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Astor Court

205 West 89th Street

210 West 90th Street

Astor Court

Astor Court on the east side of Broadway between 89th and 90th Streets
By Carter B. Horsley

This distinguished, 13-story, red-brick, apartment building is one of the city's few grand apartment buildings erected around a large garden courtyard. The building's plan is in the shape of a "U" with the opening on its eastern fašade. It has entrances on both 90th and 89th Streets and the garden is partially visible through the entrances.

The building, which is known as Astor Court, has one of the largest cornices in the city. The cornice is missing some detailing in the middle of the building's Broadway frontage.

Built in 1915, it is a cooperative with 158 apartments. It was designed by Charles A. Platt and built by Vincent Astor.

The three other famous garden courtyard luxury apartment buildings on the Upper West Side are the Dakota at 1 West 72nd Street, the Belnord at 225 West 86th Street and the Apthorp at 2211 Broadway at 79th Street.

The building has a two-story, rusticated limestone base, very nice lobbies with doormen, attractive wrought-iron window grates on the first floor, impressive bronze lanterns flanking the entrances, a garage, a roof deck, protruding air-conditioners, no sidewalk landscaping, and no health club.

The neighborhood is one of the city's finest architecturally with many superb pre-World War II apartment buildings and some well-designed late 20th Century apartment houses as well. The lively area has many restaurants and stores. There is a subway station at 86th Street where there is also excellent cross-town bus service.

At his death in 1969, Vincent left  his widow, Brooke, control of a charitable foundation worth about $60 million.

In his September 10, 2006 "Streetscapes" column in The New York Times, Christopher Gray wrote that "What is less well known is how Vincent Astor, inheriting the family fortune as a college freshman, used it to shape an unusual real estate career that left a rich and original legacy on the New York streetscape."

"The fortune was first accumulated by John Jacob Astor, who by the time he died in 1848 had amassed $20 million, much of it in real estate. By 1890, the money was controlled by two family branches, one headed by John Jacob Astor IV, Vincent’s father. Vincent Astor grew up in delicate health; he was at Harvard in April 1912 when word came that the Titanic had gone down with his father on board. Suddenly, a fortune of $87 million - $65 million of it in real estate - descended on a young man whose only proven passion was for fast cars."

"His first development project appears to have been a chaste tapestry-brick warehouse at 4 Ninth Avenue, which he completed in 1913. At the same time he embarked on an exceptionally unusual renovation, for which he retained the architectural firm of Tracy & Swartwout. Taking a group of 10 back-to-back old houses on 43rd and 44th Streets just west of Times Square, Astor combined them as a single apartment complex with a central courtyard. It took only a simple fountain, some trees, a few pieces of furniture and some grass to turn the old buildings inside out as a little refuge, a very early instance of what was later a common technique. The complex, Westover Court, vanished in 1925, replaced by the Paramount Building," according to Mr. Gray.

"In 1914, Astor started another much larger project: the $1 million Astor Court apartments on Broadway from 89th to 90th Streets. Here, working with the artist and architect Charles Platt, he erected a facade of brick and stone so carefully detailed that it might have evoked a private club, except that it was 13 stories high. Architectural critics had been complaining for years that as buildings had grown in height, their cornices had started looking puny. Platt and Astor actually did something about it. Astor Court’s great copper cornice projects out eight feet and was painted in gold and red, as classical monuments once had been," the article said.

Platt, Mr. Gray continued, "forsook the automobile turnarounds so common at other buildings, substituting instead a series of brick walks and plantings. Nothing like it had been done in New York, and its design remains one of the most thoughtful in the city."

"Five blocks away," the  article said, "Astor was simultaneously working on a project related to his interests in model farming: a model market at 95th and Broadway, finished in 1915. His architects, Tracy & Swartwout, developed a high one-story arcaded facade of mottled travertine. Under the cornice ran a 290-foot-long frieze by William Mackay depicting a market procession, with farmers and dealers carrying meat, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetables in everything from medieval carts to motor trucks. Jules Guerin, an artist, designed festive banners for high flagpoles.

The Astor Market closed in 1917 and has been demolished.

"By the late 1920’s, Astor recaptured some of his architectural ambitions in his attempt to remake a section of East End Avenue, then an area of modest apartment buildings, into a high-toned residential enclave.  First, he built two tasteful apartment houses at 520 and 530 East 86th Street, also by Platt. Then, he had Platt design a sumptuous apartment building around the corner, the severe all-limestone 120 East End Avenue, at 85th Street. The three buildings benefited from parcels that Astor acquired for extra light and air - an unusually enlightened if expensive touch," the article said.

At Astor Court, Platt designed "the rear facades in buff brick, lighting up what might at some points be gloomy," observed Mr. Gray in an earlier "Streetscapes" column, July 1, 2001.  "And he raised the garden level a few feet above the lobbies, avoiding the sunken feeling present in some rear areas," he continued, adding that "Astor sold the building in 1922 and by 1935 it was owned by Henri Bendel, of women's clothing-store fame, who divided some of the apartments" and "later a garage was created in the basement, with a ramp from the 89th Street side."

The building was converted to a cooperative in 1985 and has a children's playroom, a bicycle room, a laundry room, a resident manager, and a roof terrace.  It has also 10-foot-high ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces and is pet friendly.

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