One of a handful of full-block
apartment buildings in the city with major garden courtyards,
the Belnord was designed by H. Hobart Weekes and completed in
The Renaissance Revival-style,
rental building has two very imposing and large arched entrances
on 86th Street that lead to a very large, landscaped courtyard
with a large and handsome fountain. It was designed so that carriages
could drive around the entire courtyard, which has canopied entrances
at the four angled corners.
The 22,000-square-foot courtyard is actually
more interesting than the exterior because of its immense sale
and different façade treatment. The facades are entirely
rusticated except for double stacks of bay windows in the center
of the east and west walls and two single columns of bay windows
on both the north and south facades that also have one column
of high windows in their centers.
The original planting was encircled by attractive
four-globe light-posts and was quite formal and to the modern
eye evocative to a certain extent of the black-and-white photographs
of the gardens in Alain Renais's film, "Last Year at Marienbad."
Indeed, this is almost a de Chiricoesque vista as the tall, textured
walls encompassing the space offer both security and imprisonment,
awe and ire, dream and reality.
Some observers have viewed such courtyards
as pathetic attempts to introduce the Holy Grail, from an urban
planner's viewpoint, of "light and air." They seem to
think that the Roman atriums and Parisian and Venetian courtyards
were refined because they were largely suffused with warm sunlight
because the buildings themselves were low-rise. When exploded
to the modest mid-rise height of 12 to 15 stories in New York,
however, these observers have bemoaned the benefits of such courtyards,
arguing that the walls are so high that the "light and air"
The arched entrances, one of which has a
gatehouse, are vaulted and the vaults have neo-Classical designs.
In 2007, the building installed new gates in the entrances topped
with a large gilded "B." (12/27/08)
In his book, "The City Observed, New York,
a Guide to the Architecture of Manhattan," Vintage Books,
1979), Paul Goldberger, for example, made the following observation
in his commentary about the Belnord, the Apthorp (see The
City Review article) and the Astor Court buildings:
"All of the buildings share the liability
of courtyard apartment houses, which is poor light in all too
many of the units, but they also share the ability of all good
courtyard buildings to create far more than conventional buildings
could a sense of a private, secure world."
The Belnord is the largest of these and its
scale is such that one must imagine that its courtyard had to
be considered one of the great urban wonders in its early years
just as John Portman's atrium hotels of the 1970's were the commercial
bedazzlements of American architecture. In his fine book, "Luxury
Apartment Houses of Manhattan, An Illustrated History," (Dover
Publications Inc., 1992) Andrew Alpern noted that "The Belnord
boasted the largest interior court in the world 94 feet wide by
231 feet long and an underground delivery tunnel for trucks and
wagons reachable via a ramped driveway from West 87th Street.
Architecturally nowhere near as successful as the Astor buildings,
the Belnord, with is vast number of very large apartments, did
not reach full occupancy until World War II. Since then, however,
it has never had a vacancy for long, but has been embroiled for
years in an acrimonious battle between its tenants and the building's
elderly and eccentric owner."
There is no hard-and-fast rule about such courtyards.
Depending on their scale and treatment and site, they can be neighborly,
invasive, inspiring, or industrial. Only a lack of imagination
precludes finding exciting ways to make them inviting and sensational
for they are great spaces. In their wonderful book, "The
A. I. A. Guide to New York City, Third Edition," (Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1988), Elliot Willensky and Norval White, described
the Belnord as "Brilliant, but boring."
Another major courtyard building, the Apthorp,
which occupies the full block between Broadway and West End Avenue
and 78th and 79th Streets, was erected the same year. Another
major courtyard building in the vicinity is the Astor Court on
the east side of Broadway between 89th and 90th Streets, but it
occupies less than a half that big block.
In 1999, this impressive building, which has
a three-story, rusticated limestone base, rusticated quoins enclosing
one stack of windows and a large cornice, was cleaned. The façade
has three bandcourses with escutcheons on the fifth floor and
swags on the 11th and 12th floors at the corners. The 13th floor
has handsome decorative rectangles beneath the cornice.
The east and west facades are nicely proportioned
and quite grand, but the south and north facades, which have an
asymmetrical sprinkling of very small windows amid the otherwise
symmetrical fenestration, are very long and merely imposing. The
windows on the sixth through the 12th floors have slightly arched
tops, which is an interesting touch.
The building has no balconies, no garage and
There is a subway station at Broadway and there
is excellent cross-town bus service on 86th Street. This neighborhood
abounds in good shopping and restaurants and public transportation.
Riverside Park is a couple of blocks to the west and Central Park
is a couple of longer blocks to the east.
Its residents over the years have included
Zero Mostel, the actor, Isaac Bashevis Singer, the writer, and
Art D'Lugoff and for many years it was owned by Lillian Seril
beforeit was acquired by Extell Development.
In his "Streetscapes" column May
3, 1992 in The New York Times, Christopher Gray noted that
when it was built the 175-unit building was "promoted as
the largest multiple dwelling the world" and "apartments
ranged from 8 to 14 rooms, with rents of $175 to $500 a month,
high for the period."
An article by Teru Karush Rogers in the
November 5, 2006 edition of The New York Times noted some
of the building's three- to six-bedroom apartments "rent
for $10,000 to $40,000 a month," adding that Extell has "converted
a large chunk of ground-floor space into a daytime playroom in
which the toys can be stowed behind cabinetry and the room transformed
into an area for adult use."
In Mr. Gray's 1992 article, he quoted an
article from The Record & Guide that said it was delightful
"to be able to step from the library in a smoking jacket
and drop a letter into the chute running down through the semi-private
vestibules." Mr. Gray also noted that "Especially unusual
was a vast, subsurface courtyard strictly for delivery trucks,
entered from 87th Street," adding that an early advertisement
for the building said that its courtard plan "eliminated
for all time undesirable elements and the possible of intrusion."
On September 17, 2008, Extell Development
Company gave a centennial party for the building in its enormous
courtyard. The party featured several musicians in black-tie,
many hors-d'oeuvres and two sushi bars and a continuous tent that
surrounded two-thirds of the courtyard. The party was given by
Gary Barnett, the president of Extell, who acquired the building