One of the most influential
post-war buildings in New York City, Manhattan House marked the
beginning of the age of "white-brick monstrosities"
in the eyes of some observers and the first big splash of International
Style modernity in the city to others.
The mammoth development, which occupies the full block between
Third and Second Avenues and 65th and 66th Streets, actually is
clad in a light gray-brick, but niceties aside it presented a
"clean," "neat," almost Spartan appearance
in distinct contrast to the historical styles of earlier periods
and the Art Deco stylizations of the 1920s and 1930s.
Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Mayers & Whittlesley,
it was built in 1950 and was, according to Robert A. M. Stern,
Thomas Mellins and David Fishman in their superb book, "New
York 1960 Architecture and Urbanism Between The Second World War
And The Bicentennial" (The Monacelli Press, 1995), "the
most literal manisfestation in New York of Le Corbusier's postwar
conception of vertical living, which the master himself was not
to realize until 1952 in his Unité d'Habitation at Marseilles."
"Together with elegantly
thin window frames of white-painted metal and carefully detailed
balconies," the authors continued, "the glazed brick
rendered Manhattan House a genteel manifesto for architecture's
brave new world, a reassuring statement that Modernist minimalism
had more than cost benefits. In addition, the slab offered a distinct
contrast with its mundane surroundings - the still-functioning
Third Avenue El and its immediate neighbors, mostly old- and new-law
tenements. To protect the building's flanks, New York Life [Insurance
Company, the developer] acquired the row of tenements on the north
side of Sixty-sixth Street, renovated their interiors and painted
the facades a tasteful dark gray trimmed in white. The principal
innovations of Manhattan House were the bold scale resulting from
its single-slab configuration; the departure from traditional
urban space making in the refusal to hold the street front except
at the base; and the blurring of distinctions between exterior
and interior space, as well as front and back yards, by the use
of large amounts of glazing at the lobby level. In discussing
this last point, the editors of Architectural Record, presumably
quoting form a New York Life press release, said that 'the entire
development carries out on a large scale, in a big city, an indoor-outdoor
synthesis hitherto found mostly in modern country homes.'"
The insurance company also protected its investment and views
by erecting a low-rise commercial structure that included the
Beekman movie theater at 1254 Second Avenue across from Manhattan
House that was closed in the early years of this millennium.
The insurance company originally had acquired not only the block
on which Manhattan House is sited, but also the block just to
the south for which it planned a large parking garage topped by
a public park. Three hundred of the garage's 1,400 parking spaces
were to be reserved for the residents of Manhattan House. The
plans for this block, however, would be shelved.
Gordon Bunshaft, the principal architect with Skidmore, Owings
& Merrill for the project, took an apartment for himself at
Manhattan House and at one time Grace Kelly, the actress, also
rented an apartment as did Benny Goodman.
The building, which has a roof deck, has five projecting bays,
each with two balconies and its entrances are along a curved driveway
on 66th Street, which was widened on this block because of the
project. There are several entrances along the driveway, which
is lushly landscaped and the lobbies have floor-to-ceiling windows
that permit views from the driveway through to the development's
large gardens on the south side, that are walled from 65th Street.
A one-story commercial base along Third Avenue originally housed
a large Longchamps restaurant that had its own outdoor terrace
facing the gardens.
Manhattan House is a 19-story building with 581 apartments, many
with balconies and some with fireplaces.
In 2005, New York Life Insurance Company sold the property to
Manchester Real Estate, of which N. Richard Kalikow and Jeremiah
W. O'Connor Jr., were principals, for about $625 million.
Plans to convert the building to a residential condominium ran
into difficulties, however, when the partners got involved in
litigation and a tenants' group filed suit to block the conversion.
According to the second amendment to the condominium offering
plan for Manhattan House, which was dated October 11, 2007, N. Richard Kalikow
was longer a principal of the plan's sponsor and Jeremiah W. O'Connor
Jr. is the sole principal.
The amendment said that the sponsor has entered into mortgage
loans with HSH Nordbank AG, New York Branch and that the sponsor
must declare the plan effective no later than June 1, 2008. The
amendment also said that bona fide tenants in occupancy have the
exclusive right for 30 days from the filing of the amendment to
purchase their units at a 15 percent discount from non-tenant
The amendment indicated that the current total purchase price
for tenants for about $958 million.
A vacant three-bedroom apartment with three baths and a total
of 1,675 square feet on the 20th floor in the E wing has a tenant
price of $2,720,000 and a non-tenant price of $3,100,000. A vacant
one-bedroom apartment with one bath and 953 square feet on the
15th floor in the same wing has a tenant price of $1,077,987 and
a non-tenant price of $1,268,220. A vacant studio apartment with
one bath and 586 square feet in the same wing has a tenant price
of $604,928 and a non-tenant price of $711,780.
