairs leading to the raised terrace,
had overtones of the late Georgian and Regency styles," the
A local coalition rallied to
have the enclave declared a landmark but eventually the site was
not so designated and five of the eight residents accepted a settlement
to move and the building was topped out in the summer of
The design for the site incorporates
part of the Cottages at the northwest corner at 77th Street, but
the main portion of the development is on the northern end of
the site, which give the apartments considerable "light and
The tower has a very handsome, six-story base on its north end
of rose-colored brick and pre-cast stone that simulates limestone,
the same material as used on the tower. The base is very attractive
with large, arched windows on the second floor and a two-story
pre-cast stone lower section at the south with pilasters and a
top floor with pre-cast stone window reveals.
The tower has chamfered corners
with bay windows and curved brick spandrels and some curved balconies.
The corner bay windows detract somewhat from the otherwise excellent
sense of pre-war solidity, but they are also very desirable for
their dramatic views.
Hartman-Cox Architects of Washington is the architectural firm
and Schuman Lichtenstein Clamon Efron are the designers of the
apartments, which have 9-foot-high ceilings and washers and dryers.
The building has a new private garden designed by Thomas Balsey
Associates and some landscaped rooftop and terrace areas in the
base including a pergola.
The developer of the building, which has 77 apartments, is RFR/Davis,
a venture of Davis & Partners and RFR Holdings, developers
previously of rental projects.
Most of the apartments have
two or more bedrooms, foyers, formal dining rooms and marble baths
and there are 36 storage rooms and 36 wine cellars available for
purchase in the building. Some apartments have fireplaces. The
building has a 25-car garage.
It also features the Empire Club, designed by Birch Coffey Design
Associates and accessed by a grand staircase from the building's
marble lobby. The club has a fitness center, a children's playhouse,
a cinema room and a private dining room with adjoining terrace
and a sundeck on the third floor.
While Manhattan is sorely needs as many tennis and badminton courts
as possible, the loss of The Cottages was not the end of the world
for the Upper East Side and the new, setback tower's Post-Modern
modeling is generally cheery and warm.
There is excellent cross-town bus service one block to the north
and a local subway station is at 77th Street and Lexington Avenue,
where Lenox Hill Hospital is located. This neighborhood has many
pleasant restaurants, although there are no nearby parks.