1 West 54th Street

(Northwest corner at Fifth Avenue)

Developer: The University Club

Architect: McKim, Mead & White

Erected: 1899

University Club 1 West 54th Street

By Carter B. Horsley

While less spectacular than the six-year-older, white marble Metropolitan Club (see The City Review article) six blocks farther north on the avenue, designed by Stanford White of the same firm, on Fifth Avenue, this is the city's grandest clubhouse.

With its deep rustication, grand proportions and superb craftsmanship, it is the city's finest Italian Renaissance palazzo-style structure.

As impressive as its exterior, the interior of the building is splendiferous with rich marbles, gilded columns, fine woods and excellent murals by H. Siddons Mowbray. The three most impressive rooms are the reading lounge on the elevated first floor overlooking Fifth Avenue, the magnificent third-floor double-height dining room that stretches the length of the building's sidestreet frontage, and the enormous, vaulted library.

The facade of the seven-story building is divided into three parts by courses beneath the building's large cornice. The small windows are residential rooms and the large windows are major club facilities.

Seals of some of the nation's oldest universities emblazon the facade, which is, according to John Tauranac in his excellent book, "The Essential New York, a Guide to the History and Architecture of Manhattan's Important Buildings, Parks and Bridges," published in 1978 by Holt Rinehart Winston, "not limestone, as you might think, but pink Milford granite from Maine." "There is a slight batter, or receding upward slope to the walls, adding to its austere majesty," Tauranac noted, adding that elephants are keystone elements in the top row of windows and that mortarboards, the flat, square caps wore at graduating ceremonies, are used as metopes in the entrance entablature.

According to Leland Roth in his monograph on the architectural firm published by Bernard Bloom New York, 1973, Amo Press, New York, 1977, "elements from the Palazzo Spannochi, Siena, and the Palazzo Albergati, Bologna, are freely quoted" in this building designed by Charles Follen McKim.

The club was organized in 1865 to promote the arts and required that all its members have college degrees. When it could not expand its facilities in the Jerome Mansion on Madison Avenue and 26th Street it bought five lots at its present site and commissioned McKim, a member of the club, to design a new 9-story building, several of whose floors are double-height with mezzanines.

Early photographs indicate that the building employed double awnings in its large arched windows. More importantly, a stone balustrade surrounding the base of the building was removed in 1910 when the avenue was widened.

Things change, of course, and in 1987 the club admitted women.

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