Air-conditioning was not included when the building was completed, although
the building subsequently allowed protruding air-conditioners
and the condo conversion plan included an upgrading of the building
that including central air-conditioning.
Although scores of apartment houses on the Upper East Side would
try to mimic the success of Manhattan House with light-colored
brick facades and balconies, there were not too many full-block
One that is somewhat similar, however, is Imperial House, which
was designed by Emery Roth & Sons in 1960 and is nearby at
69th Street and Third Avenue and also features extensive gardens
and a very large, windowed lobby but has a center tower.
In their excellent book,
"The A.I.A. Guide to New York City, Third Edition" (Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1988), Norval White and Elliot Willensky remarked
that the building's "balconies become the principal ornament,
but unfortunately they are small and precarious for those with
any trace of vertigo." "(Sometime in the 1980s the original
windows were replaced - with regrettable aesthetic results.) The
block was occupied from 1896 to 1949 by the Third Avenue Railway
System car barns where horsecars and then electric streetcars
were housed. It was an elaborate French Second Empire mansarded
This section of Third Avenue has been subsequently developed with
many luxury apartment towers and there is convenient local shopping
and good public transportation.
The text of Mr. Jones's
article was as follows:
"Sources familiar with the
building said at least a dozen condo buyers have either been turned
down for loans, or asked to provide 30 to 50 percent cash deposits,
which in some cases forced them to postpone the scheduled closing
of their units. As a result, some buyers
fear they will have to purchase their apartments entirely in cash
or risk walking away from the building because the condo agreements
did not include a mortgage contingency clause. "They got caught in
the perfect storm on the precipice of this [credit market] disaster,"
said a source....According to sources and
records filed with the city Department of Finance, at least eight
of the more than 120 apartments sold at Manhattan House have closed
since the condo plan was approved by state regulators. Of those
eight, four sales were cash transactions, three were loans approved
by Wells Fargo and one was a loan approved JPMorgan Chase. Neil Bader, area manager
at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, confirmed that the bank has pre-approved
the building and is actively working with buyers to finance apartment
deals. 'There is nothing inherent
about Manhattan House or the financial efficacy of that building
that would have any impact on getting lower loan to value,'
said Bader. However, a Citibank spokesman
confirmed that the bank will not write loans to finance Manhattan
House buyers, saying the building did not meet Fannie Mae/Freddie
Mac guidelines, which are used to assess risk levels in newly
constructed or converted condos. 'We might look at that building
in the future,' the spokesman said. JPMorgan Chase spokesman
Mike Fusco, while declining to comment on Manhattan House specifically,
said Fannie and Freddie "are asking us to make loans only
if 51 percent of the units are sold at presale. He added, however,
that the bank is actively pursuing new loans to fill the void
left by other conservative or collapsed banks, and during the
second-quarter had the biggest year-over-year market share gain
among the nation's top lenders. The decisions come at a
critical time for Manhattan House owner O'Connor Capital Partners,
which recently sold the building's retail space for $86 million
and used part of the proceeds to pay down its loan balance from
German-lender HSH Nordbank. In October 2007, the New
York-based developer borrowed $750 million from HSH Nordbank to
finance the conversion of Manhattan House....HSH Nordbank initially syndicated
the loan among a group of banks, giving each a piece of the loan
and reducing the risk for all of the lenders. The banks involved
in the deal included Emigrant Savings, Bank of America, Bank of
New York, HSBC, ING, M&T and Wells Fargo. However, a September 2008
report in Commercial Mortgage Alert confirmed that the partner
banks forced HSH to take the loan back, amid concerns about the
conversion. The report said HSH would cut most of its New York
staff and curtail lending in the U.S., where it had about $6 billion
in mortgages that it was unable to syndicate....Legal and financial experts
said the tight lending environment not only reflects increased
concern about financing highly-leveraged projects, but also highlights
the inability to securitize super jumbo loans in the multi-million
dollar range. Loans of this size are often considered "portfolio
loans" that would be carried on the banks' own books and
not sold off in the secondary market. "Most lenders have
completely changed their loan-to-value guidelines," said
Debra Schultz, director and senior mortgage consultant at Manhattan
Mortgage Co., the largest residential mortgage broker in New York.
'If you want to borrow 90 percent on a $3 million to $4 million
property, they want no part of it.' Schultz said that many of
her wealthy clients cannot get financing from commercial banks,
forcing her to use private lenders, which include hedge funds
and the private banking departments of many investment banks.
