This handsome, 35-story
condominium was a major pioneer in the redevelopment of Broadway
north of 86th Street. Not surprisingly, it was developed by William
Zeckendorf Jr., and partners, who also pioneered the redevelopment
of Union Square with Zeckendorf Towers and Eighth Avenue with
the World Wide Plaza complex.
The Columbia, which was
designed by Liebman Williams Ellis Architects, is one of the Upper
West Side's tallest buildings as well as one of its most sculpturally
massed. Its solid balconies are staggered or alternated to create
a very vigorous façade. It is interesting that the architects
also set the main tower back from Broadway to minimize its visual
impact on that street's cornice line. The base of the building
extends fully to Broadway and the top of the base contains a health
club and pool. The building has a garage and a sun deck.
Building in 1983, the light-colored
building has 300 units and many boast dramatic views, regardless
of the direction.
At the time of its construction,
the area had fallen on relatively bad times and this was the first
major private investment. For a while, the site had been considered
by a department store for a major satellite operation.
In his excellent book, "On
Broadway, A Journey Over Time" (Rizzoli, 1990), David W.
Dunlap, a reporter for The New York Times, noted:
"In spite of its rebounding
commercial life, Broadway as a physical entity remained frozen
in its pre-Depression state through the 1970's. It was a measure
of local stasis that the blockfront at Ninety-sixth Street stood
largely vacant, except for a community garden, for fifteen years
after the Riveria and Riverside theaters were razed in 1976. Finally,
in 1981, after several false starts by other developers, William
Zeckendorf Jr., began a huge condominium apartment tower called
the Columbia. This project has been credited - and blamed - for
triggering the wave of luxury high-rise construction in the mid-1980s."
Indeed, in 1984 the city
enacted new zoning for Broadway on the Upper West Side to encourage
The name of the building
is probably a reference to the famous university of the same name
about a mile north on Broadway.
"This towering hulk
is the earliest adventure in sophisticated modern housing on the
Upper West Side. A bit brash, it evokes the cubistic dreams of
Walter Gropius in his wonderful but losing scheme for the Chicago
Tribune Tower," observed Elliot Willensky and Norval White
in their excellent book, "The A.I.A. Guide to New York City,
Third Edition," (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988).
"What is refreshing
here is that the terms of apartment development - pack the site,
create units with balconies and views, do it at low cost - are
met head-on, unflinchingly, in a neo-Bauhaus design that eschews
fashionable contextualism and does not try pretentiously to conceal
its inherent tawdriness. What a breath of fresh air!" exclaimed
Francis Morrone in his book, "The Architectural Guide to
new York City," (a Peregrine Smith Book, published by Gibbs
Smith, Publishers, Layton, Utah, 1994).
In 1974, Christopher Boomis had proposed a
34-story apartment building for the site but nothing happened
until Chemical Bank foreclosed in 1976 on the Riverside-Riveria
theaters that had been erected in 1913.
In 1977, the Starrett Housing Corporation acquired
the site and two years later indicated that 20 percent of its
planned apartments would be for low-income residents, an announcement
that did not win support in the community at the time. Starrett
began to revise its plans while community activists created a
community garden on the site and in 1982 William Zeckendorf Jr.
took over the site.
The building has 35,000 square feet of commercial space, a 16,000-square
foot health club and a 7,000-square-foot community garden on the
roof of the building's garage on 97th Street.