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Ruppert & Yorkville Towers

Blocks bounded by 90th and 92nd Streets and Third and Second Avenues

View from the south

View from the South

By Carter B. Horsley

The transformation of Yorkville from a low-rise, low-income neighborhood with a German-American flavor to a high-rise enclave really took off with the erection of this mammoth project that replaced the Jacob Ruppert brewery on the blocks bounded by Third and Second Avenues and 90th and 92nd Streets in 1975.

Ruppert Tower

Rupert Tower

The brewery closed in 1965. It had been founded in 1867 and was taken over in 1917 by the founder's son, Jacob Ruppert Jr., who would at one time become the owner of the New York Yankees baseball team. At its peak, the brewery owned almost three-dozen buildings between Third and Second Avenues and 90th and 94th Streets and when the brewery closed the city designated the 22-acre, four-block site as an urban renewal site and Conklin & Rossant as the architect of a master plan that called for a 60-story apartment tower, a 48-story apartment tower and four 8-story courtyard buildings, a 4,000-pupil high school, a movie theater, a restaurant and stores and a 1.5-acre park. The original plan called for a total of about 2,500 high- and moderate-income residents, but was revised to include a 78-story apartment tower that would have been the world's tallest. Community opposition to the luxury units, however, killed the plan.

North tower
North tower

A new plan by Davis, Brody & Associates called for two towers on Third Avenue between 90th and 92nd Street with a cobbled pedestrian mall between them, a third tower on Second Avenue at 92nd Street, and a park at Second Avenue and 90th Street. The year before they had designed the Waterside apartment complex on a platform on the east side of the FDR Drive from 25th to 30th Street. The complex consisted of dark-brown brick towers with some chamfered corners and which had wider tops than bottoms. In 1975 they also designed River Park Towers in the Bronx alongside the Harlem River in a similar style to both Waterside and Ruppert. Davis, Brody & Associates is one of the city's premier architects of residential projects and these unabashedly high-rise projects were aggressively styled and, for New York City, quite bold. Waterside proved to be a major new landmark along the East River and helped to revitalize an area that had been long overwhelmed by the huge but bland Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper developments to the south. River Park Towers, which has the nicest proportions of these three projects, is in a fabulous setting just to the south of the many bridges that dramatic cross the river, one of the city's most spectacular sights.

In their fine book, "The A.I.A. Guide to New York City, Fourth Edition," (Three Rivers Press, 2000), Elliot Willensky and Norval White provide the following commentary about the Ruppert Brewery project:

"Bulky modeled form. Notches, slots, cut corners from the vocabulary initiated by this firm at Waterside. The density is immense and overwhelming. Given that millstone, the architects have handled an unfortuntate program in a sophisticated manner."

In their superb book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Second World War and the Bicentennial," (The Monacelli Press, 1995), Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman provide the following commentary:

"...the three complexly massed brick-clad towers incorporated vertical strips of windows and dark-metal spandrels, numerous chamfered corners and cantilevered elements. Ruppert Towers, occupying the east blockfront of Third Avenue between Ninetieth and Ninety-first streets, contained 549 units and ranged in height from twenty-four to thirty-four stories; Yorkville Towers, located directly across Ninety-first Street, contained 710 units and ranged in height from thirty-two to forty-forty-two stories. Both buildings were set back from Third Avenue on large triangular plazas, flanked by ground-level commercial spaces, that formed a monumental gateway to the pedestrian mall that bisected the compex. Occupying the site's northeast corner, at Second Avenue and Ninety-first Street, was the forty-story Knickerbocker Plaza, which contianed 578 units - 70 percent reserved for senior citizens, and 20 percent set aside for low-income tenants."

View from the northwest

View from the northwest

While the chiseled forms of Waterside and River Park Towers result in unusual and distinctive vertical structures, the designs of Ruppert and Yorkville Towers is monumental and overpowering as their stepped east-west outlines are like some gigantic Chinese Wall. They are awesome in their bulk, but also so fortress-like as to sometimes appear ominous, an effect softened somewhat by the nice masonry. It is hard for the pedestrian to grasp the magnitude of this project except when in the pedestrian mall.

Many of the apartments have stupendous views and the area has flourished with new development since they were built. The dark metal spandrels cheapen the facades a bit and would have been better if done with the same masonry as the rest of the fašades. The gargantuan buildings should probably have been divided in two and the park moved to the center of the complex. There is no denying, however, that Ruppert and Yorkville towers provided Yorkville with major new landmarks and well served the "renewal" program, at least in terms of spurring new investment and construction that has replaced a lot of low-rise tenements and commercial properties in the area.

View from the north

View from the north

What is sad is that Yorkville has now lost most of its ethnic identity and it is interesting that community groups did not raise any voices against the demolition of Jaeger House, its grand old community facility, that was replaced with "luxury" apartment house on Lexington Avenue and 85th Street a few years after the Ruppert project was completed.

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