March 18, 2011, O'Connor Capital Partners announced that the building
had received Fannie Mae approval and that MetLife Bank and Gilbraltar
Private Bank and Trust, as preferred lenders, have pre-approved the
entire condominium and would henceforth provide conventional and jumbo
mortgages to qualified borrowers.
building has an library and lounge, a spa, a yoga studio on the rooftop
level and a Roto Studio-designed children's playroom.
On October 30, 2007, the Landmarks Preservation Commission declared the building a landmark.
designation report said that the building "is notable for its
impressive size, plan, massing and color" and added that it "was also
notable for being oneofthe first multiple dwelling in New York City to
attempt 'an indoor-outdoor synthesis' through the integration of large
windows and deep projecting balconies, as well as landscaping driveways
and a block-long rear garden enclosed by a low granite wall." The
report said that the builidng in 1952 received an award from the New
York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which described
it as 'extremely attractive in appearance and beautiful in
detailing.'...Few of the white brick buildings it inspired, however,
could match the aesthetic standards set by Manhattan House and it
remains, to this day, one of the most distinguished examples of housing
built in New York City since the Second World War."
York Life," the report continued, "established a rental housing
division in April 1946. Fresh Meadows, in eastern Queens, would
be the first development, quickly followed by Stanworth, a smaller
'home center' designed by Holden, McLauglin & Associates in
Princeton, New Jersey. With the cessation of hostilities [in
World War II], the New York Life, in addition to making mortgage loans
on real estate, was prepared to proceed with a long-range program oif
investing in housing developments which would be owned and managed
directly by the Company. In embarking upon this new field of
activity the Company believes that it can not only render a real
service to the public but also provide an investment for its funds
which should prove both safe and remunerative. Otto L. Nelson Jr.
(1902-85), who served as a major general in the U.S. Army during the
Second World War, was appointed vice president in charge of housing,
with G. Harmon Gurney (1896-1985) as chief architect. Gurney, who
began his career in the office of Warren & Wetmore, later worked on
such projects as the Williamsburg Houses (a designated New Yorik City
landmark) in Brooklyn. He joined New York Life in 1943 and
planned Fresh Meadows, Queens, in association with Vorhees,Walker,
Foley & Smith. Completed in 1949, this garden-type community
provided housing for three thousand middle-income families."
York Life acquired the land for Manhattan House at public auction in
November 1946 about six months after establishing its rental housing
division. Few complete blocks in midtown were available for
development and the $1.6 million paiid in cash was described as modest.
This part of the Upper East Side was a neighborhood in
transition; though the Second Avenue elevated railway had been
dismantled during the late 1930s, the Third Avenue elevated railway,
running from South Ferry to the Bronx, continued to serve the area
until 1955, five years after Manhattan House was completed.....The
blocks between Second and Third Avenues were particularly undesirable
because since 1880 they had been sandwiched between two elevated
railway lines. Manhattan House occupies a block where horse
cars and trolleys had been stored since the 1860s. Designed in
the Italianate style, the car barn was significantly expanded by the
architect Henry J. Hardenbergh in the 1890s, adding additional stories,
steep masard roofs, and towers."
"According to SOM
partner, Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990), it was Mayer & Whittlesey
that convinced New York Life to bid on the site....Albert Mayer
(1898-1981) founded the firm in 1935, forming a partnership with Julian
Hill Whittlesey (1905-1989)....Mayer...was a member of the Regional
Planning Association and founded, with architect Henry Wright and
critic Lewis Mumford, the Housing Study Guild, which led to the
establishing of the United States Housing Authority in 1937....In
subsequent years, the firm was known under various names, including;
Mayer, Whittlesey & (M. Milton) Glass; Whittlesey & (William
J.) Conklin (1961); and after 1965, Whittlesey, Conklin & (James
S.) Rossant. Notable residential commissions include Butterfield
House (1959-62...), 37 West 12th Street, and the Premier (1960-63),
close to Manhattan House, at 333 East 69th Street."
later interviews, Bunshaft tried to diminish Mayer & Whittlesey's
contribution, asserting they weren't housing experts and that New York
Life wasn't 'excited about their kind of architecture.' This
hardly seems possbile; not only did they convince the client to acquire
the site and play a key role in the project's gestation, but Manhattan
House shares many featrues with 40 Central Park South...., a 22-story
reinforced concrete apartment building designed by Mayer &
Whittlesey in 1940-41. As modern in appearance as any work bullt
by SOM up until this time, it has a white (and gray) brick facade, a
glass-walled lobby, and similar, though shallow, glazed blaconies."
joined SOM in 1937, after brief periods working with designer William
Teague and architect Edward Durrell Stone....During the Second World
War, he served in the Army Signal Corps and the Corps of Enginners.
In Paris he socialized withwith the prominent French architects
August Perret and Le Corbusier. Bunshaft rejoined the SOM office
in 1946 and was promoted to full partner in 1949."